The Compass is a whole new ride with striking interior and exterior improvement, Brian Harper discovers.
2011 Jeep Compass
Here in the UAE, snow, slush and ice luckily aren't a part of our daily drive. But we can't be selfish with our requirements; there are many other places in the world facing these elements right now. So if you're going to make an off-road vehicle, you have to make sure it can take on everything.
Which perhaps is why Jeep chose to unveil its 2011 lineup in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, known for its world-class deep powder skiing and extreme mountain sports. That meant snow, and a lot of it, which meant roads and trails where traction was not always a given, playing to Jeep's four-wheel-drive strengths. Well, mostly.
Then there's the Compass, Jeep's attempt at a car-based, compact soft-roader designed to compete with the likes of the vastly popular Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and numerous other rivals. Its debut for the 2007 model year saw the Compass sharing its unibody platform with its tougher-looking Patriot sibling as well as the Dodge Caliber. Dismissed by its critics as a crossover-styled wagon rather than a proper sport-utility vehicle, the Compass's fully independent suspension and front-wheel-drive version were both firsts for Jeep. But, it was also the only model within Jeep's lineup with a 4WD system not "Trail Rated" by the company for more extreme off-road duties.
The 2011 model year sees big changes for the Compass, with interior upgrades, improved ride and handling characteristics, a substantial exterior restyling that has the junior Jeep emulating the look of the new Grand Cherokee and - finally shedding (or at least reducing) its nancy boy rep - an available 4WD system that's Trail Rated.
The powertrain remains as before. The 172hp, 2.4L four-cylinder "World Engine" is standard on all trim levels and is paired with a standard five-speed manual. Available on the less expensive trims is a more fuel-efficient,158hp 2.0L four-cylinder, also mated to a five-speed manual. The optional transmission is a continuously variable unit, recalibrated, says Chrysler, for better fuel economy as well as better passing performance.
In addition to the standard front-wheel-drive system, the Compass is available with Freedom-Drive I 4x4 and the new Freedom-Drive II Off-Road Package. The first is an available full-time, active 4WD system with lock mode to handle deep snow, sand and other low-traction surfaces. The second includes a continuously variable transmission with low range (that engages when the off-road mode is activated), 17-inch all-terrain tyres, skid plates, tow hooks and Jeep's Trail Rated badge, which means the ability to "handle moderate off-road situations that include steep grades, occasional wheel lift and rock or log climbing," says Chrysler.
The Compass's exterior revisions are striking, Chrysler obviously deciding to exorcise the previous version's ungainly styling and replace it with something decidedly more serious and macho. Gone are the big, round headlights, Wrangler-like toothy grille and turn signals integrated into the big flared fenders. A new hood with a subtle power bulge, front fenders, fascia and headlamps as well as a smaller and wider grille with the traditional seven slots project a more sobering, sophisticated appearance. Lighting is improved with quad reflector headlamps and the fog lamps are now high-output projector lamps.
At the back is a new rear fascia and body-colour spoiler, while subtle touches including new LED tail lamps. Standard wheels are now 17-inch aluminum rims, with 18-inch aluminum or chrome-clad wheels on the top-of-the-range model.
The cabin is as substantially revised as the exterior, with Chrysler taking to heart criticism regarding the previous Compass's cheap and plasticky materials. New upgrades include soft touch front-door trim panels with a padded upper surface, centre armrest; three-spoke steering wheel with integrated controls, cloth interior with premium cloth bucket seats in the front, standard cruise control on all models and backlighting of door switches, door locks, windows and power mirror controls.
The end result is a more refined SUV that is closer to the Jeep heritage than its predecessor. I drove a mid-level version with the 2.4L engine, CVT and Freedom-Drive I drivetrain. While the engine still has a slightly gruffer note compared with the four-cylinder engines of the Compass' rivals, it had more than enough grunt to keep up with all the other 4x4s and all-wheel-drive vehicles that were gingerly making their way in the snow. And this was keeping in mind that at Jackson Hole's elevation (approximately 1,890m above sea level) the 2.4L four was putting out less than its advertised 172 hp and 224 Nm of torque.
More impressive was the drivetrain's level of grip on roads that ranged from centre bare to snow-covered and slick - and that was with all-season tyres, not winter rubber. When the going got particularly slippery, I engaged the lock mode and the Compass tracked straight and true.
Equally as impressive was the cabins's new-found comfort as well as its quietness, which is as good if not better than anything in the compact SUV segment.
It used to be easy to criticise the Compass as a case of too little too late. Not any longer. With its new duds, upgraded interior and manlier drivetrain, the 2011 model is no more the little Jeep that couldn't. It is expected to go on sale in the UAE midway through this year.
Price, base / as tested n/a
Engline 2.4L four cylinder
Gearbox five-speed manual / CVT
Power 158hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque 224Nm @ 4,400 rpm
Fuel economy, L/100km 10.2 city / 8.4 highway (2WD version)