The Jeep Compass is one of those vehicles that most journalists tested because they had too. It wasn’t a cool vehicle by any standards and it wasn’t really even a Jeep. That is until now.
The backdrop is the snowcapped Grand Teton mountain range surrounding Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the task is to drive the new 2011 Jeep Compass on road and off, putting its capabilities to the test and reporting back to you.
It’s early December and there is plenty of snow on the ground in Jackson Hole, WY to test the Compass along a 45 mile on-road course, and through two tough off-road trails full of tight, twisty, tree-packed trails, through dry river beds, and steep, muddy ascents and descents.
The new Compass sports a host of new features and design changes.
- 1” taller stance on 4X4 models giving it greater ground clearance
- A completely redesigned look, one that resembles the new Grand Cherokee, finally foregoing that Bugs Bunny cartoon styling of past
- Upgraded interior features soft touch points and high quality materials
- Upgraded steering and suspension systems
- More than 30 safety and security features, including standard electronic stability control, electronic roll mitigation, Hill-start Assist and side-curtain air bags that cover all rows
- Trail Rated off-road capabilities for Compasses fitted with Freedom Drive II® off-road 4×4 package
- Some interior refinements and redesigns including soft touch-points
- Better approach and departure angles with the new styling – 20.6 degrees and 32.2 degrees respectively
“With the new 2011 Jeep Compass, we’ve applied the premium design cues of our award-winning new Grand Cherokee,” said Mike Manley, President and CEO – Jeep Brand, Chrysler Group LLC. “Combined with new interior appointments, and refinements to the suspension and steering systems, Jeep Compass provides consumers the ultimate combination of styling, capability, fuel economy, efficiency, safety and value in the important compact-SUV segment.”
Freedom Drive II
The Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package is an available four-wheel-drive system that delivers Jeep Trail Rated® capability in Compass form. Freedom Drive II includes a second-generation continuously variable transaxle with low range (CVT2L) that engages when the off-road mode is activated, 17-inch all-terrain tires and aluminum wheels, a one-inch raised ride height, a full-size spare tire, skid plates, tow hooks, fog lamps and manual seat height adjuster. The available Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package is recommended for moderate off-road situations that include steep grades, occasional wheel lift and rock or log climbing.
We’ve foregone testing the previous generations of Jeep Compass because it wasn’t a real 4-wheel drive, but that’s all changed now with this new model. Jeep finally had the stones to make it both a 4X4, and to also give it a Trail Rated badge too.
Our on-road tests included winding, wet and icy mountain byways. We drove the Compass outfitted with the 2.4 Liter DOHC 16-valve I-4 engine that squirted out an adequate 172 HP and 165 lb.-ft. of torque for this 3,325 pound mini SUV. It was also equipped with an automatic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and the Freedom Drive II Off-Road package. The ride is comfortable given its diminutive stature and aside from the odd drone of the CVT transmission (which I still can’t appreciate in any vehicle, nor do I believe it belongs in a Jeep), it was a pleasantly surprising driving experience for a vehicle that starts south of $20,000. But we really wanted to see how this new Jeep performed off the beaten path.
The Jeep marketing and engineering executives met us at the next test area; an off-road course that took us through two off-road trails full of tight, twisty, tree-packed trails, off camber climbs, and steep, muddy ascents and descents. They also told us that the new Compass would go everywhere the Wrangler would go during our off-road driving tests and that we shouldn’t be afraid to mash the go-go pedal to the floorboard when tackling some of the harder obstacles. Not being one to disappoint, that’s exactly what I did. I flogged the little Jeep like I stole it, keeping the pedal mashed firmly to the firewall while ascending a deeply rutted, twisty ascent. The result – the engine and CVT transmission revved up like a Singer sewing machine, but climbed the tough trail obstacle in a surefooted manner. Sure it took more revs than the Grand Cherokee or Wrangler took to climb the same obstacle, but these are more serious 4-wheel drive vehicles than the Compass and it surprised every journalist that drove it, including me.
The rest of the off-road trail gave us opportunities to drop the ute into a dry river bed via an off-camber and slippery path and did so with equally good footing. We took the Compass through the remainder of the trails and were quite surprised with its capabilities. Sure, it can’t tackle large boulders and hard-core rock-strewn off-road trails, but that’s not what the Jeep Compass is all about. It’s about striking a balance between fuel efficiency, comfort, off-road capability, low-cost and beating the snot out of its competition (namely the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V). Mind you, the staffers at 4X4Review are 4X4 purists but the new Jeep Compass, when fitted with the 2.4 liter engine and the Freedom Drive II Off-Road package really delivers on that balance quite well.
Aside from the annoying CVT transmission and gaudy shifter, the 2011 Jeep compass was the lil’ ute that stole the show for everyone, surprising even the most skeptical journalists (myself included) with its off-road capabilities. It isn’t quite a point-and-shoot off-road endeavor like the Wrangler – it is more closely related to a smash-the-gas-and-go adventure, which adds to the entertainment and satisfaction of getting a small SUV through some particularly tough trails.
On road, the Compass is surefooted and stable even in particularly adverse conditions, making it every bit of a Jeep. It is comfortable for average sized people, but this 6’ 4” tall tester found it to be a bit tight, and in the age of ever expanding waistlines, would be equally snug for those more rotund drivers too. The fuel mileage in every configuration is exceptional as well.
In conclusion, the 2011 Jeep Compass has finally found its Jeep-ness with its available 4-wheel drive and pseudo low-range gearing system. It’s a great balance for those looking for a compact SUV that lives most of its life as a daily driver but can easily escape to the back country and even tackle some relatively gnarly trails too. Starting at just south of $20,000, it’s also quite a bargain. And yes, the Jeep Compass finally has a compass inside of it.
2011 Jeep Compass – Additional Images