• Mar 29, 2011
Least Capable Jeep Still Lost In The Woods

2011 Jeep Compass - Click above for high-res image gallery

Let's be honest here: The Jeep Compass should have never been built – at least not in the form it took. A derivative of the compact Dodge Caliber, the Compass is neither a real Jeep nor an SUV, but a singular testament to how badly Daimler mismanaged the brand over its decade of ownership. And sales have proven this out. Although the Compass did well in the first year after its May 2006 launch, interest quickly cooled, and through the end of 2010, Chrysler had totaled only 111,000 Compass sales. The company managed to move fewer than 16,000 of them last year.

A "softroader," the Compass was meant to compete in the growing field of compact, front-wheel-drive crossovers often derided as "Cute Utes." The misguided, condescending and paternalistic attitude of the Germans running DaimlerChrysler at the time was that young women would flock to the Compass, while its mechanical twin, the Jeep Patriot, was designed for the boys. While the Patriot at least looked like a Jeep – the much-loved, discontinued Cherokee – the googly-eyed Compass was cartoonish, like a Jeep animated for the Powerpuff Girls.

Continue reading Review: 2011 Jeep Compass...

Photos copyright ©2011 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

Since its launch, the Compass has been called out for a host of shortcomings, starting with its cheap and noisy interior. While Chrysler revamped the instrument and door panels, along with adding some sound dampening in 2009, the 'ute has finally received a more thorough overhaul for the 2011 model year, with some additional upgrades including a new steering wheel, a new front fascia and grille with a revised hood to match, along with a new four-wheel-drive package that confers a "Trail Rated" label to this least illustrious Jeep.

Nobody can argue against these moves hugely improving the 2011 Compass, but after spending a week with the vehicle, we find that the changes have done little to move the needle against the competition – especially considering Chrysler continues to raise the model's price.

2011 Jeep Compass side view2011 Jeep Compass front view2011 Jeep Compass rear view

For 2011, the base Compass starts at $19,295, some $4,000 more than Jeep was asking at introduction. At the top of the range, the Compass Limited 4x4 has experienced a similar price creep and is now wearing a $25,995 sticker, up $860 from last year. Our test model, in mid-range "Latitude" trim with the new "Freedom Drive II" off-road package, carried a shocking $27,485 window sticker. That's more expensive than a similarly equipped Liberty – a real rock-crawling Jeep.

Even more galling than our Compass tester's sticker price, however, was its fuel economy panel. The normally reasonable highway mileage, which can even hit 29 mpg in front-drive configuration with a five-speed manual and the smaller 2.0-liter engine, drops to just 23 mpg in the "Trail Rated" Compass models. Chalk this up to a ride height that's been raised by an inch, some extra weight in the form of skid plates and tow hooks, and a different version of the Compass' continuously variable transmission that offers a "low range" for off-roading.

2011 Jeep Compass engine2011 Jeep Compass interior2011 Jeep Compass front seats2011 Jeep Compass rear cargo area

We will take Chrysler's word that this new kit gives the Compass capabilities for "moderate off-road situations that include steep grades, occasional wheel lift and rock or log climbing," as we didn't head off-pavement. Realistically, nobody is ever going to buy one of these for off-roading, just as you'll never see a Compass sporting an "It's a Jeep Thing – You Wouldn't Understand" bumper sticker. Belatedly offering an off-road version of the Compass might begin to address the model's underlying credibility problem, but it's not going to make anybody want to drive one.

We do imagine quite a few prospective buyers will be lured in by the model's new face, as it makes a world of difference in helping it look like a real Jeep – the aforementioned Grand Cherokee, in particular. And naturally, this is by design. For proof, check out the Compass "Bloodlines" marketing campaign below that directly associates the two. Chrysler did an excellent job of restyling the hood as well, and the combined result renders the Compass as an entirely new vehicle. While the rest of the exterior didn't see much change, the new, serious personality imparted by the front-end makeover helps even the strange and blind-spot-inducing D-pillar look more normal.

Unfortunately, for as well as the new styling works, Chrysler hasn't throw an equivalent number of mechanical upgrades into the mix. The Compass does have some revised suspension bits designed to improve its road manners – and it rides and handles about as well as any other compact crossover – but this was never the biggest problem with the Compass. Its noisy and underperforming powertrain was – and still is – the deal-breaker.

Four-wheel-drive Compass models are only available with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. In our Compass, this was paired with the disappointing continuously variable transmission, which had us wishing for the standard-equipment manual gearbox. Jeep also offers a 2.0-liter four-cylinder on front-drive models, but with only 158 hp and 141 lb-ft of torque, it promises to feel at least as underpowered as the larger engine. While getting the Compass moving is not the problem – its throttle response and initial acceleration is decent enough – once you hit highway speeds (greater than 45 mph), the vehicle is painfully slow to respond. Even when the CVT pegs the tachometer, you'll experience more volume than motion.

2011 Jeep Compass rear 3/4 view2011 Jeep Compass headlight2011 Jeep Compass grille2011 Jeep Compass wheel

Despite the lack of refinement under its hood, the Compass could still be an endearing choice when shopped against other compact crossovers – until you crunch the numbers on size. This area is paramount among shoppers in the segment, most of which are looking for that magical combination of roominess, cargo capacity, big mpg numbers and low MSRP. Among the price-competitive set – which includes the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, and Subaru Forester – the Compass is just too small to make up for its shortcomings. Save for rear legroom, the Compass trails in the important measurements of roominess, and its rear cargo capacity is the lowest by a healthy three cubic feet. The class of this class – the CR-V and Subaru Forester – offer over 10 cubic feet more cargo capacity behind their rear seats.

If the new, refreshed Compass were priced more realistically – which will no doubt happen when Chrysler starts putting big cash on the hood – it might make sense as a cheaper, less enticing alternative to its bigger and better competitors. This was part of Chrysler's game plan back when the $15,000 Compass debuted. But as much as that tactic to help move some more metal might again work, there's another idea that seems even better. It has been reported that the Compass is scheduled to be replaced by a new model born from a Fiat platform as early as next year. That's likely the Compass' most promising direction yet.

Photos copyright ©2011 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Robert Herr
      • 2 Years Ago
      just got a new 2012 jeep compass. you guys finally got it right. great car-jeep. great headlites and front is a lot better. great driving , better than a little car. i hope jeep keep making more.it will be BIG mistake if jeep does
      • 3 Years Ago
      I bought a Jeep Compass 2011 and absolutely love it. Of course it is not a wrangler or Cherokee but it gets the job done with high MPG. It is a crossover and even though it is now "trail rated" I probably won't take it off road, though its nice to have all the aspects of a Jeep. Its a smooth fun drive and yeah the inside isn't as luxurious as it could be but its a car not a living room. These are just opinions of course-- test drive and figure it out for yourself. I think sales of Jeeps went down because of gas prices and they responded with a more practical crossover.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just purchased a 2011 compass latitude. loaded with sunroof , upgraded sound , heated seats, 17 rims with larger tires , 4x4. I paid $23,000 for it. Where else do you find a vehicle for that price. I bought it for looks and price. The engine is a bit buzzy , but most are. This is not a true 4x4, but for price and style, its a decent choice.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Yes, the Compass STARTED at 15k, but that was an ad leader without A/C, power locks, windows, or mirrors.

      By eliminating that model, you lose the low introductory price. Don't compare introductory prices, compare similarly optioned prices before you italicize 4000.

      It would make your piece significantly more credible.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Very good point ryan, but is risky - "The misguided, condescending and paternalistic attitude of the Germans" now could be addressed anywhere - Marchionne is italian- canadian, they could be guilty this time...Don't mind, I wish Chrysler products success but with something like this one here I am in doubt...
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm in agreement that the Compass does not match up to the Grand Cherokee or Wrangler in off road ability, but what other vehicle comes close either?
      The Compass has undergone a massive effort to make it an entry level Jeep. I've read in other auto reports that it is best in class in interior appointments and build quality. Certianly anyone who realistically shops and buys the Compass for its bloodline, if only at a distance, than I'm sure a Jeep convert will be made. What this updated Compass has done is prepare the market for the next generation Compass that is under development with a product that demonstrated Jeeps commitment to the class and a vision for Compass as an entry level Jeep and a product that will have strong international appeal.
      Look for Compass sales to double and for the Compass to be a hot item on the international market thanks in great measure to Fiats global dealer network.
        • 3 Years Ago
        NightFlight, Link to Allpar.com for the review on the Compass that states the opinion that it's interior is Best in Class and that improvements in the transmission and suspension (because of marginal, yet justifiable criticism) has allowed the Compass to be much improved and "mildly" off-road capable. The opinions in this article in question,are rehashed arguments from past reviews that are ment more to bolster the old overblow opinions, than to be objective in evaluating the "new and improved" Compass. Just sit in a Compass and tell me that it lacks a quality feel based on price. This is not to say that the Compass, the Patriot and the Caliber were not flawed in execution and positioning, but that corporate bean counters took a solid market opportunity and compromised the final product to the point of hurting all three. One must acknowlege that the Patriot has been a sales success of sorts and that the Jeep brand has the most respected world-wide SUV product and a line of smaller Jeeps (bloodline) will have significant international appeal. If our economy contiues to weaken, Jeep must have a domestic entry level lineup. The Compass and Patriot will be that choice for thousands. These mildly flawed products have gained a foothold, no doubt, and the market is ready for Patriot, Compass and a smaller Jeep in development.
        As to the Fiat platform you have it wrong. This Fiat sourced platform is no rebadge exercise. Jeep will have total control over styling, driveline, suspension and interior appointments from a basic architecture (wire harnesess, steering positioning, suspension location, windshield angles) that will marginalize costs for both partners. Fiat will develop its own line off the same basic archtecture, true to its automotive chemistry. This new sourced product will be all JEEP (or Dodge or Chrysler) in most everyway dectectable by the consumer. I anticipate these new sourced products to be world class and should put Chrysler to the front of the market immediately.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @ MoPar Willy

        "I've read in other auto reports that it is best in class in interior appointments and build quality."

        I've honestly never seen this before in any single publication, can you provide a link to the one you are referencing? I've never really seen anyone praise the interior of this vehicle, updated or pre-MMC, they've all panned it even after the updates.

        Also, the replacement Compass/Patriot is supposed to be a rebadged Fiat vehicle from what I've heard.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Isn't there a saying about turds and polish? I know Chrysler can't afford to pull anything brand new out of nothing but the Compass was always a bad idea that should have been cut with the rest of the fat.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The article says that a new Fiat platform is "likely the Compass' most promising new direction yet". Yes, and all the wonderful quality, reliability, and off-road prowess that has made Fiat a household name in the U.S. for the past 25 years. I personally fear any Fiat involvement in design of Chrysler products. Chrysler has always been hit or miss, but when they get it right, it's REALLY good! Minivans and Wranglers, anyone?

      I read an issue of Top Gear magazine about two years ago that was a Consumer Reports type issue. They asked their U.K. readers, "what do you drive, how does it hold up, and how do you like it?". Generally, the top Japanese makes were highest, followed by a mix of VW, Saab, Volvo, Diamler, and American makes. At the bottom of the heap were all the common makes you can't get here: Citroen, Peugeot, Alfa, and Fiat. That was very telling, I thought.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Guys, its just a band-aid until the REAL new stuff gets here in the next 2-3 years.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I apologise in advance for such a shallow post, but good lord is that front end ugly... This vehichle looks like a horrible patchwork of various different crossovers from throughout the industry...
        • 3 Years Ago
        I agree. Absolutely hideous. And not one alternative drivetrain offering.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I have difficulty with the premise that Daimler 'badly managed' Chrysler, a company with the propensity for, and decades-long track record of, making bad cars and trucks. So now Fiat, the UAW and the US tax payers own (and manage) Fiatsler. And what do we get now? Still more of the bad stuff that they cranked out for decades. Who you gonna blame now? The US taxpayers? Sergio? The UAW? Maybe we are just trying to resurrect the dead and that hasn't happened since the days of Christ.
        • 3 Years Ago
        i actually think the new front is attractive, is everything else that was left untouched i have a problem with... :/
        • 3 Years Ago
        @highdesertcat: To be fair to the new owners, they're working with a complete dog introduced in the Daimler days. They've done a lot to it, elevating it from horrifyingly awful to merely bad, but it takes more time and money to make a good car than the new owners have had. I'd wait until the actually new model lines are introduced before passing judgment on the new owners.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Seems like they are trying to salvage whatever profit they can from an investment in a product that was doomed from the beginning.
        • 3 Years Ago

        I'm not talking about a hybrid. Maybe something all electric or natural gas. Somebody has got to start offering it. Its has to start somewhere. Just something other than the standard ICE. I really not a fan of hybrids.
        • 3 Years Ago
        SynthOno, I truly and sincerely hope that Sergio can turn Chrysler around because I would like to see the US Treasury repaid for the ill-advised bail-outs and buy-outs perpetrated by Bush and Obama. And, of course, it remains to be seen if this can truly happen. The question I have is regarding the time frame. Will we see the Great Turnaround in three years, five years, ten years? My reasoning is that the Great American Auto Industry does not have three years left. Based on sales and market share I see the Great American Auto Industry being wholly foreign-owned by the year 2014. I was right about the collapse of GM and Chrysler in 2007, I believe that time will bear me out and that Ford and GM will be wholly foreign-owned by 2014, in spite of continued tax payer bail outs, hand outs and nationalization. Chrysler is already there, with the shots now being called from Italy.
        • 3 Years Ago
        To me, the name, Compass, is almost as offensive as its looks. I think it's past time the Italians fix what Daimler screwed up with the Jeep brand by axing the Liberty, Patriot, and Compass and give us an updated version of the much loved Cherokee XJ, one as close as modern safety standards will allow.

        Since 2001, it has been all down hill when they replaced the Cherokee with the inferior Liberty. Since then, Jeep has tried to mimic the design of the old XJ with it's other nameplates but has been unsuccessful.
        • 3 Years Ago

        I'm not in it for the "green", buddy. I'm would rather the electric for the power and torque. No gas is just a bonus. Same reason the Porsche 918 has additional 200hp on tap from the electric motors. The ability to drive about 25 miles on electric power alone is just a bonus.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @ Alien Opinion

        Who gives a crap about an "alternative drivetrain" when nearly all of the competition doesn't offer one and still sell well.

        The CR-V is a fantastic example, being the best selling SUV in America for going on 5 years now. The Equinox sells well, it doesn't have a hybrid option.

        • 3 Years Ago
        I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think this looks 200% better than the previous version.
        • 3 Years Ago

        The review is not BIAS. If anything, it's biasED. But I don't think it's that, either.

        There's just not much there to review.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Alien Opinion

        For some reason.. You crack me up! hahaha... you are good.
      • 3 Years Ago
      So you are saying the same thing that I did, the price hike wasn't justified. I believe I was downvoted for saying the exact same thing. There isn't much to show for a $4,000 price increase. Regardless, this is such a huge improvement to the vehicle.

      Bottom line? This front end and interior should have been on the Patriot at its launch in 2006 and the Compass should have never existed. If Jeep had done that, they would have sold many more of these and saved a ton of money to boot.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Jeep purists like myself scowl at these types of vehicles, but lets all agree on something here: its a lot better than the first Compass, no?
        • 3 Years Ago
        @ p-saurus

        Because no one wants a SWB which creates a choppy ride coupled with the poor handling characteristics of solid axles. They are dead, get over it.

        You represent literally about .5% of the market, which isn't profitable for Chrysler. They already have the Wrangler, another model would be pointless.
        • 3 Years Ago
        It looks nicer. I understand that they need to build something to meed CAFE standards. Why this instead of something like a Suzuki Samurai with a 4 cylinder and solid axles? That would sell like hotcakes!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Though, the whole lower front looks like an afterthought... Really the only good looking things are the hood, grille, and headlights.
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