Driven: 2011 Jeep Compass 4x4

By Brandon Turkus

July 11, 2011

Jeep has gotten a number of things right with this new Compass. For a start, a Grand Cherokee-inspired front fascia has replaced the cutesy, on-road-only looks of the last-generation model. We heard more than one passerby mention just how handsome the new front end looks on this small Jeep. From the profile, the Compass benefits from an extra inch of ride height, making it look like it’s actually capable of crossing something tougher than the street. The slightly awkward looking rear end is still there, but the addition of LED taillights improves the overall look, especially at night.
The big improvement comes in the cabin. More specifically, we are talking about a noticeable increase in refinement. This is a vehicle that is much quieter on road, with a more stable ride, especially at higher speeds. Wind noise can still be heard, but for a $26,000 vehicle that doesn’t wear a Hyundai or Volkswagen badge, it’s quite well controlled. The ride it self is nicely sorted under most conditions. Highway cruising is plenty comfortable, which considering the Compass’ on-road leanings, isn’t much of a surprise. Road imperfections are handled well, and there isn’t too much float over large bumps.
Despite the quiet ride, the Compass’ cabin was too much of the old Chrysler. The interior is awash in hard plastics on the dash, doors, and center console. It looks and feels too cheap for this price point. On the plus side (and this is one we’ve raved about before) is the new, three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel that’s been showing up on all the new Jeep, Dodge, and Chrysler products. Not only does it class up the cabin, it feels genuinely pleasant to use. The leather feels nicely conditioned, and the button placement is both logical and intuitive. We especially enjoyed the audio controls mounted on the back of the steering wheel, which controlled the volume and could manually sift through individual radio stations.
Dynamically, the Compass’ ride was a disappointment. There is just too much body roll here. Through the bends, we found ourselves grappling with the steering wheel to stay in place. This car could benefit from better lateral damping, as well as larger seat bolsters. The Compass’ steering was merely okay. Through the bends, the wheel weighted up nicely, and delivered some feedback, but we were still left guessing a lot of the time.
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (the base motor is a 2.0-liter four-pot, with the 2.4 being standard on our four-wheel-drive Compass) provided power for our tester. It delivered 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels via a continuously variable transmission. While we normally aren’t huge fans of CVTs, the unit in the Compass performed well in this application. Low-end punch wasn’t great, but once in the middle of the rev range, the 2.4 came to life and delivered a decent amount of mid-range power. Let off the throttle and the CVT quickly reigned in the revs, dropping back to the low end of the rev range. While we’d almost always prefer a traditional automatic (or better yet, a manual trans), the CVT on the Compass certainly wasn’t bad.
While we had hoped that the Compass would demonstrate the same drastic improvement in driving experience and cabin quality that we found in the new Grand Cherokee, to say the smallest Jeep hasn’t been upgraded considerably just isn’t true. This is a car that is quieter, more comfortable, nicer looking, and generally just better to drive than the vehicle it replaces, making it a win in our book.
VS: Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE 4WD
Boasting 24 more horsepower and 20 more pound-feet of torque, the Compass easily makes up for its 62-pound weight penalty. It just feels more athletic than the Outlander Sport. The steering seems better tuned in, and the ride is far more comfortable, especially over imperfections.
Despite the mass of black plastic in the Jeep’s cabin, it looks and feels better than the plastics that are found in the Outlander Sport. We do have to acknowledge the Mitsu’s awesome paddle shifters though, which would be a nice addition to the Compass’ cabin.
While the Jeep has a shorter wheelbase than the Outlander (103.7 versus 105.1), it’s longer, wider, and taller. This grants it a considerable advantage in terms of passenger and cargo volume, where it boasts an extra 3.8 cubic feet and 4.1 cubic feet respectively.
VS: Hyundai Tucson Limited AWD
Despite both vehicles featuring 2.4-liter engines, the Compass has just a bit less power, with 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. The Tucson, on the other hand, nets 176 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. That might not be a huge deal, until you consider that the Jeep is 163 pounds lighter than the Hyundai.
Things between the Jeep and Hyundai are equally close in terms of driving experience. Both cars deliver a comfortable, quiet ride, with the Hyundai getting the edge in refinement, but only slightly. In terms of feedback though, the Jeep comes through. The steering feels better weighted, and more willing to talk to the driver than the tiller in the Hyundai.
While both vehicles are firmly focused on the road, should things get rough, the Jeep’s off-road pedigree shines through. Its four-wheel-drive system features a lock setting, and depending on how it’s optioned, it can be had with underbody skid plates for additional protection. The fact that it also boasts an extra 1.3-inches of ground clearance certainly can’t hurt either.
2011 Jeep Compass Latitude 4x4
Engine: Inline-4, 2.4 liters, 16v
Output: 172 hp/165 lb-ft
Weight: 3325 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 21/26 MPG
Towing Capacity: 2000 lb
Base Price: $20,995
As Tested: $26,805
On Sale: Now