When Jeep introduced the Compass for the 2007 model year; I instantly thought (and still think) that it was one of the best names ever given to a vehicle with adventurous aspirations – something Jeep vehicles have always represented. However; the Compass didn’t quite live up to its Jeep heritage, or its own name for that matter. When Jeep announced that Compass would receive an update for 2011; I wasn’t expecting more than a minor appearance refresh. I simply didn’t think that Chrysler would invest a lot of money, time, and energy to significantly update a vehicle that they have already announced will be replaced in a few short years. I was wrong about that, and thankfully so.
Compass has consistently been mocked and insulted on internet forums; in Jeep, off-road, and general auto magazines; by Jeep owners in off road parks, and parking lots; and generally anywhere it’s seen, spoken of, or thought about. Most claimed that it was not a ‘real’ Jeep, and until a short while ago; my opinions on Compass were not very different. There were two main reasons why, in my opinion, Compass got a bad wrap with Jeepers from day one. Its completely independent suspension and lack of a low range four wheel drive system classified this vehicle as an AWD car, and not a Jeep. Compass was the only product in the line up that did not have a Trail Rated version, which condemned it to ridicule from owners of ‘real’ Jeeps.
My main gripe was with the lack of a low range 4X4 system. (I could understand why this type of vehicle needed this type of suspension system to sell to the intended buyers; but with Compass sharing a platform and drive train with its Trail Rated sibling (Patriot) it didn’t make sense why it couldn’t have an FD II option.) This is something Jeep has finally corrected for the 2011 model; accrediting the Jeep enthusiast’s ‘real Jeep’ comments as its main motivation for doing so. Aside from the (much needed, and well executed) facelift that Compass received for 2011; Jeep is offering a “Trail Rated” version of the misunderstood cute-ute for the first time. Buyers ordering a 2011 Jeep Compass with the Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package will receive a true, and very ‘real’ Jeep.
On paper, the Trail Rated Compass has a lot to offer, including the low gear (off road specific) setting of the CVT (continuously variable transmission,) a more powerful alternator, all season floor mats, a brake lock differential, a fuel tank skid plate, hill decent control, hill start assist, P215/65R17 all terrain tires, tow hooks, transmission/ engine oil pan skid plate, engine oil cooler, tow wiring harness, and a full size spare tire. All for a mere $500 more than the non trail rated 4X4 with an automatic trans will cost you. As I said… it looks great on paper, but how does the Trail Rated Compass (and Patriot for that matter) actually perform on the trail? I had an opportunity to take a ride in the Compass while at the New York Auto Show a few weeks ago and decided to find out for myself.
Let me start off by saying that, after taking a ride in a 2011 Wrangler Rubicon [video here] with some folks from the SRT group, the Camp Jeep off-road course is pretty authentic (or as real as you can get in a parking lot) and gives you a good idea of what off-road driving is like – if you’ve never ventured off the highway yourself before. There were off camber lines where the Compass was running with two wheels off the ground, steep inclines and descents, extreme angles, and tricky terrain. The Compass handled obstacles similar to those I’ve faced in the woods – albeit in a parking lot, on a course built specifically for these vehicles. As my driver informed me; driving the Compass (or Patriot) off-road does require some driver skill, as it differs from the way the Wrangler, Liberty, (or the beloved Cherokee) perform in similar situations.
The little compass did indeed perform differently than its siblings, but still made it through all of the obstacles of Jeep’s course. If you look at the Compass or Patriot for what they are – they’re pretty cool little jeeps. Yes, they ARE Jeeps…
For me, Jeep has been creating vehicles for adventure seeking motorists (those who want the ability to venture outside of the box, color outside the lines, and see where life can take them) since the day the first CJ rolled out to the public. The Wrangler (which has the closest resemblance to the original CJs) is, by far, the most capable stock off-road vehicle on the market today; but it doesn’t fit into everyone’s everyday life… which is where the Compass and Patriot come in. Jeep offers vehicles, across all SUV segments, that surpass their competition off road. The Compass and Patriot were not designed and built to compete with the Wrangler… but to offer consumers who need a smaller, cheaper, more comfortable, fuel friendly SUV access to the Jeep lifestyle. With the small SUV segment being one of the biggest in the market right now – why would the number one SUV nameplate on the planet not offer these more rugged alternatives to the SUV wannabees out there? Compass and Patriot make sense – and I’ll be sad to see them go in a few years. Hopefully the reported 2013 replacement will have as much Jeep heritage pumped into it as the Patriot, and (now) Compass have.
Recent reviews of Compass and Patriot have been hit or miss – and often try to compare it to the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota FJ, or Nissan X-Terra – which, to me, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
It is also too often noted that the Compass and Patriot share a platform with the Caliber; assuming that they are simply re-badged versions of the Dodge – they are not. When compared to other 4 cylinder 4X4’s in their class – Compass and Patriot are great choices for those adventure seekers who need a comfortably riding daily driver, with decent fuel economy, that can also handle more off road situations than any of its competitors. Compass and Patriot thankfully offer a manual transmission option – but only on non trail rated versions. Hopefully their successor will continue to have a three pedal setup; but this time with an off road package.
Prices as accessed on 5.19.2011 through Jeep.com BuildYourOwn:
Sport 4X4 with Automatic Transmission (CVT): $22,295
Sport 4X4 with FD II Offroad Package Automatic Transmission (CVT): $22,795
Sport 4X4 with Automatic Transmission (CVT): $19,495
Sport 4X4 With FD II Offroad Package Automatic Transmission (CVT): $20,495