2011 Jeep Compass North Edition 4x4 Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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While I don't like to think of myself as shallow, there are certain vehicles that I could simply never own based on looks alone. Until this year, the Jeep Compass was one of them. I was at least in good company with this opinion, as it seemed that almost everyone felt the same way, including the majority of potential Compass buyers.

Well, Jeep got the message loud and clear, and for 2011 introduced a restyled Compass. The exterior changes are actually limited to a new front fascia, grille and front fenders, new hood, new LED taillights and a few bits of trim, but the effect is utterly transformative. Gone is the cartoon chipmunk face, and in its place is a handsome new front end that looks for all the world like a scaled-down Jeep Grand Cherokee. Suddenly driving a Compass means you'll look like you've arrived.

Happily the Compass's new-found beauty isn't just skin-deep, either - the interior has been freshened up with an upscale new three-spoke steering wheel, new centre stack controls, nicer seat cloth and better-looking plastics. There's also some new soft touch materials, which are used sparingly but effectively (they're placed exactly where you're likely to actually touch the interior, on the front door panels and centre console armrest).

With these fundamentals sorted out, the Compass is finally in a position where it can compete head-to-head based on price, features and performance with rivals such as the Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi RVR, and Subaru Forester. So how does it stack up?

Performance-wise, for 2011 Jeep has tweaked the suspension for better handling, added an available new low-ratio "crawl" mode (19.1:1) for the optional CVT automatic transmission, and added a Freedom II four-wheel drive package that earns the Compass a "Trail Rated" badge. The Freedom II off-road package includes hill descent control system, a brake lock virtual differential locking system, an extra inch of ground clearance, tow hooks, plus skid plates for the fuel tank, transmission and engine oil pan. With this kit, the Compass is the only real off-roader available among a fleet of soft-road competitors, and even if it isn't necessarily suited for the Rubicon trail it should be able to tackle the kind of terrain needed to get you to your favourite fishing hole or rock-climbing spot. The lighter-duty (and not Trail Rated) Freedom I four-wheel drive system also remains available.

Two engines are available for the Compass, and they remain unchanged for 2011: The base engine is a 2.0L DOHC inline-4 developing 158 horsepower and 141 lb-ft of torque. The bigger engine, which was fitted to my test car, is a 2.4L DOHC inline-4 producing 172 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, this "world engine" is somewhat unrefined - it clatters noticeably when cold and has a bit of a raspy character once warmed up. I also found that it didn't offer a lot of punch off the line, although this (and the raspy character for that matter) may be a function of the CVT automatic transmission fitted to my test car.

I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of constant velocity transmissions, and the one in the Compass seems to exaggerate the characteristics I don't like about them: The time-delay between engine response and transmission response, the motorboat droning of the engine when you accelerate hard, and the seemingly random gear ratio changes as you vary your power demands. All that said, the powertrain in my test car did a fine enough job of moving things around, and if you don't like the CVT you do at least have a choice: The Compass is available with a 5-speed manual transmission in all trim levels, unlike the Nissan Rogue where a CVT is your only choice. Rated city/hwy fuel economy as tested with the CVT and four-wheel drive is 9.9 / 7.5 L/100km, and the equivalent 5-speed model is rated at 9.2 / 7.2 L/100km. Unlike some cars I've driven, I found the Compass actually achieved pretty close to these ratings in real-world conditions, so I'll give the CVT credit for that.

When it comes to price and features, Compass buyers can have it either way, because there's a wide spread between a base model and a fully-equipped one: A base front-wheel drive Compass can be had for as little as $16,495, but has manual door locks and windows. If you load up The available new Freedom II 4x4 package means the 2011 Compass finally warrants a Trail Rated badge. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press) with four-wheel drive, automatic transmission and all the goodies, you'll quickly climb over $30,000 - nearly double the price of the base edition. The North Edition 4x4 I tested clocked in at a total of $30,265. This price included a $3,300 "Preferred" package that adds air conditioning, power locks, windows and mirrors, remote keyless entry, 115V power outlet and body-coloured door handles. My test car also included a $625 Sirius radio audio package with Bluetooth, $1,750 for the Freedom II CVT automatic transmission with crawl ratio, $450 for an all-season group, which added a leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated seats, plus various other options including a towing package and full-size spare. It still wasn't fully-loaded however, as Jeep hadn't seen fit to give it a sunroof (this comes as part of a sun and sound package).

But even when fully loaded, the Compass remains price competitive with lesser-equipped rivals, and its new sheet metal and interior fittings mean that it finally stands out from the crowd in a good way. If a compact crossover SUV with real (if perhaps limited) off-road capability is what you're looking for, the Compass is now worth serious consideration.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, SUV, 4x4, Jeep, 2011, Compass, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999,

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