First Drive: Jeep's Full 2011 Lineup

A. J. Mueller
#Jeep, #Jeep

2011 Jeep Compass

What's New? Just take a look at that face! The design team at Jeep did an amazing job of making the Compass more attractive in an incredibly short period of time. With a front end that looks like a mini Grand Cherokee, the Compass now looks good enough to lure some shoppers in for a test drive. Once those shoppers get behind the wheel (a much nicer steering wheel, we might add) there are a variety of soft-touch plastics and trim pieces adorning the cabin as well as better noise insulation.

Engineers spent time revising the suspension of the Compass and Patriot, which are platform mates, and the higher spring and damper rates, plus new rebound springs, really firm up the vehicle's response on-road. A thicker rear anti-roll bar also adds some stability. The suspension revisions, along with the thicker steering wheel, make the Compass feel much more substantial while going down the road. You no longer feel like you've been put in a penalty box when you drive a Compass.

Another big improvement to the Compass is the addition of a "Trail Rated" Freedom Drive II all-wheel drive system. Freedom Drive II is new for the Compass in 2011 and adds hill descent control, brake traction control, and a 19:1 crawl ratio that comes from locking the CVT into its lowest ratio. The Compass still lacks an actual transfer case, but the electronic substitutes will likely appease consumers.

How Does it Drive? The suspension and NVH refinement go a long way towards making the Compass competitive in the small all-wheel-drive crossover market. We were very surprised by how much more responsive the Compass is on a twisting road -- don't expect driving dynamics anywhere near a Grand Cherokee, but the Compass now inspires confidence instead of fear when you turn the wheel. There's still not much acceleration to be had, but the 0-60 mph time did drop a half a second for 2011 and now takes about 10.5 seconds. Road noise still penetrates through the Compass' chassis, but there's no significant wind noise coming through the windshield or A-pillars at highway speeds.

Do I Want One? No matter how much work Jeep has put into this crossover for 2011, the Compass nameplate carries some serious baggage. The Compass will always be remembered for trying to stretch the Jeep brand a little too far and it isn't long for this world. Even Brian Nathan, chief engineer for Compass and Patriot, admits "the vehicle's life cycle is very short at this stage." During a press conference in 2009, it was announced the Patriot and Compass would be killed off by 2012 to make room for a single Fiat-based small SUV wearing a Jeep badge. If you absolutely need a small Jeep today, the Compass will do, but smart shoppers should wait to see what 2012 holds.

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