2012 Jeep Compass Expert Review:Autoblog
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.
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.
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.
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
The needle is finally pointed in the right direction.
The original 2007 Jeep Compass was the first production Jeep that wasn't. Beyond its "Jeep" badge and trademark seven-bar grille, the Compass was a compact crossover derived from the front-wheel-drive Dodge Caliber, a product that lacked the hardware and personality to provide the foundation for a genuine Jeep.
Hampered by ungainly styling, modest power and no transfer case, the Compass never achieved much success on trails or in showrooms. Compass sales always lagged behind the Caliber and its closer platform relative, the Jeep Patriot. In short, the Compass didn't accomplish its mission of being an attractive entry-level Jeep for shoppers who aspired to own a Grand Cherokee but couldn't afford a real Jeep.
Chrysler improved the Compass's interior for 2009, but given the national economic climate and the company's bankruptcy, it's likely that even more substantial product changes wouldn't have moved the sales needle. Things should be a bit different for the 2011 model year.
Photos copyright ©2010 Rex Roy / AOL, Jeep
Who knew a facelift could be so effective? The external transformation of the 2010 to 2011 Compass is nearly a Joy Behar to Scarlett Johansson metamorphosis. Gone is the look Jeep design chief Mark Allen described as "cartoonish," and grafted in its place is a three-quarter scale Grand Cherokee front clip. Everything forward of the A-pillar is cosmetically new.
The front end looks so good you want to ignore the mostly carryover profile and rear end. With limited time and money, designers were unable to do more than add some lower cladding (for durability) and swap out the old incandescent-bulb taillamps for new LED units.
To satisfy most shoppers, Jeep could have stopped with changing the exterior. They didn't. Additional changes were made to improve comfort and driving dynamics.
"This body has always had an issue with road noise," explained Chief Engineer Brian Nathan. "We've added panel pads and insulation in a number of places to mitigate the noise and quiet things down." The efforts were generally successful. The Compass' cabin is fairly quiet for a compact crossover, but you'd never mistake it for a Lexus or a Lincoln.
Designers have also changed some interior bits and pieces to make the Compass' cabin more livable. The door panels and center armrest now feature soft-touch surfaces in place of hard plastic. These limited changes significantly improve one's initial impression of the interior and facilitate long-distance comfort. The slightly elevated view forward is also good, helping make the Compass feel easy to drive.
Another contributing factor to overall comfort are the changes in springs and dampers. Nathan explained that spring rates are up 20 percent and the dampers at each corner are similar in design to those used on the Grand Cherokee; they employ built-in rebound springs to better control ride motion. The front and rear stabilizer bars are also stiffer by about 10 percent. The result is a more buttoned down ride and (the perception of) improved on-road handling.
The power steering unit remains a traditional hydraulic unit. Feedback and on-center feel are good, but no better than the best electrically powered units that have become the new standard. We asked whether EPAS might come to the Compass to help improve fuel mileage. Manufacturers don't often talk about future products, but they did respond to this question with a question, "Would it be financially wise to embark on a new power steering development program for a vehicle that is nearing the end of its lifecycle?" Probably not if you figure the Compass' final model year is likely to be 2013 or thereabouts.
Regarding on-road performance, our experience was limited to a Compass Limited 4x4 ($25,995) equipped with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT. As equipped ($29,380), this baby GC comfortably traversed the meandering two-lanes that followed Wyoming's Snake River.
The 2.4-liter's 172-horsepower provided adequate acceleration, but these days, zero-to-60 times in the nine-second range feel slow. "CVTs like torque, and unfortunately, the Compass' two engines don't produce huge torque numbers. For 2011, we modified engine and CVT mapping to deliver better response and we shaved about half a second to 60," said Nathan. The 2.4-liter puts out 165 pound-feet once the tach swings past 4,400 rpm. Throttle response, though, has improved over past Compass models we've driven.
We did not sample a Compass with the standard 2.0-liter engine that makes just 158 hp and 141 lb-ft of torque. With more than 1.5 tons to haul around, we're okay with that.
All of the above mattered little when we pointed the Compass off-road. Any Compass can now be equipped with the proper kit to be "Trail Rated," a Jeep-calculated metric that factors in many characteristics such as approach angle, departure angle, break-over angle and ground clearance. Trail Rated Compasses ride one inch higher than standard editions. While being Trail Rated doesn't guarantee Rubicon or Moab trail-conquering capabilities, this little Jeep will tackle tougher off-road adventures than most of its potential buyers would ever dare attempt.
The driveline for Trail Rated Compass models includes a dedicated CVT unit that has a lower off-road-only "gear" that offers a 19:1 crawl ratio. When this ratio is engaged along with the 4WD Lock switch (that engages the rear Electronically Controlled Coupling for the rear differential for a fixed 50:50 torque split), the Compass can pull itself through some tough stuff. The front and rear differentials are open, so torque is shifted side-to-side using brake intervention. While not the choice for serious off-road machines, the Compass isn't, so the existing technology suffices.
Priced in line with the Honda CR-V, the MSRP indicates some hubris given Chrysler's history and current status. The Compass doesn't represent the same value as a CR-V or Toyota RAV4, and more closely aligns with vehicles like the Nissan Rogue and Hyundai Tucson in size and shape. Other U.S. automakers have been aggressive with their pricing to provide shoppers another reason to consider "Buying American" beyond just improved hardware. According to David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research, Chrysler has lowered it's cost per vehicle by upwards of $5,000 because of the debt and liabilities shed through bankruptcy. A fraction of that savings applied to the Compass' MSRP would go a long way towards wooing more shoppers into Jeep showrooms to rediscover the nameplate.
Regardless of price, now that it has the much improved looks and added off-road capabilities, finally, the Compass is the vehicle Jeep intended it to be.
Photos copyright ©2010 Rex Roy / AOL, Jeep
New Car Test Drive
Small size, big appeal.
The Jeep Compass is built like a car and drives like a car, but it has the kind of versatility and capability associated with a small SUV. It's available in two trim levels and with two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and delivers commendable fuel economy.
The Compass is available with a choice of two engines. The standard engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 16 valves, electronic variable valve timing that continually optimizes the torque curve, and balance shafts. It delivers 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. With two-wheel drive it is EPA-rated at 23 mpg City, 28 mpg Highway with the manual transmission and 21/25 with the CVT automatic. New is a 2.0-liter 16-valve four-cylinder, also with variable valve timing and balance shafts, with 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque. With two-wheel drive it is EPA-rated at 23/29 mpg with the manual transmission and 23/27 with the CVT automatic.
The Jeep Compass offers an optional continuously variable transaxle, or CVT, which performs like an automatic transmission. The CVT comes with the Auto Stick manual shiftgate feature. The Auto Stick enables the driver to shift up and down over six preset gear ratios, making it feel like a six-speed gearbox without a clutch pedal.
The Compass rides and handles more like a car than an SUV and it offers plenty of safety features. It has a strong steel structure and a well-planned subframe. Side-curtain airbags and electronic stability control with anti-rollover sensors are standard.
Inside, the instruments and controls are well placed and easy to use. There's good interior space all around, with rear seats that fold flat to make about 54 cubic feet of cargo space. Options for added versatility include reclining rear seats and a passenger front seat that also folds flat, creating either a table or eight-foot-long space for storage. While the interior design is nice, it is largely plastic and doesn't offer a rich or warm feel. Power windows and power door locks are optional.
The few changes for 2010 are active head restraints for the front seats and a couple of changes to some options packages.
The Jeep Compass comes as two models, Sport and Limited, each with front-wheel drive (2WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). The standard engine is the 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. It comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission; the CVT automatic with Auto Stick manual shiftgate is optional ($1,100). The 2.0-liter four-cylinder is available for the Sport.
The Compass Sport 2WD ($18,720) and AWD ($20,470) come standard with cloth upholstery; air conditioning; tilt steering wheel; outside-temperature indicator; AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary audio jack; fog lamps; roof rails; and P215/60R17 tires on aluminum wheels. The AWD Sport adds a locking center differential. The Sport E Group ($3,220) adds power windows and locks; keyless remote entry; cruise control; stain repellant cloth upholstery; height-adjustable driver's seat; fold-flat front passenger seat; reclining split-folding rear seat; a 115-volt power outlet; and iPod control. A Sun and Sound group ($1,295) adds a sunroof, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Sirius satellite radio, and a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics sound system with speakers in the liftgate that can blast the crowd at tailgate parties.
Other options include a six-CD player with MP3 playback capability ($350); the Trailer Tow Prep Package ($250) with engine oil cooler, full-size spare tire and wiring harness; and front side airbags ($250).
The Compass Limited ($23,385) and Limited AWD ($25,135) add leather upholstery; heated front seats; height-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment; fold-flat front passenger seat; reclining rear seats; leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; cruise control; six-disc CD changer; Sirius satellite radio; 115-volt power outlet; power windows, mirrors and locks; remote keyless entry; electronic vehicle information center; auto-dimming rearview mirror; universal garage door opener; floor mats; sport suspension; and P215/55R18 tires. The front and rear fascia and side moldings have shiny aluminum accents, and, like the Sport, the Limited AWD gets a locking center differential. Options include chrome-plated 18-inch aluminum wheels ($825); AM/FM/CD with navigation ($1,200); a Security and Cargo Convenience group with front side airbags, an alarm, auto-dimming mirror, remote start, and a tonneau cover; plus the Sport options.
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual front air bags; head-protecting curtain side air bags; tire-pressure monitor; antilock brakes with brake assist (which applies more brake force than the driver is applying if sensors determine it's needed in a panic stop); traction control; and electronic stability control with rollover mitigation. Torso-protecting side-impact air bags for front-seat occupants are optional and we recommend them.
Jeep offers two car-based SUVs, the Compass and Patriot. Of the two, the Compass has more of a crossover look, especially from the sculpted side, with smoothly angular flares over the wheels and more laid back lines. The rear door handles are vertical, mounted on the C-pillars to preserve the character line. The Patriot, on the other hand, is more upright.
The liftgate on the Compass is sloped at nearly a 45-degree angle, while that of the Patriot is nearly vertical. The third side window, into the cargo area, is a stylized triangle, leaving more sheetmetal and reducing visibility.
That slope at the rear of the Compass is matched by the steeply raked windshield, leading up to a roof that's slightly lower than that of the Patriot. Black plastic roof rails continue from the top corners of the windshield all the way to the spoiler over the liftgate, channeling water over the roof.
The Compass Limited has aluminum-looking trim on the sides and bumpers. The less-costly Sport looks classier in its cleaner monotone. The optional 18-inch chromed aluminum wheels on the Limited will appeal to those who want their Jeep SUV to look more like a Cadillac Escalade.
The Jeep Compass cabin is roomy and comfortable. The front bucket seats are very comfortable without being soft. The Sport is available with Jeep's stain repellant upholstery, a rugged fabric that's stain, odor and static resistant. The front seat jacks upward, which is nice because the long dash makes it hard to see the ground in front of the car, even though the hood is short. The long dash is a result of the sloped windshield.
The cabin layout is functional and roomy, even though the Compass still appears to be built to a price. The cost cutting is apparent when you shut the driver's door and it sounds like you just dented a beer can. There is plenty of room for your stuff, including your elbows and legs. The front door pockets are deep enough to get your hand in, but to make room for stereo speakers, they're short.
The center stack is wide and intelligently designed: Rectangular vents on top, a single-disc AM/FM/CD stereo or the navigation system below it, and below that are three climate control knobs and various buttons for options (including the available heated seats). The gauges are clean and pleasant, white on black with a symmetrical layout and chrome trim rings. The four-spoke steering wheel is solid to grip. The shift lever, manual or automatic, sprouts from the dash. This practical high forward position enhances ergonomics.
Moving rearward, between the front seats, there are two fixed cupholders now nicely lit with LEDs, another small trough for cell phones and the like, the emergency brake handle, and a split center console bin with two levels of storage. The console top is an armrest and it's padded.
Legroom is good, both front and rear. The Compass will be a fine vehicle for a family trip, with reclining rear seats optional on the Sport and standard on the Limited. There are cupholders in the rear but no net pockets on the front seatbacks, which would be nice. Grab handles make it easy to climb out.
The rear 60/40 seatbacks fold flat with the touch of a finger on each side, which is as easy as it gets. The front seat on the Limited model folds flat, making a table. The rear cargo area, a decent 53.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, is carpeted. The space-saver spare tire is neatly stored under the floor. One innovative feature on the Limited is the removable, rechargeable LED flashlight mounted in the headliner above the cargo area.
The one-piece liftgate has panels for structural integrity, and the rear bumper has a non-skid rubber surface for grip when people need to step on it to get to the roof. Overall, it's a spacious environment for a vehicle of this size, but not particularly warm or inviting.
The 2.4-liter engine works well in the Jeep Compass. It's relatively smooth and quiet for a four-cylinder in a vehicle with these prices. This is Chrysler's World Engine and it uses the latest technology, including an aluminum block and cylinder head, and electronically controlled variable valve timing that helps optimize torque. It makes a reasonable 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm, and delivers an estimated 23/28 City/Highway miles per gallon with AWD and the five-speed manual gearbox, or 21/24 mpg with AWD and the CVT automatic.
An all-wheel-drive Sport weighs 3223 pounds, so the acceleration is hardly neck-snapping, but the Compass is no dog. It just takes some forethought and bit of patience to get it to do what you might demand. Jeep hasn't quoted 0-60 mph times, but a manual transmission model with the 2.4-liter engine is probably in the mid-to-low nine-second range. We'd expect the automatic to be about a half second slower and 2.0-liter models to be one to two seconds slower. Those estimates are adequate, but not near the best in the class. The Compass can also tow up to 2000 pounds with the available towing package, enough for personal watercraft, a snowmobile, a motorcycle or a small boat.
The five-speed manual works well and gets the most out of the four-cylinder engine. But if you need an automatic transmission, you can also work the Auto Stick to get more power when you need it. The CVT is like two transmissions in one. You can put it in the gear you like or just put it in Drive and go.
We like the Auto Stick's manual shift feature. Jeep has improved noise and harshness levels, but no four-cylinder is as smooth as the V6s available in some competitors. We were impressed by the crisp and immediate upshifts and downshifts using the six-speed Auto Stick. The nature of the continuously variable transaxle makes such quick shifts possible. The Auto Stick in the Compass is as sharp as any manual automatic we've felt. With such accuracy, it always works: Easily downshifting to knock off a few miles per hour for bends, instead of using the brakes; or downshifting to pass on a two-lane, instead of waiting for the transmission to kick down on its own.
Along the winding wooded roads between Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific Ocean, the Compass revealed itself to be steady and silent thanks to liberal use of sound deadening material, sealants and structural adhesives. The suspension does all the work as it should, isolating the cabin from the bumps and tosses. We aimed for potholes and weren't jarred when we hit them. There was none of the old Jeep head-toss, or side-to-side jouncing, and there was no trace of wallow over ripples. Only the good feedback was transmitted through the steering wheel to our hands. The turn-in for corners was secure, with no play in the wheel or wandering.
With Jeep's Freedom Drive I all-wheel drive system, virtually all of the power goes to the front wheels, but as traction is needed elsewhere, as much as 60 percent can shift to the rear wheels. The coupling is through a two-stage clutch system that's magnetic and electronically controlled, rather than viscous, and Jeep says this is markedly more efficient. The system also has a locking center differential.
We drove the Compass over 30 miles of loose, wet gravel roads that climbed, descended and twisted in every direction. We pushed it to find some limits, and they were surprisingly high; the Compass didn't skate on the slick round stones as we expected it to, even with standard touring tires, though the ESP activated a couple of times to keep us out of the ditches. We slammed on the brakes at about 40 mph, and the ABS with rough-road detection worked hard but successfully.
When we reached the beach, we climbed into a Compass Sport with the CVT and optional Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires that aren't available with the Limited. The Jeep people pointed toward the top of the nearest steep sand dune and told us to floor it. Amazingly, the Compass climbed to the summit, where there were no other vehicles except ATVs. The CVT is the ideal mechanical means for transmitting engine power in deep sand, because its pulleys and steel belt provide an infinite number of gear ratios, allowing the engine to stay in its most efficient operating range.
It's difficult to imagine getting stuck in snow or mud in the Compass Sport with the Goodyear on/off-road tires. The locking differential can offer the best possible traction from a standing start, and the Brake Traction Control dabs the brakes (at lightning speed) at individual wheels to keep them from spinning. The locked differential keeps the torque evenly distributed at 50/50, up to 10 miles per hour, at which point the torque begins transferring again, as calculated by the electronic control module based on vehicle speed, turning radius and wheel slip.
We charged full blast back down the steep dune, and found a stretch of whoop-de-doos near the waves at the bottom. It wasn't exactly our intention to turn the Jeep into a motocross bike, but we gave it a go. We finally bottomed out the front end, but it wasn't easy.
The Jeep Compass is not a traditional Jeep with go-anywhere off-road capability. On the negative side, it appears to be built to a price and has modest interior materials and build quality. On the positive side, it offers a comfortable ride, steady handling, decent fuel mileage, and the reassurance of all-wheel-drive capability.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from western Oregon, with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.
Jeep Compass 2WD Sport ($18,720); AWD Sport ($20,470); 2WD Limited ($23,385); AWD Limited ($25,135).
Options As Tested
Jeep Compass AWD Limited ($25,135).
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