2011 Jeep Compass North 4X4 quick spin
What is it?
This very well might be the closest thing to irony on four wheels. It's Jeep's urban-friendly Compass, but beefed up with the new Off-Road Group, which enables it to attain the brand's Trail Rated certification for extreme off-roading.
Quite a bit. Or, at least that's what your eyes would tell you at first glimpse. Jeep's designers craftily grafted the visage of the new Grand Cherokee onto the Compass's body. It's for the better — the baby Jeep is a lot less homely looking now. Too bad the back end was left virtually untouched. Inside, you get Jeep's new corporate steering wheel, and new door panels skinned in soft-touch plastic.
On the mechanical front, the Off-Road Group includes components plucked from the Compass's fraternal twin, the Patriot. Included is a jacked-up suspension, a special mode in the CVT transmission that replicates the low-range mode of a transfer case for crawling over rocks, a makeshift electronic locking differential, skid plates to protect its soft undersides and knobby tires.
What's it like to drive?
Though tweaks were made to the suspension and driveline, the Compass feels unchanged. The 2.4-litre inline-four is still gruff — especially when cold — to the point we thought it was a diesel. Around town, the optional CVT keeps the revs low and noise subdued, but the traditional rubber-band sensation upon hard acceleration remains. It also blunts the responsiveness, making the 172-hp unit feel less powerful than its output figure suggests. Our recorded fuel economy was in the low nines for mixed driving, which is respectable.
One of the smallest crossovers on sale today, the Compass is easy to drive thanks to its tight turning circle and elevated seating position. Rear legroom is decent, although comfort is low due to a flat and shapeless bench. The optional Off-Road Group's suspension is impressively absorbent, taking the sting out of crossing gnarled city streets. The flip side? Sluggish response from the wheel, a lot of tire noise, and even more body roll.
Should you buy it?
While the new look and updated interior up the Compass's appeal greatly, we're not sold on the package as a whole. Dynamically it feels unrefined and dated — somehow, we feel that it's more acceptable in the rough 'n tumble Patriot, compared to this city slicker. As for the kludging that went into making this urban hatchback perform decently off-road, we'd avoid the Off-Road Group for the compromises it inflicts on ride and handling.
2011 Jeep Compass North 4X4
Base price / As-tested: $24,995 / $27,195
Type of vehicle: 4WD compact SUV
Engine: 2.4 L, 16-valve, DOHC, I-4
Power/Torque: 172 hp / 165 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption (city/hwy/as-tested): 9.9 / 7.5 / 9.3 L/100 km
Competition: Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Patriot, Kia Sportage, Mazda Tribute, Suzuki Grand Vitara
QUICK SPIN SUMMARY
Versatile and practical cargo bay
Off-Road Group degrades on-road performance
Uncomfortable for rear-seat occupants
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