Bright Face of the New Chrysler
Steve Schaefer, Mon, 27 Jun 2011 04:09:27 PDT
As you probably know, Chrysler is now on its own, with the help of the U.S. Government. Partial owner FIAT's current plan is to improve the existing vehicles (and shed a few) before bringing in all-new products.
The Jeep Compass is the first of these improved vehicles I've tested. From the myriad changes I saw, the remaking of the company's product lines is well underway-and is much more than simply marketing.
While keeping the basic form intact, the Jeep designers gave the Compass the beauty treatment. The hood, fenders and fascia now resemble those of the new Grand Cherokee, which has been hailed by practically everyone as a milestone vehicle for the brand. It's like getting a nose job from the top surgeon in Beverly Hills.
Inside, the dashboard is not only better looking, but wears significantly upgraded materials. The plastic has a fine sheen to it and the controls feel substantial and are well-thought-out. The soft-touch door panels are padded at the top. The trim looks great--especially on the steering wheel, which contains controls for the audio and trip computer. The seats are handsome and comfortable. And--it's quiet in there.
Mechanically, the car's steering and suspension have been significantly retuned. The engineers dialed in a higher spring rate, improved damping, and added rebounding springs, as well as beefing up the sway bar. Compared to the 2007 Compass I tested, it's a much more pleasing experience out on the road.
You can choose from three levels: Compass, Latitude and Limited. My test car was a Bright Silver Metallic Latitude with a Dark Slate Gray interior. That interior color sounds like it could be depressing, but with attractive detailing and gleaming trim accents, it felt surprisingly upscale.
The Compass comes with a choice of two engines. The base 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder puts out 158 horsepower and 141 lb.-ft. of torque. The upgrade engine is a 2.4-liter four that produces 172 horsepower and 165 lb.-ft. of torque. It's available on all models and standard on the Limited.
The standard transmission on the Compass base model is a five-speed manual transmission or you can order the continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs use bands and pulleys instead of gears so the ratio is always ideal for the driving conditions (as determined by the car's computer). Jeep claims that their CVT2 design contributes to a six to eight percent fuel economy improvement compared with a traditional four-speed automatic. The Latitude and Limited come with the CVT standard.
One of the knocks on the original Compass was that it wasn't a "real" Jeep because it wasn't trail rated-considered a major issue by Jeep purists. This is addressed now. You can order up any model of Compass with the street-worthy two-wheel drive platform, but also with two levels of four-wheel drive.
Freedom Drive I is an optional full-time, active four-wheel-drive system with lock mode designed to give provide safety in rough weather and low-traction conditions, such as the slick road conditions that come with rain and light snow. Freedom Drive I also features a lockable center coupling, so you can put the car in four-wheel-drive lock mode to handle deep snow, sand and other low-traction surfaces.
The Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package is the system that gives the Compass that coveted Jeep Trail Rated capability. This package includes a second-generation continuously variable transaxle with low range (CVT2L) that engages when you activate the off-road mode. It also gives you 17-inch all-terrain tires and aluminum wheels, a one-inch raised ride height, a full-size spare tire, skid plates, tow hooks, fog lamps and a manual seat height adjuster.
Freedom Drive II is recommended for moderate off-road situations that include steep grades, occasional wheel lift and rock or log climbing. For the Rubicon, take your Wrangler, but Freedom Drive II finally gives the Compass some off-road cred.
The best mileage numbers from the EPA are for the base Compass with the 2.0 liter engine, five-speed manual and two-wheel drive: 23 City and 29 Highway. It rates the 2.4-liter engine with its standard CVT at 21 City, 26 Highway. In my test car, with the Freedom I four-wheel-drive package, I averaged 21 mpg during my test week, but I spent most of my time in town. If I'd been commuting I'm sure that number would have been higher. It's actually pretty good compared with other small SUVs.
Prices start at $19,995 for the base Compass. My tester came to $26,570, with a bunch of extras.
The Compass has come a long way. I enjoyed driving it around. Weighing between 3,082 and 3,325 pounds, it can carry a big load. Part of that load is helping to rebuild Chrysler's reputation; so far, so good.