Test Drive: 2011 Jeep Compass North 4x4
When Jeep first introduced the Compass for the 2007 model year, many people didn’t know what to think: a front-wheel drive Jeep? What on earth was the legendary off-road company thinking?
And yet, while Wrangler fans undoubtedly continue to look down their noses at the Compass – one of a trio of platform siblings along with the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Patriot – this little hatchback seems to do okay for itself with buyers, if the number I see on the road is any indication.
It’s gently redesigned for 2011, with handsome new exterior styling that echoes the front of the updated Grand Cherokee, and an interior that retains the same general layout as before but with some better-quality materials, an improvement in fit-and-finish and some new controls. Also new, and added to my CVT-equipped tester, is the availability of Jeep’s Freedom Drive II system, one of nine all-wheel systems available across the company’s line-up. The system runs primarily in front-wheel drive, but when needed, it will send torque to the rear wheels. It can also be locked into 50/50 via a handle on the centre console. When the shifter is put into Low, the Compass includes a 19:1 crawl ratio and hill descent control.
This extra low-gear ability allows the Compass, for the first time, to wear the coveted Jeep “Trail-Rated” badge. The badge indicates off-road worthiness in traction, ground clearance, manoeuvrability, articulation and water fording. There is a caveat, however: the Trail-Rated designation is Jeep’s own, not an industry standard, and the company doesn’t divulge exactly what minimum requirements a vehicle must meet in order to earn the badge. That said, having driven a Patriot with the Freedom Drive II system on a challenging snow-covered course through woods and fields, it performed much better than I expected for an “off-road lite” system. Equipped with good winter tires, it made its way around the trail in snow that came up almost to the bumper and then took a deep gully in stride. While it certainly wouldn’t have the rock-climbing cred of the Jeep Wrangler that was also part of the event, it performed just as well as the Wrangler on a trail that would pretty much be the roughest that most drivers would ever ask it to cross. Whatever the Trail Rated badge entails, the Drive II Compass definitely appears to earn the right to wear it.
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