It's no secret that the Jeep Compass is the least-capable off-roader in the brand's history. In an effort to ramp up the Compass' off-road cred, Jeep is unleashing a wave of vital updates for the 2011 model year to help it earn some much-needed "Trail Rated" points.

With the New Year right around the corner, the Jeep Compass already is checking off its resolutions list, beginning with a refreshed body reminiscent of its Grand Cherokee big brother. The front has been beefed up with the addition of a redesigned hood with a power bulge, tweaked fascia, altered grille design, revised fenders, and quad-reflector-style headlights. Bright metallic trim and lower protective cladding encompass the small SUV to demonstrate the convergence of the on- and off-road worlds.

The rear end was also given an adapted fascia with a more modern look. Fresh LED taillights, a spoiler, and lower-profile roof rails were part of the equation; the top-of-the-line Limited trim will have even more exterior chrome. Alloy wheels with 17-inch diameters are new and supplemented with 18-inch aluminum or chrome-clad rollers at the Limited level.

Inside, it's the same feel-good story we've seen throughout the rest of the Chrysler lineup. Little was left untouched, as the materials and overall finish were significantly overhauled. A reformed, three-spoke steering wheel gets a sound system, voice recognition, and cruise controls, while soft-touch trim panels and a padded dashboard were put on the build list. The center armrest and interior backlighting throughout the cabin are new. And a more attractive and appealing navigation system with available Uconnect residing in the center stack.

Three trims will be offered for 2011: Compass, Latitude, and Limited. The base Compass (also called the Compass to make it the Compass Compass) and Latitude start out with the 2.0-liter inline-four developing 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque. Five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmissions may be attached, just like the preceding year.

The 2.4-liter inline-four, aka the World Engine, with 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, remains the standard powertrain for the Limited and optional for the Compass and Latitude. The aforementioned manual and CVT offerings are on the table, and fuel economy is rated at 23 city/29 highway mpg with the five-speed stick and front-wheel drive for either engine.

Jeep, presumably aware its brand faithful relentlessly bag on the Compass for lacking the customary Trail Rated factory certification, decided it was time to fire back. The usual FWD will be joined by Freedom Drive I and, new for 2011, the up-rated Freedom Drive II.

Compared to the expansive selection of two-speed, four-wheel drive systems available in the Jeep armory, Freedom Drive II is the baby of the family. But it's enough to push the Compass into Trail Rated territory, and the optional off-road package includes a CVT with an automatically deploying low range, a 1-inch raised ride height for crucial wheel clearance, underbody skid plates, tow hooks, foglights, a manual seat height adjuster, and 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires with a full-size spare.

The critical difference between Freedom Drive I and Freedom Drive II is an electronically controlled coupling attached to the rear differential that actively determines the amount of torque to send to the rear wheels under low-grip conditions. Sure, there's no transfer case, but the equipped CVT has a 19:1 crawl ratio to help when the going gets really tough, particularly around rocks and boulders. Freedom Drive I uses a locking center coupling to determine torque distribution, but lacks a low range setting.

Jeep retuned the Compass' steering and suspension for a more responsive ride. A thicker rear anti-roll bar will help keep the multi-link back end in line, and the dampers are endowed with extra damping force. The higher-rate springs will attempt to keep the wheels, suspension, and chassis happy and working together. Lightweight towers can look forward to 2000 pounds of rated capacity.

We wouldn't blame you for being unconvinced of the Compass' capabilities, especially given its less-than-stellar history. We'll find out how much it's changed for the better soon enough.


2011 Jeep Compass
Base price $17,000-$27,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD/4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engines 2.0L/158-hp/141-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4, 2.4L/172-hp/165-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmissions 5-speed manual, continuously variable auto
Curb weight 3200-3400 lb (est)
Wheelbase 103.7 in (est)
Length x width x height 173.4 x 69.3 x 65.2 in (est)
0-60 mph 9.0-10.5 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 21-23/24-29 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.76-0.87 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S. Late December 2010
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