2011 Jeep Compass: Ouch.

Mr and Mrs America, Jeep thinks you’re stupid. What other way is there to explain the spin they’re trying to put on the 2011 Compass. Sure, it’s had a Grand Cherokee-esque nose grafted on, and its interior is new, but neither of those points can obscure the fact that the Compass is an awkward piece of automotive offal that’s truly awful.

Early reports from writers that were invited out to Jeep’s event and glad-handed have tried to pussyfoot around the fact that the Compass is still awkward, overpriced and uncompetitive. Nobody should be fooled. To be fair, Jeep makes some of my favorite vehicles. The Grand Cherokee has always been great, and the updated 2011 WK2 GC is phenomenal. The Wrangler is likewise great and has a distinctive character developed over decades of continual production and generations of loyal fans.

The problem with the Compass, and to a lesser degree, the Patriot, is that it’s neither a Wrangler or Grand Cherokee. Ignore what the internet sycophants who chuckle at Frank Bacon as they quickly BECOME the archetype. Kissing ass doesn’t make you a journalist.

Let’s giveth before we taketh away, though.

2011 Jeep CompassThe 2011 Jeep Compass has been heavily revised. A new visage carries a strong resemblance to the universally-lauded 2011 Grand Cherokee. Most of the press photos show the Compass from the front three-quarter view, its best angle. From that view, the “Grand Cherokee with dwarfism” conceit holds up. Get around to the profile or rear view, and it all goes to hell. The emperor has (nearly) no clothes. Hey, if you like it enough, great. It is an improvement, even if it is a graft job that did nothing to address the goofy wheelarches and strange C-Pillar.

2011 Jeep Compass interiorThe interior is a true silk purse where there was once a sow’s ear. The dashboard, unchanged since an updating last year, is pleasingly styled and effort has been put into interior materials. There’s now soft-touch surfaces and better upholstery. Features haven’t been a problem from the inception of the Compass, other than driving the price to an absurd level.

The Compass gains the “Trail Rated” badge for 2011, something it wasn’t allowed to wear before. You need to order the Freedom Drive II package to get it, and that means a getting a CVT with a low range, increased ride height and off-road accouterment like skid plates, tow hooks and foglamps. Great. Get out your checkbook, and realize that in the end you’re buying a re-tuned Dodge Caliber. Sure, it’s capable – at least far more capable than most drivers will ever need.

2011 Jeep Compass off road

Chrysler and Jeep explain that their PM/MK platform is significantly different from the Mitsubishi GS platform starting point. That’s a bad idea, because the Mitsus built off this architecture are a lot better than what Chrysler manages. In fact, the Jeep Compass and Patriot may just be the least dreadful versions of the PM/MK, but that’s not saying much when your peers include such deficient standouts like the Chrysler Sebring/200 and Dodge Avenger.

The suspension has been pretty thoroughly retuned for the better, but there’s still a gritty-sounding pair of four cylinder engines connected to either a five-speed manual or CVT. The CVT does feel like a conventional automatic in the throes of expiry, but driving-wise, the Compass has always had good composure. It’s better now.

Am I being hard on the Compass? Yes. Chrysler and Jeep have done a lot in a short time with little money. Hopefully it does meet with more consumer acceptance, it’s not like it’s that bad a little vehicle. The Compass is, however, competing in a segment where fists fly, and the Compass is  trying to punch above its weight. This latest trip to the gym has helped the Compass, but, pardon the negativism, the 2011 Jeep Compass has a long climb out of the pit of automotive despair. Chrysler and Jeep have moved with blazing speed for an automaker since Fiat came to the rescue, so I expect a different world in two or three years.

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