The many welcome changes to the Jeep Compass for 2011 do not, unfortunately, include the one it needed the most: a quieter drivetrain. That's too bad because except for the diesel-like racket of its engine, which is exacerbated by the transmission, this is an attractive compact four-by-four that rides well, handles capably enough and has what Consumer Reports deems to be average reliability, based on owner experiences.
First introduced in 2007, the Compass shares its basics with the Dodge Caliber, and it begins with front-wheel drive at just under $20,000 with a 2.0-liter, 158-hp. engine and a stick shift. The version I sampled -- and am griping about -- had the 2.4-liter, 172-hp., four-cylinder engine that is in most versions, coupled with the most popular transmission -- a continuously variable, or stepless, automatic and four-wheel drive.
If you can drive a stick -- and are willing to live with one -- you might be happier than I was behind the wheel of a Compass. If there's a Chrysler dealership with which you'd like to do business, so much the better.
The federal government hasn't yet published a complete safety rating for the 2011 Compass using its new and tougher criteria, but the Compass does have a good rating for its resistance to rollovers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't weighed in yet either on the Compass.
Changes for 2011 include a new hood, grille, front fenders and headlamps, but the Compass retains the steeply raked windshield and thick roof pillars that combine with large outside mirrors to impede visibility going around corners. Jeep says it upgraded the interior materials, and they certainly look better. The loaded $29,000 tester included a 115-volt AC outlet and 18-inch all-season Firestone Firehawk performance tires, which were superb in wet weather.
Jeep says it upgraded the steering and suspension for 2011 as well, to improve ride and handling.
All versions comes standard with air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power/heated exterior mirrors, keyless entry, aluminum wheels, fog lamps and cruise control.
The Environmental Protection Agency says you can expect 23 mpg in the city, and 29 mpg on the highway with the 2.0-liter engine and stick shift, 21 mpg and 26 mpg as I sampled the Compass. I averaged about 22 mpg in seven days of mostly highway mileage.
2011 Jeep Compass Limited 4X4
Engine:2.4-liter four-cylinder, 172 hp.
Transmission:continuously-variable, all wheel drive.
Safety:six air bags, including two optional side bags in front seats; 4-wheel disc brakes w/anti-lock, stability control and brake assist; fog lamps, daytime running lamps; heated outside mirrors; auto-dimming rearview mirror; tire pressure monitoring
Place of assembly:Belvidere, Ill.
Cargo room, minimum/maximum:22.7 cubic feet/60.7 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy estimates:21 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Price as driven:$29,380 with freight
Bottom line:The makeover wasn't enough.