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2010 Jeep Compass: Off Road Review
We hit the back country in Jeep’s urban warrior Compass
By Huw Evans, Photography by courtesy Chrysler, Apr. 12, 2010
Depending on where you live, this past winter was either very mild, or very wild (folks in the Mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast, we’re talking about you). Now that spring has arrived, the white stuff is on the retreat, but before it disappeared entirely, AutoGuide got the chance to go four wheeling in it, behind the wheel of a 2010 Jeep Compass Limited.

FAST FACTS

1. Standard is a 2.4L 4-cylinder with 172-hp, but you can knock $200 off the price and go with a 158-hp 2.0-liter (only available on FWD).

2. A 5-speed manual is standard with a 23/28 mpg (city/hwy) rating on 2.4L models, while CVT models get 21/25 mpg. (Fuel economy is essentially the same for FWD and AWD models).

3. Unlike a lot of compact crossovers, the Compass’ AWD “Freedom Drive” system is an active, full-time setup.

When it was first introduced as a 2007 model, not only did the Compass add a new, entry level price point for the Jeep brand, but it also bucked marque trends, in being the first, car-based offering, eschewing solid axles and a separate frame, for fully independent suspension and unibody construction.

Built of the same GS architecture as the Dodge Caliber, it not surprisingly, behaves much like a small, front-drive car on the road. Steering is fairly taut and precise, with a hint of understeer, while damping and roll are nicely controlled. Jeep claims the Compass is designed primarily for “urban adventures,” consequently, it’s the only vehicle in the lineup that isn’t trail rated.

NEW 2.0L 4-CYLINDER, BUT ONLY FOR ON-ROADERS

New for 2010 is a 2.0-liter “World” four-cylinder engine, rated at 158-hp and 141 ft-lbs of torque. Coupled with the standard five-speed manual gearbox, it’s designed to deliver around 23/29 mpg (city/highway). However, the bigger 2.4-liter engine (which delivers almost comparable mileage 23/28 mpg) is still offered, as is the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and active AWD system with locking center coupling.

Given that this little car/truckster wasn’t conceived with serious four-wheeling in mind, we wondered if it could really hold its own, when the tarmac disappears and the weather gets rough.

HITTING THE TRAILS

Putting the CVT in low, we hit the trail in our Limited. Press a button and the AWD system locks the center coupling. With 172 horsepower and 165 ft-lbs of torque from the 2.4-liter engine, the little Jeep actually did rather well. Give it just a little throttle and off you go.

We found that as long as you’ve got a little bit of momentum, for the most part the Compass does just fine. On snow and ice, should you feel the vehicle start to drift or slide a little, feather the throttle and the AWD system does it’s thing. By locking the front and rear wheels, aided by the traction control, you’re offered consistent rpm and spinning action to both sets of tires. So when you come to a slippery hill, covered in snow and mud, with some deep ruts, use the throttle and steer. With both sets of wheels rotating, the Compass will do it’s best to find the surface that offers the most amount of grip, but again the key is to maintain a decent amount of throttle. Don’t and the little Jeep will become stuck. In our case, backing up a few feet down the hill and trying again, got us through. Down the other side, the Compass’ brakes offer welcomed assistance, though the CVT transmission enables the engine to brake enough on its own, that if you’re really careful, you barely need to tap the pedal at all.

If you’re going too fast when you crest a hill – anything more than 20 mph – then when you hit the anchors, the ABS kicks in rather aggressively and the Jeep will slide down the other side. But even on the descent, you can easily use the steering to control this little SUV off-road and stay clear of serious obstacles. The two biggest problems are the tires, (which are a serious comprise off the tarmac) and ground clearance – especially that lower front fascia, which often takes the brunt of debris on declines.

THE VERDICT

The Compass Limited we tested, with the 2.4L engine CVT and AWD system, stickered at $26,865 (base MSRP on a 2WD Sport is $19,350). But that extra cost adds a useful set of tools to this primarily urban biased little truckster, so when it comes time to hit the trails, the Compass, is far better equipped to deal with the rough than some segment rivals, particularly the Honda CRV and Nissan Rogue.

LOVE IT
  • Torquey four-cylinder
  • Responsive steering
  • Surprisingly capable AWD system
LEAVE IT
  • Tires could provide better grip off-road
  • Ground clearance
  • Aggressive ABS

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