Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: 2011 Jeep Compass Latitude w/ Attitude

Is it a SUV or a car?
That's what I asked myself when I hopped into my silver 2011 Jeep Compass (its clone is pictured to the left.)
Although the vehicle wears the Jeep badge and has four-wheel drive, it drives as comfy as a passenger car. My sister, who test drove it to haul groceries once and some furniture, said it drove like a truck. So let's call the Compass the Jeep-car.  It's what you need it to be.

The Compass isn't rugged like the Wrangler nor as powerful as its older brother, the Grand Cherokee or Liberty cousin but this sporty wagon with the heartbeat of a Jeep has its own distinct auto personality. To other drivers, it may shout "I'm a suburban youngish professional/parent running errands to Costco, afterschool pickups and soccer practice" yet the Compass also looks right at home ferrying you to the hills to hike or ski.

The looks 
Like a metal rhino, the body is squared off at odd angles and curves that soften toward the rear. It's refreshed front grill, adapted from the Grand Cherokee, looks at you as if grinning and preening, "Yeah, I know I'm different than the Patriot. You like my makeover?" The grill is a step up, a marked departure from the big round Thomas-the-Tank-Engine headlights that seemed to radiate "I'm really really really cute...really!" from the 2007-2010 models. Although it looks beefier and more solid than the Toyota Matrix, the Compass isn't that much wider or longer. The Compass just looks like it would win a wrestling match against the Matrix, err Corolla wagon. Among shoppers, the Compass has been more popular with women because of the vehicle's softer wagon look while men are the predominant buyers of the Compass's fraternal twin, the Jeep Patriot. (I wonder what this says about me as a car buyer?)

The drive

A few months ago, I nervously drove my Compass from Boston to Miami alone. I depended on this safe solid car to drive 1,600 miles for a new life. The ride was smooth while slightly nosy. Although the 2.4 litre, 172-horsepower engine whines when you give it gas to climb uphill or pass another car, that's just the continously variable (CVT) transmission pulling and pushing the car along. Most cars with CVT engines carry a similar sound. You get used to it after a while.

When in snow, I've kicked in the optional four-wheel-drive and climbed out of my parking space with the prowess of a Jeep Wrangler. Once I was in the clear, I popped the Compass back into normal drive. Having that four-wheel-drive system on tap comes in handy, especially for winter climates. In South Florida, I've used it when driving through sheets of rain.

Jeep alleges that the Compass achieves about 21 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. My model averages somewhere near 24 to 25 mpg in combined city/highway driving. I can travel about 252 miles on a full gas tank, which holds 11 gallons. For my Boston-to-Miami relocation, I only had to fill the tank about six times. I believe that's decent mpg (especially if you hate stopping to get gas which I do.)

The interior
My model is called the Latitude and comes with the basics and some fun extras: A/C, four-speaker radio with CD and auxiliary jack for an iPod, heated seats, leather-bound steering wheel which has easy-to-use controls for the radio and cruise control. Under the arm rest, there's an electrical outlet for charging up a cell phone or plugging in a laptop. I also have a remote key starter (great for winter but not so much South Florida unless you want to shoo away a loiterer or a stray cat.) 
The seats feel somewhat stiff but become comfortable once you get used to them.  Because of the vehicle's body shape (again, a rhino shape) and rear side windows that are angled, parallel parking can be a neck-twister. Vision is limited and awkward especially when one is trying to squeeze into a South Beach parking space, ass first.

The rear seats fold flat and provide a spacious amount of room (53 cubic feet) to easily store a men's Target adult bicycle or a shopping cart full of groceries from Costco or a former Bostonian's life belongings which included four boxes of novels, three plastic containers of clothes, a 13-inch HD TV set and piles of winter jackets. The vehicle seats five adults comfortably after a late night of bar crawls.
The front passenger seat also folds forward in case you need to stow a ladder.  There are also plenty of hidden storage spaces from a bin in the driver and passenger's side door to storage areas that line the rear of the hatchback.

Overall, the Compass is a fun although at times sluggish Jeep-car to drive to work, for outdoor adventures in the woods or for bicycling in Coconut Grove. Since college, I've owned Jeep Wranglers and one Liberty and so far, the Compass has been the most reliable and gas-efficient of the Jeep pack. I like the direction that my Compass is taking me in. This Jeep-car helped me safely relocate from my former Boston home back to my hometown Miami Beach.

Me and my Compass


  1. great, so it actually does feel like a jeep even though it lacks the ruggedness of a real jeep. well, the best part is that you are having fun driving in it.


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