By Joe Bruzek on August 12, 2011
As the least Jeep-like Jeep, the entry-level Compass has never gotten much respect. When it debuted in 2007, the awkwardly styled compact SUV was overshadowed by the significantly more Jeep-like Patriot. Aside from the looks, the two were otherwise identical.
Much to our surprise, the game has changed with the face-lifted 2011 Compass. New interest has revved up its sales, as the 2011 is outselling the original Compass during its inaugural year. July 2011 saw the Compass’ sales grow 240 percent compared with July 2010, up from 1,302 units to 4,430. The 2011 Patriot saw a modest increase of 7 percent, but it outsold the Compass by just 168 units.
We unanimously deemed the 2011 Compass a Loser in our Winners and Losers list when the SUV was revealed at the 2011 Detroit auto show. So what’s going on?
A big change for 2011 is new front styling that takes inspiration from the larger Grand Cherokee, which sparked its own sales renaissance when it was redesigned a year earlier. We spoke with Jeep’s head of product marketing, Jim Morrison, who said the newfound success is a combination of a number of things, but the Grand Cherokee styling strongly resonates with Compass buyers. That attraction is mirrored in Cars.com’s consumer reviews of the 2011 Compass:
Another big change for 2011 is the addition of a Trail Rated model, the brand’s off-road badge that marks special trim levels ready for off-road use. This certification has been missing from the Compass since its introduction and is now available with the Freedom Drive II Package, which includes a raised ride height, transmission with crawl ratio and underbody skid plates.
“Having a Trail Rated model made a big difference in dealer acceptance,” Morrison said. “Completing the lineup with a ‘Trail Ratable’ Jeep is absolutely important to customers. Even if they don’t get the Trail Rated model, they get a sense of security.”
The Compass’ sales jump is interesting because other than those changes, its vitals remain unchanged. Gas mileage, engines and dimensions are the same as 2010. Plus, it’s more expensive than last year — now starting at $19,295 compared with 2010’s $15,365 — because of added standard equipment. That's for a front-wheel-drive model with a manual transmission EPA-rated at 23/29 mpg city/highway, which is competitive in this segment.
The Compass and Patriot were once equals, but Jeep has slotted the 2011 Compass ahead of the Patriot, which is now the entry-level-priced model starting at $15,995. That makes the higher sales even more significant for Jeep because the company is making more money on each sale versus 2007 or 2010.
Road Test Editor Joe Bruzek covers Cars.com’s short-and long-term fleet of test cars and drives a 1998 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Email Joe