Jeep makes the Compass off-road capable

Jeep unveils its 2012 Compass model at the 2011 Detroit auto show.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2012 Jeep Compass
Jeep's new Compass boasts better off-road capability than most compact SUVs. Josh Miller/CNET

2012 Jeep Compass (photos)

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DETROIT--Sitting near the bottom of Jeep's model lineup, the Compass fell short of Jeep's reputation for go-anywhere ruggedness. But at the 2011 Detroit auto show, Jeep showed off an update to the Compass that earns the brand's Trail Rated designation.

The base Compass is still a front-wheel-drive vehicle not suitable for ranging through the wilderness, but Jeep says its Freedom Drive II Off-Road package gives the Compass back country chops. With this package, the Compass gets four-wheel-drive and an off-road mode that puts the transmission in low range. Skid plates protect the underbody and a full-size spare tire makes it possible to get back to the road in case of a flat.

But this capability isn't quite up to the standards of a pro such as the Wrangler. Jeep describes it as suitable for "moderate off-road situations that include steep grades" and "occasional wheel lift." Still, that capability makes it unique among other compact SUVs, which are generally meant to stay on roads.

Jeep offers its UConnect brand of cabin tech for the Compass, which includes a hard-drive-based navigation system. Strangely, these options do not include Jeep's latest Garmin-based navigation system.