The Other Guys All Improved For '11
Regular readers of this magazine will recall last month's issue, in which we presented our 2011 Four Wheeler of the Year award to the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee. Now, while Jeep's newest version of its upscale SUV is a remarkably refined piece of engineering, with its Terrain Select off-road drive system and Quadra-Lift adjustable air suspension, the other vehicles in the Jeep model line have all seen substantial improvements for 2011 as well. So when our friends at Chrysler invited us recently to fly up to Wyoming to testdrive the entire Jeep line-up for a couple of days, we begrudgingly accepted their offer (Jackson Hole? Who'd ever wanna go there?), and here's some of what we saw.
It's hard to improve on one of the best factory 4x4s ever made, but Jeep has managed to upgrade the Wrangler substantially for 2011. In this case, the JK's interior is all-new, with levels of refinement and comfort never before seen on a Jeep bobtail. Gone for good are the cheap sectional injection molds, replaced by soft-touch plastics, one-piece dash and instrument panels, upgraded seats and steering wheel, and additional noiseproofing materials. It may sound like heresy to grizzled old-timers, but you can now get your Wrangler with heated seats and heated power mirrors (don't worry, you can still remove the doors), split-zone climate controls, and a new lockable center console. The all-new steering wheel now sports all the controls you'd normally only find on a Grand Cherokee wheel-stereo, HVAC, cruise, and hands-free phone. A new USB port allows for plugging in MP3 players, and additional power points have been added to the cab, including a 115-volt outlet to power real-world tools.
The Wrangler's exterior hasn't been neglected, either. Sahara models get a premium body-color hardtop, and new colors are available for 2011, among them Cosmos Blue, Bright White, Sahara Tan, Deep Cherry Red, and (our favorite) Detonator Yellow. Also new for 2011 is a limited edition "Call of Duty: Black Ops" Wrangler-a Rubicon armed with a special Mopar trim and graphics package that commemorates the popular Activision game.
Otherwise, all of the Wrangler's previous-gen mechanical goodness is carried over from 2010: 3.8L V-6 and six-speed manual, NV241 transfer case, and Rubicon-trim Dana 44s, factory locking diffs, and 32-inch BFG Mud-Terrains. The Wrangler will gain the peppy new Chrysler Pentastar 3.6L V-6 for 2012; we'll have a testdrive in these pages as we get closer to the upcoming model year, and the newly powered JK will be included in our 2012 Four Wheeler of the Year competition later in the year.
We're gonna have to munch on some crow here. You see, about a year ago, we proclaimed the Compass one of the previous decade's 10 Worst 4x4s. And who could've blamed us? It was the first (and thus far, the only) Jeep to lack a "Trail Rated" badge, and it was about as ugly as you could make a vehicle in the modern age. But after seeing what Jeep engineers and designers have done to the Compass for the 2011 model year, it's comfortably off our hit list, likely never to return.
First, the outside: As you can see from the photo, the Compass' exterior has been completely restyled, with more than a passing nod to the Grand Cherokee with an all-new front fascia, high-output fog lights, slimmed-down roof rails, a more muscular hood line and quad reflector headlamps (yep, the same ones found on the GC). Due to the redesigned front valance, the Compass actually gains an inch of ground clearance and an improved approach angle over last year's model, and a wrap of lower-body cladding has been added to give the Jeep an added measure of off-road protection. We'd still like to see those bulging rear bodyside moldings flattened out a bit, but otherwise, we think this is exactly what the Compass should have looked like from the get-go.
Beneath the new sheetmetal, the Compass is now available for 2011 with the Freedom-Drive II all-wheel drive system previously only found on the Patriot. Its suspension has also been re-tuned, with higher spring and damping rates and a thicker-diameter sway bar. Inside, the Compass has also been upgraded with more soft-touch plastics, a new steering wheel with integrated controls, and new backlighting for door locks and switches. Finally, you can now order a Compass with a new Capability package, which gets you 17-inch Goodyear SR-As, tow hooks, and an engine block heater
The Patriot has also been extensively restyled, though at first glance, it's not as noticeable as with the Compass, though it too boasts new front and rear fascias, an updated body-color grille, and a new front skidplate for the inboard-mounted fog lamps. The Patriot also sports a reengineered suspension, and gains an inch in ride height. Interior improvements are the same as with the Compass, and the Capability package can also be ordered for it.
The Liberty returns for 2011 in four new colors and with the same new steering wheel with integrated controls found in the other Jeeps. The Renegade model, introduced for mid-model year 2010, also returns with skidplates, tire-pressure monitoring system, hill descent control and its own unique colored fender flares, fascia and headlights. The Liberty Jet, introduced at the L.A. Auto Show last November, is a citified limited-edition offering with an appearance package including numerous chrome accents and black-out headlamps.
Last But Not Least
The Four Wheeler of the Year Grand Cherokee also has one more styling trick up its sleeve for 2011: the brand-new Overland Summit package, which makes the upscale Jeep even more luxurious yet with black olive burlwood dash and steering wheel trim, two-tone interior with saddle-colored Nappa heated leather seats with accent stitching and Berber floor mats. The Summit's fully chromed grille and 20-inch wheels make sure it stands out from the pack. We had a chance to sit in one of these Jeeps for a spell, and they're awfully nice-and at $46,775 for a 4x4 version, the Summit is still a considerably less expensive than most similarly appointed SUVs in its segment.