New Compass points at progressive future for Jeep brand
Pitched into a hectic mid-size SUV sector, writes Iain Robertson, may be a good reason for the notionally right-sized Compass model to be up against it but its 1.6-litre (Fiat-derived) turbo-diesel engine could be its least satisfying stumbling-block.
As a measure of how Jeep qualified its first-generation Compass estate car back in 2006, it was not classified (as Jeep likes to do) as ‘Trail Rated’; a badge of office carried by most Jeep models. The company was targeting a ‘new’ classification of driver, the one that likes the concept of SUV but seldom ventures off-road. As a result, more examples were sold with front-wheel drive than 4WD and classic Jeep owners disregarded the Compass as ‘teenage tat’.
It was not the best looking of Jeeps (not that ‘handsome’ features much in their otherwise purposeful descripts), with its smug mug and blousy fenders. Powered in the main by an arthritic VW 2.0TDi motor, it sold modestly and unenthusiastically. Ironically, it was based on the same Mitsubishi platform as the Lancer, as were the Jeep Patriot and Dodge Caliber, which gifted the car truly excellent chassis dynamics.
In the intervening period, the second-generation model line-up has appeared and Jeep, as part of the Chrysler range, is now entwined with Fiat in some sort of Latin-American automotive union. In fact, while it is still built largely in The Americas, it is also assembled in China (we get the RHD-converted US versions), on the FiatChrysler Automotive Small-Wide LWB platform. In other words, it is related directly to the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X, which, to be fair, is very good.
From its stylised seven-bar, signature radiator grille, to its tailgate Limited badge, the Compass should be an SUV that whips the carpet out from beneath the Kia Sportage’s twinkle toes. After all, it shares not dissimilar design elements and dimensions. Sadly, it does not work out, in a like-for-like comparison; despite a competitive 1.43-tonnes kerbweight, the 1.6-litre 120bhp engine feels unwilling to provide the best of its 236lbs ft of torque developed from a lowly 1,750rpm. The punchier Kia shows it a clean pair of rear tyres in almost every back-to-back comparison test.
Its ride quality is very good, the all-round strut-type, coil suspension providing a settled ride with minimal body roll being experienced through bends and excellent control imparted to the driver. If there is one small, personal issue, it lies with the diameter of the leather-wrapped, steering wheel rim; it is too ‘fashionably’ thick for comfortable feedback to be read by my fingers. Yet, it is directionally stable and handles well.
Although the Compass will despatch the 0-60mph sprint in a class competitive 10.7s, before topping out at 115mph, this Jeep never feels as brisk as its on-paper figures suggest it ought to. Yet, there is always a trade-off somewhere and, with a posted 64.2mpg potential, which I could not replicate, although I was eminently satisfied with a 55.6mpg return, emitting a mere 117g/km CO2, this Compass is more eco and tax-friendly-hatchback than front-driven ‘truck’. In fact, with gearing that makes a sixth gear, 60mph cruise a loping, unstressed and refined 1,500rpm (40mph/1,000rpm), it has no difficulty in displaying a ‘50-99mpg’ constantly green band on the graphic econometer, located neatly between the speedometer and rev-counter, which makes the laboratory fuel claim almost believable.
Of course, as a Jeep, this Compass feels as hewn-from-the-solid as anything capable of competing the Rubicon Trail, even though it is stoically front-wheel drive and would rely on its traction control to make unwavering progress. It is that impression of solidity that engenders the maximum of support. The doors close with a reassuring ‘thunk’ and its neatly manicured, soft-touch interior is as good as any rival carrying a much heftier price tag. It feels reassuringly well made.
It is unerringly spacious too. A good range of both driver’s seat (electric) and steering column (manual) adjustment results in an imperious and comfortable driving position. Yet, even behind a two metres tall driver, there is abundant space for rear seat occupants and the 60:40-split rear bench provides a perfectly adequate 438-litres of boot space that can be expanded to 1,693-litres, when the back seats are folded forwards. Boot access is via an electric (optional £300) hatchback to a luxury carpeted floor. The close button is located just behind the nearside rear wheel arch but there is no hands-free facility.
Keyless entry and start (by depressing the button twice, where a key might normally be inserted) is part of a cosseting and comprehensively equipped package in base-level Limited trim. Its well-located and reactive touchscreen caters for the majority of functions, even though separate manual switches double up in a panel below the screen. Strangely, the volume and station controls for the bassy Beats audio system are located behind the cross-spokes of the steering wheel (pre-set stations on the left, volume up/down/off on the right), although familiarity does breed with usage.
With an on-the-road, pre-dealer discount list price of £29,760 (not including the £3,500 of optional extras fitted to the test car), the Compass represents averagely good value for money. However, its slightly jiggly ride quality can be upset by mid-bend bumps and its lumbering gait will not appeal to everybody. Overall, it is a handsome machine (for a change), possessing more than enough Jeep styling cues to make it stand out from its key rivals. If you desire a bit of additional punch, there are 140 and 170bhp engines available but I do assure you, they will be nowhere near as frugal as the 1.6-litre turbodiesel.
Conclusion: There are some outstanding deals to be done on Jeep models, especially with the Compass model, which is still building a reputation, so do not let the laid-back nature of this example dissuade you from going American, albeit with a gentle Italian accent.