Composure both on- and off-road; excellent diesel; improved styling
Barely adequate 2.4-litre petrol; stingy front seats; safety kit optional
IN THE late 40s, few could have imagined the responsibility that would fall to the original Willys ATV. Not only would its devastatingly effective recipe of simple but revolutionary design allow the tiny four-by-four to lug countless tonnes of troops and equipment, but its name – General Purpose, shortened to GP or Jeep – would go on to be the placard of an institution.
Flash forward more than 75 years and this car – the gen-two Jeep Compass – is charged with a similarly hefty responsibility. From a sales peak in 2014 when the Grand Cherokee was flying off showroom floors faster than any other large SUV, the seven-slot grille brand is in need of help and this all-new small-to-mid-sized SUV could be the charging cavalry.
Unlike the smaller Renegade that rolled in two years ago with sizeable promise but then disappointed with a price tag almost as big as its personality, the local team toiled to sharpen the Compass’ price – and succeeded. Starting at $28,790, the entry Sport appears to be a bullet to the head of almost all rivals, but that cash gets you into a lightly equipped variant with a manual gearbox – mere burley bait to get you into showrooms then. An auto transmission costs $1900 and above that, a Longitude is on offer for $33,750. Move up the range though and you find yourself at the more generously equipped Limited, the model Jeep says will be its Compass cash cow.
The base and mid-spec variants were not at the Australian launch so we focused on the $41,250 Limited. Off-road, this version only lives up to its Limited name in comparison to its Trailhawk sibling (see sidebar). By the standards of its direct rivals, the Limited has excellent allterrain ability and can despatch substantial rocks and mud with little fuss. You might expect this to mean compromised on-road dynamics, but you’d be wrong. The “small-wide architecture” which underpins Compass – with front struts and an independent rear end – not only delivers fine ride quality, but also enables the Compass to be fun in corners, with respectable body control.
The Limited rolls on 18-inch alloy wheels, but tall tyres prevent the ride being compromised by the largest diameter wheels. Better front seat ergonomics would improve all-round comfort while rear seat accommodation is better with generous space for adults. The cabin design is likeable, roomy and features good-quality materials at this price point.
As for engines, fortunately there’s some choice. Standard for all except the Trailhawk is a 129kW/229Nm 2.4-litre atmo petrol mill that’s adequate at best. The lack of torque is especially evident when overtaking or climbing hills, but a new 2.0-litre diesel is optional for the Limited and, with 350Nm, is a better match. A nine-speed automatic is the only transmission we sampled (lesser variants get a six-speed) and the slick unit is seamless in operation with a calibration targeting smoothness rather than performance. There are no paddle shifters but that’s not something most customers will miss.
Our only other major criticism regards safety equipment: forward-collision monitoring, lane-departure warning and blindspot monitoring systems cost $2450 in an option pack for Limited and Trailhawk models.
Regardless, this is the first small Jeep that will appear on the radars of class leaders. It now has the ability to worry many of them.
Jeep Renegade customers were so delighted by the so-called ‘easter eggs’ hidden around the compact crossover that the design team concealed a load more of the little pop-culture references about the Compass. Watch out for a tiny sea monster, lizard and even morse code, but we’re not saying where.
Interior a huge improvement, with a simple but well screwed together cabin that uses pleasant soft touch materials and contrasting stitching. A large 8.4-inch touchscreen is standard in Limited and Trailhawk with crisp graphics but lower spec Compasses get a scrawny 5.0-inch screen.
Unlike many other brands that are adopting LED headlamps, the Compass sticks with xenon technology. Its taillights used LEDs however. Limited variants include 18-inch wheels and a solid-sounding nine-speaker BeatsAudio sound system.
The Compass Trailhawk is doubtless the most offroad-capable contender in this segment. You’ll have to stump up $44,750 for the Compass flagship, but that gets you some serious all-terrain tech, including a low-range transmission with hill descent, a Rock mode added to the Selec-Terrain driving modes, uprated suspension with a raised ride height, underbody protection, redesigned bumpers that increase approach and departure angles, the trademark red tow points, and black bonnet. A standard diesel engine is also a deal-sweetener.
Hyundai Tucson Elite CRDi $41,250
For exactly the same amount of cash as the Compass Limited, the 2.0-litre diesel Korean brings all-paw traction and the promise of all-terrain adventure, if not the storied history that makes Jeep an off-roading icon.
Volkswagen Tiguan 132TSI Comfortline $41,490
Volkswagen’s medium SUV offers just about the best interior for the money and a frugal and torquey engine. AWD is standard yet the VW aims for security on the blacktop rather than stomping trails.