Car reviews - Jeep - Compass
Smooth ride, impressive cabin noise levels and build quality, legitimate off-road ability in Trailhawk, on-road AWD grip, sharp touchscreen display
Room for improvement
Poor fuel economy, cabin polish, overly chunky steering wheel, flat seats, old petrol engine
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2 Feb 2018
2018 is shaping up to be arguably the biggest year in Jeep Australia’s history, with a raft of new models set to arrive including the monstrous Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, the facelifted Cherokee, refreshed Renegade and all-new Wrangler.
Kicking off the model onslaught is the all-new, second-generation Compass compact SUV, which will be the first all-new Jeep launched Down Under since 2015.
The new Compass will also represent the first vehicle produced in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) new manufacturing facility in Ranjangaon, India, that will also produce Renegades for the Indian market with the potential to build additional models down the line.
For Jeep, the Compass is a crucial vehicle that can potentially turn around the fortunes of a brand plagued by perception problems and declining sales.
Can its new compact SUV get Jeep’s 2018 off to the right start?
As the first all-new Jeep vehicle since 2015, the Compass bears a substantial burden on its shoulders.
With sales of the SUV specialist dropping by 34.5 per cent in 2017 (and 48.3 per cent in 2016), new models are needed to increase sales and put the brand back on track towards the record 30,408 units it sold in 2014.
Jeep has said it hopes the Compass can become its second-best selling vehicle behind the Grand Cherokee large SUV, which finished 2017 with 5356 units sold.
Models wearing the seven-slot grille have often come under fire for lacking polish and build quality, however with the Indian-built Compass, Jeep may have turned a corner.
Getting into the second-from-top-spec Limited variant for the first time, it is immediately apparent that the Compass has seen a tangible improvement in build quality, with a noticeably quiet and solid cabin.
Jeep engineers have clearly worked hard to improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels over the unloved previos-generation model.
Road, wind and engine noise are barely noticeable, and we couldn’t detect and squeaks or rattles, even after a sojourn off-road into the forests of Tasmania.
Ride quality is also commendable, offering a comfortable driving experience with a settled ride and the ability to soak up bumps and turn into corners with ease.
The all-wheel-drive system found on Limited and Trailhawk variants (the only two variants we drove at the media launch) allows for excellent on-road grip, with the front wheels refusing to understeer even when pushed hard through corners.
Powertrain choices consist of a 129kW/229Nm 2.4-litre aspirated Tigershark petrol engine, or a 125kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel unit, teamed to a nine-speed automatic transmission in higher-pec variants. Both powertrain options are available on the Limited, while the Trailhawk comes matched exclusively to the oil-burner. Lower-spec variants are only offered with the petrol.
The Tigershark engine isn’t exactly a spring chicken, having been around in one form or another since 2007, and its age is beginning to show.
Lacking in low-end torque, it is forced to work hard in most driving scenarios, which combined with its large displacement and age leads to an inflated fuel consumption figure.
Through a mix of low-speed off-roading and varied back-country driving, we achieved a fuel economy figure of around 12 litres per 100km – up from the 9.7L/100km official figure and a disappointing number of a vehicle of its size.
The diesel offered better fuel economy – 9.5L per 100km – but is still well up on the 5.7L/100km official combined figure.
Better fuel economy and a steady stream of torque make the diesel the pick of the powertrains, however it results in greater noise intrusion into the cabin, and is not as rapid in acceleration as the petrol.
The nine-speed automatic transmission in the Limited and Trailhawk (Sport and Longitude variants come with six-speed gearboxes) is a smooth and intuitive unit, although at one point while driving the Trailhawk it seemed to get confused and held gears unnecessarily.
During the drive, both the Limited and Trailhawk were taken off-road to show off the Selec-Terrain 4x4 system with locking centre differential, and to prove that Jeep’s essence as a genuine off-road SUV has been preserved in the Compass.
The result is that the Compass is surely the most capable off-road vehicle in its segment, eating up rock steps, wash outs and stony hills with ease.
A low-range transfer case and ‘Rock’ mode are added to the Trailhawk, but the traction control system in both variants work admirably, minimising wheel slippage and easily handling unstable surfaces, despite being equipped with regular road tyres. Adding to driver’s peace of mind in the Trailhawk are improved approach and departure angles, tow hooks and skid plates to minimise underbody damage.
Inside, the Compass features a well-equipped cabin, but is not without some faults.
The 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system found on higher-grade variants is a quality unit, with lag-free operation, great picture resolution and easy usability. One could argue the user interface layout is a bit fussy, but it is a small gripe.
The colour digital instrument cluster display is handy with a number of useful read-outs, and at 7.0 inches is generous in size.
Head and legroom is adequate, if not generous, for both front and rear occupants, while rear passengers are treated to twin air-conditioning vents, a USB charging point and even a full 230V power outlet.
While soft-touch plastics are found throughout the interior, the cabin struggles to truly have a premium feeling to it, and the analogue centre air-conditioning cluster is clunky and busy. For a vehicle asking $40,000 or more, refinement could be better.
The steering wheel, and particularly the spokes, is clunky and oversized, and struggles to sit comfortably in the hands. Additionally, the seats are a tad too flat and need to offer greater lumbar support.
Jeep should be proud of its new Compass. The American manufacturer is on a mission to repair its brand reputation after a string of underwhelming offerings in recent times, however the Compass shouldn’t be added to that list.
It is a well-built vehicle with a comfortable ride, strong baby-Grand Cherokee looks, grippy handling and proper off-road ability that gives it a genuine point of difference against its small and medium SUV rivals.
There is still room for improvement with regards to engine thirst, cabin trim and some other interior niggles, however it shouldn’t be a car that is quickly dismissed from shopping lists.
Are the improvements enough to get Jeep off to the right start in 2018 and begin a process of improving sales for the embattled brand? Stay tuned.
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