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Car reviews - Jeep - Compass - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
More upmarket appearance, lower price, high equipment levels
Room for improvement
Lack of a diesel option, CVT still not as good as an auto

Jeep logo17 Jan 2012

JEEP has ditched the traditional seven-slot grille and bug-eyed round headlight look of its 2007 Compass in favour of a more upmarket and stylish appearance for the 2012 iteration of its compact SUV offering.

Likewise, it dispensed with any of the traditional off-road driving you might expect at a Jeep launch in favour of a sedate tour to the Jeep-sponsored Portsea Polo south-east of Melbourne over the weekend.

Half of the drive was spent on cruise control at 100km/h on the freeway while the secondary roads closer to the event included a loop up the twisting road to Arthurs Seat, none of which highlighted the revitalised Compass’ appeal with the vast array of quality choices in the compact SUV category today.

Our test vehicle was the $34,000 Compass Limited fitted with a 2.4-litre petrol engine, constantly variable automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. This is the only configuration in which the top-of-the-range Limited is available, while the lower-spec Sport can be had with two-wheel drive, a manual gearbox and a smaller 2.0-litre engine.

The four-cylinder 2.4 delivers adequate performance but could never be considered sporty. On this drive it averaged an indicated 10.6L/100km of fuel use as opposed to the quoted combined figure of 8.6L/100km.

Some potential buyers will miss the performance and economy of the Volkswagen-sourced diesel engine in the previous model. A 2.2-litre Mercedes-Benz engine is available in the Compass overseas but is not being offered here due to pricing.

The dual-VVT petrol engine is happiest at low to mid-range revs, where the CVT makes the most of the available torque. But it gets harsh and noisy when worked hard and the CVT has a tendency to wind the engine up high with limited rewards in acceleration when you press down on the go pedal.

This is a traditional characteristic of CVTs and while Jeep has tuned out some of the flaring at moderate throttle, it’s still annoying at higher throttle openings. It is certainly not as smooth as a well-sorted conventional automatic transmission. The CVT does give you the option of manually selecting and holding a ratio but still feels like it revs the engine higher than necessary.

The all-wheel drive system is on-demand but can be locked for increased off-road ability and gravel road stability using a toggle on the console, but as this drive was only on sealed roads the switch went untouched.

Like most vehicles in its class, the Compass remains a true soft-roader, with relatively low ground clearance, single-range drive system and road-biased 18-inch tyres restricting its go-anywhere prowess.

Those low-profile tyres also transmit a fair amount of road noise through to the cabin and were quite noisy on some harsh road surfaces and on roads with joints in them.

On the upside they do provide firm, neutral handling from the strut front and multi-link rear suspension, considering this is an SUV. The steering can be a bit light and lacking in feel through to the driver, but again this is not a sporting vehicle.

The new nose on the Compass is certainly easier on the eye than the original. It gives the little Jeep a more commanding and modern look and the bulge in the bonnet hints at horsepower and high performance, even if it gives false hope. It’s a pity the redesign didn’t extend to the rear of the vehicle, which is aging rather ungracefully.

The cabin still has a Jeep feel to it and that’s something you’ll either love or hate. The better quality softer finishes on the door trims and panels are appreciated and improve the overall feel, but the windscreen still slopes back steeply from the front edge of the massive dashboard to the low roofline, providing a narrow pillbox view ahead.

Power adjustment of the leather-clad driver’s seat allows you to find the best leg positioning but the steering column is adjustable for angle only and not rake. It’s a seating position that may not suit drivers of all sizes and larger drivers will feel cramped by the narrow cockpit and low roof.

The voice control function of the Bluetooth phone system is a welcome surprise at this price-point and should become easier and safer to use with familiarity, allowing true hands-free operation of the telephone system. We did, however, manage to switch the audible language and dash display to German while trying to sync our phone, before eventually succeeding.

There is seating for five in the Compass, but adults will find legroom cramped in the rear seat. The cargo area offers 328 litres of space behind the rear seat or enough space for a few bags for a weekend get-away. The seat is split 60:40 for extra versatility, expanding luggage space to 725 litres with the back seat folded flat.

The reduced price of the revived Compass certainly makes it an attractive option among the many compact soft-roaders out there. At $34,000, the flagship Limited model is hard to beat, but you’ll want to add the extra $550 for side airbags, which should be standard.

Like all Jeeps, the Compass is a unique vehicle and this, plus the attractive price and equipment levels, should see Jeep’s smallest model find more customers than before. But the option of a Mercedes diesel engine would make it all the more attractive.

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