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Car reviews - Jeep - Compass - Limited 2.4 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Competent packaging, handling, performance, fuel economy
Room for improvement
Limited has space-saver spare only, interior presentation is a bit dowdy

29 Jun 2007

GoAuto 29/06/2007

THE Compass strides into the bustling melee of compact SUVs packing a touch of American attitude, on-demand-only 4WD and the first all-independent system ever to be slung under a Jeep. It also totes the first turbo-diesel engine to be found in these parts.

Slotting into the middle of a segment including such luminaries as the Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail, Honda CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander, the new American-built SUV straddles a price range beginning at just under $33,000 and topping out at touch over $40,000.

The US-built 2.4-litre petrol four-cylinder engine is the product of a DaimlerChrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai collaboration, while the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is from Volkswagen and can be found in Passats and Jettas.

The 103kW oil-burner, whatever its source, will be sure to get a fair share of attention from compact SUV buyers seeking fuel economy and street-credibility advantages.

But is the on-demand 4WD, transverse-engined Compass a real Jeep?

On test the petrol-engined Limited Compass showed that it didn’t mind a bit of occasional rough and tumble, but the reality is this is not a Jeep you’d even think about pointing into the deep bush.

The 4WD system, which runs generally as a front-drive, is no different conceptually to any of its competition and a look at the tyres indicates where owners are expected to spend most of their time.

Ignore the signature Jeep seven-slot grille, angular shapes and squared-off wheel arches, and what you’ll find underneath is an SUV that is little more than a typical example of its genre.

In petrol form, the Compass is a competent soft-roader that is fractionally smaller outside than the current RAV4, Honda Civic or Mitsubishi Outlander, yet is hard to separate from the bunch in terms of interior space.

The same goes for things like overall weight, load capacity and – in petrol form – engine capabilities. The Compass might be nothing remarkable, but it is no less so than any of its competition.

In terms of unique selling propositions, the turbo-diesel option is about it.

That is not to be critical of the Compass, or its competitiveness in the segment. The fact is that the formula for compact SUVs is now so well established that any newcomer is faced with a sort of locked-in criteria that almost stifles creativity.

Even successful SUVs that once demonstrated the odd difference – full-time 4WD in the RAV4 and Outlander for example – have come back to the field.

And they’ve all got bigger, to the extent that compact SUVs are almost creeping into the next size category.

With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that the Compass presents few things that separate it noticeably from the pack.

Except the styling, which is clearly Jeep from front and sides and, if the visual balance is sometimes a bit questionable, at least the Compass is never likely to be mistaken for a RAV4.

Where the Jeep’s American-ness comes truly home is inside, where the shapes are angular, utilitarian and generally lacking the finesse expected in Japanese or Korean-sourced vehicles.

But the comfort and practicality are unquestioned, with good passenger space in both front and rear seats in terms of legroom, shoulder width and headroom and enough cubbies, bins and handy storage spaces to keep owners happy.

The small bin between the front seats is topped by a sliding centre armrest that incorporates a flip-out container for a mobile phone, there’s a handy tray in the dash above the glovebox and the front passenger’s seat folds flat to help expand the load space.

The driver gets a height-adjustable seat with, on the Limited version only, adjustable lumbar support, but the steering wheel does not offer variable reach settings – although this proved not to be a problem for anyone driving the vehicle on test.

The load area is notable for its removable, hose-downable floor (that annoyingly tends to rattle around) and standard roll-out security blind, but it’s not the largest in its category with a quoted load capacity of 334 litres to the top of the seat back, expanding to 738 litres with the 60-40 split-fold rear seats folded.

In the Limited version tested, heated leather seats, leather-rimmed steering wheel with remote radio control buttons, six-disc CD changer and 18-inch alloy wheels (the Sport version has 17-inch alloys) are standard, although a downside of having the larger wheels means the cheaper version’s full-size spare is replaced by a space-saver.

Standard kit in Sport and Limited versions includes switchable electronic stability control with “electronic roll mitigation”, traction control, four-wheel discs with ABS (including “rough-road detection”), brake assist, dual front and full-length curtain airbags, with front side airbags disappointingly listed as optional. Both get cruise control, a four-speaker sound system, manual air-conditioning and a “premium” security alarm.

But even the top-spec Limited, once you get past the leather-trimmed seats, feels pretty basic inside, mainly because it doesn’t have the touchy-feely aspects that most Japanese SUVs have. That will be absolutely no problem to many people, although it might deter those infatuated with perceived, rather than actual quality.

There’s no suggestion the Compass lacks any of the latter.

The driving experience is right up there with the best of the Japanese.

Ride comfort strikes a happy balance between being well-controlled, yet sufficiently absorbent and compliant, while the hydraulically assisted rack and pinion steering will be a pleasant surprise to those accustomed to other Jeeps.

The Compass, like most compact SUVs, steers more like a car than a 4WD.

The 2.4-litre, all-alloy four-cylinder engine goes about its tasks smoothly and with minimal intrusion, and seems to justify Jeep’s fuel-efficiency claims. On test our five-speed manual Compass averaged around 9.1L/100km, which is close to the official claim of 8.7L/100km – although a higher mix of urban driving would undoubtedly have lifted our figures a bit higher.

But the engine feels strong, and has no trouble with the 1460kg kerb weight either around the city or on the freeway.

Although petrol-engined models only offer a five-speed manual transmission (the diesel gets six speeds and CVT is available with the petrol 2.4 only), the ratios appear to be pretty well judged to make the most out of the four-cylinder’s 125kW and 220Nm.

Jeep said it will reach, in manual-transmission form, 100km/h from a standing start in a reasonable 10.7 seconds.

The on-demand 4WD system works away quietly to itself, moreso than some other systems, without a tendency to indulge in front-wheel slip before the back axle has a chance to kick in. The pull-up, chromed lever for 4WD lock, placed in the centre console, is the only visible concession to the vehicle’s role as an occasional off-roader.

Being badged as a Jeep, the Compass nevertheless quotes reasonable approach (21 degrees) and departure (32 degrees) angles, as well as a quite good 200mm of ground clearance.

But the obviously road-oriented 215/55R18 tyres limit any off-road excursions – which, to some, will sound a little weird for a Jeep.

In the end, the new Compass is nothing other than a totally able new contender in one of the hottest new-car segments, and will rely on its badge to convince potential customers otherwise.

It is priced lineball with its Japanese competition (the Korean Hyundai Tucson V6 comes in quite a bit lower), is equally equipped and offers similar on and off-road capabilities.

The availability of a turbo-diesel engine is its only major point of difference – albeit a highly significant one.

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