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First drive: Jeep Compass grows up

Moral Compass: The second-gen Jeep Compass will land in Australian showrooms in December, with pricing still yet to be confirmed.

Massively improved second-gen Jeep Compass is unrecognisable from the original


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3 Mar 2017


JEEP has pulled the chocks from the global roll out of its all-new second-generation Compass small SUV that is scheduled for a third-quarter arrival in Australia where the “mini Grand Cherokee” will serve as a vanguard for a revitalised Jeep range.

While the first-generation Compass struggled to have much of an impact in Australia's competitive small-SUV segment, Jeep has high hopes for the newcomer with its significant step up in virtually all areas, including construction, quality and specification.

Speaking at the world press drive of the 2017 Compass in Texas, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia senior communications manager Glenn Butler told Australian journalists that the new Compass was “very much the vanguard of Jeep” and would invigorate the iconic brand.

While the Renegade arrived last year to target a more youthful audience, following the Cherokee that brought similarly unorthodox styling, the Compass would target customers looking for a more compact version of the Grand Cherokee, Mr Butler said.

“With Renegade you’ve got a very design-driven vehicle which has a strong appeal for urban visually adventurous types,” he said. “The Compass is positioning itself as a mini Grand Cherokee.”

Globally, the Compass will be offered with a selection of up to 17 engine and transmission combinations including three petrol four-cylinders and two diesels, paired with a choice of three transmissions.

While the Australian range is not yet finalised, four variants are likely.

Europe and other nations with relatively high fuel costs will be offered the least potent 1.4-litre turbo, a 1.6-litre diesel and a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-pot, while Australia will get the two most powerful engines in the line-up.

As well as a 2.0-litre Multijet diesel, coming Down Under will be the 2.4-litre Tigershark atmo petrol engine already available in Australia in models such as the Renegade.

The toughest and most capable version, the Trailhawk, will serve as the flagship, most likely powered by the 2.4-litre petrol engine, but the diesel is also a slim possibility for Australian Compass Trailhawks.

Regardless of engine, all 4x4 versions will adopt the company’s nine-speed automatic transmission, while all front-drive autos will be six-speed. A six-speed manual is also available for front drivers, but that is highly unlikely to be coming Down Under given a typical five per cent hit rate.

Pricing for the more entry-level variants is hard to speculate with such a difference between the current model that starts at $27,000 before on-road cost and the all-new gen-two, but GoAuto understands top-end Trailhawk is likely to come in at about $45,000.

With that sticker price, the go-anywhere Compass would sit comfortably between the Renegade Trailhawk – positioned at $39,000 – and the Cherokee Trailhawk, at $52,000.

Below the Compass Trailhawk, expect a number of 4WD and 2WD models including a Limited with luxury enhancements, a mid-range Longitude with both two- and four wheel drive, as well as a front-wheel-drive Sport at the most affordable end of the Compass range.

Diesel and petrol power are both possibilities for the entry-level vehicle at this stage.

Mr Butler said a front-drive version was not confirmed but highly likely, in addition to the 4x4 given the popularity of two-wheel drive small SUVs in Australia.

“Two-wheel drive makes up 50 per cent of that segment, so it would be remiss of us to leave that opportunity untapped.”

Outside the Jeep family, the Compass goes up against some stiff competition in the funky two-wheel-drive SUV market that includes the Mini Countryman, Fiat 500X and Skoda Yeti.

But with its assortment of off-road enhancements, the hard-core Trailhawk has far fewer rivals.

The Trailhawk’s 2.4-litre engine sends 134kW of power and 237Nm of torque to all four corners via the nine-speed auto. An ultra-low-ratio crawl gear of 20:1 is available for challenging terrain.

In addition to the four modes – sand, mud, snow and auto – the Trailhawk Selec-Terrain system has an extra rock mode to complement the crawl ratio and a final drive ratio of 4.33, which is unique to the Trailhawk. All others are 4.71.

Trailhawk tyres are also uprated to all-season, while the spare is full sized to keep owners moving in the rough stuff in the event of a puncture.

Flagship versions are identified by the unapologetic black decals to the bonnet, trademark red towing points at front and rear and a modified front fascia that allows a greater approach angle of 30-degrees.

Ride height is also jacked up to 216mm. Extra underbody protection includes visible side skid plates.

Also new to Compass are a number of driver assistance systems including lane departure warning with steering assistance, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control.

Inside, the Compass gets a 7.0-inch digital driver information display plus another 8.4-inch central information screen for accessing the various systems which now include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – a first for Jeep.

Under the new-look skin, the Compass is built of more high-strength steel, delivering a stiffer platform for boosted safety and driving dynamics. Kerb weight is about 1650kg, depending on the variant.

Suspension is MacPherson strut at the front, while the rear gets a more unusual Chapman set up – a suspension design masterminded by Colin Chapman for his Lotus racers in the 1950s. Similar to MacPherson strut, the Chapman strut deletes the lower track control arm and employs a the drive shaft and a radius rod.

Jeep has fitted its Frequency Sensitive Dampers (FSD) all round for extended wheel articulation and on-road and off-road comfort.

While the previous-generation Compass was criticised for a forgettable drive experience, questionable build quality and soporific styling, the car-maker promises a dramatically improved package. After a day behind the wheel, we can report that the early signs are positive.

First is the look that perfectly borrows some of the fun and polarising aesthetics of the Renegade and Cherokee, blended with the grown-up look of the Grand Cherokee. Look closely and you will see some of the likeable Easter eggs introduced on the Renegade but with some fresh touches.

The interior is also a huge step up and probably the best Jeep cabin to date, with top-quality materials and the same flowing dash top-line that can be found in every other model of the seven-slot grille range.

Front row space is generous but the same as the smaller Renegade. The extra 56mm in the wheelbase has been donated to the second row, where passengers are offered excellent comfort.

On Texas freeways, the Compass seriously impresses with its refined ride quality and low cabin noise, even on changing road surfaces, but when the road turns twisty, the compliant ride does not result in a spongy barge-like handling with an almost rally car-like ability to absorb intrusions while maintaining good progress.

Steering is also confidence inspiring, and we particularly liked the driving position that allows a comfortable posture and a good view of surroundings.

Smaller people in the second row also benefit.

Our Limited 4x4 test car was powered by the 2.4-litre Tigershark four-cylinder petrol engine that is never going to set the world on fire, but seems smoother than in previous applications thanks to the Compass’s excellent attention to noise vibration and harshness (NVH).

With no turbo and a free revving nature, the four-cylinder does best at high revs, but the nine-speed automatic has clearly been tuned for fuel consumption, shifting up to higher gears as quickly as possible. That may be good for economy but frustrating for progress.

Unlike many manufacturers, Jeep has not fitted a transmission sport mode and nor does the steering wheel have gear selector paddles, so we flicked the transmission lever over to manual mode and helped ourselves.

The large touchscreen which is bright and sharp with well-designed graphics and lightning-fast operation.

We were given the opportunity to take a Compass Trailhawk off-load on a purpose-built demonstration course where the toughest Compass proved it could perform all the tricks expected of a Jeep wearing the trail-rated badge.

A series of bomb-holes flexed the Compass’s class-leading wheel articulation to the limit, with one wheel flying mid-air. Some deep muddy sections were dealt with effortlessly and nowhere near the 480mm wading limit, while a gnarly rock crawl completed a hat trick of party pieces without complaint.

Only a extreme climb out of a sharp bend appeared to make the Trailhawk break a sweat, with the naturally aspirated engine revving hard to find its power sweet spot beyond 4000rpm. At no point did we feel like the car was about to tumble back down the incline, but we think the gutsy nature of a turbocharged diesel may lend itself better to off-road antics.

A tight turning circle and excellent visibility make the Compass Trailhawk a good choice for both the jungle and urban jungle, and the toughened looks are sure to get admiring stares wherever it goes, plastered in mud or not.

Our return journey to San Antonio was on board the two-wheel-drive version that brought all of the same likeable cabin refinements and drivability as the all-paw Compass, but we could not detect a notable difference in performance despite the weight advantage.

Cranking through the six-speed gearbox its wider ratios and a slower transition between cogs highlighted the advantages of the slick nine-speeder with. Our pick is certainly the nine-speed automatic.

Some might be quick to assume a likeness between the 2017 Compass and its predecessor or perhaps the Patriot that it also replaces, but the new version has taken such a quantum leap that one of the few remaining similarities is the badge on the boot.

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