Jeep Compass 2018 review

3 March 2017
 by 
, CarsGuide

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the new Jeep Compass with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its International launch in San Antonio, Texas.

The Jeep Compass is possibly the most important car in the marque's recent history, but in Australia, it's the lynchpin to the brand's comeback. Jeep acknowledges that there's a lot of work to do here, particularly considering that we're the only Jeep market to go significantly backwards sales-wise in 2016.

The Compass is to be the brand's weapon in the fight for the smallish SUV market, sitting beneath the genuine mid-sized Cherokee in a similar fashion to Nissan's Qashqai and X-Trail, but above the perky Renegade. Unlike the other cars in that segment, the Compass has something most modern SUVs don't - serious off-road chops.

Nevertheless, the Compass has a battle on its hands, some of it the company's own making. The old Compass, which quietly slipped out of the Australian market some time ago, was underwhelming in almost every area so its badge cachet is limited. We were among the first to drive the new car on US highways, by-ways and rocky side-ways to find out if Jeep is moving in the right direction.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Compass will probably come in four flavours with a mix of engines, transmissions and number of driven wheels.

Still unconfirmed are the Sport 4x2, Longitude (called Latitude in the US) 4x2 and 4x4, Limited 4x4 and the Trailhawk.

As we won't see the cars before the fourth quarter of 2017, there's little in the way of confirmed spec information. Cars will roll on alloy wheels of 16-, 17 and 18-inches. The Latitude we drove had 18-inch wheels with standard Continental road tyres, dual-zone climate control, leather interior, (there are a number of interior colour configurations) reversing camera and and there are options like panoramic sunroof and premium paint.

Galante talked about influences as diverse as the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird - "sharp lines and simple surfaces" - and Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man suit.

All cars will have a touchscreen of at least seven inches running UConnect 4, some will step up to 8.4-inches. This system is a complete departure from the other UConnect systems - it's a delight to use. The hardware is fast and responsive, the graphics look great and you can plug in an iPhone or Android phone for their respective interfaces.

As for pricing, we're taking an educated guess that the top-spec Trailhawk will land at around $45,000. The price in the US is $31,900 and using our complicated formula (checking prices of other Jeeps already available in Australia versus similar pricing in the US) we reckon that's about right. A two-wheel drive Sport - and there will be one or I'll eat my hat - will probably start in the high $20,000s depending on equipment and, of course, exchange rates. Our Compass supply will from Fiat Chrysler's Pune plant in India, one of four factory locations.

How practical is the space inside?

Sixty-six millimetres doesn't sound like much, but it makes quite a difference to rear seat passengers who are well accommodated and have door pockets and two cupholders in the armrest. Front seat passengers have plenty of head and shoulder room and good knee room and legroom. As with the back, you have door pockets that will hold bottles and a pair of cupholders. The glove box swallows the huge manual with room to spare and a pocket on the side of the console will hold a big phone or an iPad mini.

You also get a central storage bin under the armrest.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

You wouldn't know it to look at it, but the new Compass is spun off the same platform as its little brother, the Turin-built Renegade, which in turn is based on (of all things) the Fiat 500X. It's a modern platform that's already had a lot of work put into it by Jeep, so the interior and exterior designers knew their way around.

Already we know the Compass is a far more confident design, like the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee before it. The company readily admits to chasing a premium but more conservative look than the Cherokee for the new car.

"The C-segment is the most popular SUV market in the world if you look at it globally. We knew that it would have to appeal to a wide range of people, so we made it more of a simpler, more conservative [design] than the Renegade or Cherokee," Vince Galante, head of exterior design for the Compass told me at the global launch.

When asked if that's how it started out, he laughed. "We try to scare ourselves and see how far we can go and then we kind of reel it back. We tried lots of different things as we learned more about the markets."

Both headlights and taillights sit high and are designed to look like they have a 'predatory stare.'

Galante talked about influences as diverse as the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird - "sharp lines and simple surfaces" - and Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man suit.

Both headlights and taillights sit high and are designed to look like they have a "predatory stare." The front end has the familiar slotted grille, blacked out in the Trailhawk and softened with chrome outlines in the other cars. High-set lights make the car look wider and stronger, says Galante. Another feature of the exterior is the chrome line that runs along the the top of the window line and wraps around the tailgate and around to the other side.

The crash-and-bash Trailhawk features different front and rear valances, lifting the car's skirts (so to speak) to stop them from being ripped off. A pair of front tow hooks -  Galante describes as "pair of fists - are clad in bright red covers with further red flashes inside and out. The wheels are smaller at 17-inches to accommodate more appropriate off-road tyres but unfortunately the finish looks a little cheap, like the Renegade Trailhawk's.

Inside is the work of Cliff Wilkins and his team. This is Wilkins' second on the same platform, so again was able to lead a team that knew its way around the technical architecture. Influences for that dash were swimmers, aligning with the quite muscular, almost animal-like forms of the dashpad.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Compass shares the Renegade Trailhawk's 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four cylinder, turning out 129kW and 230Nm.

Front-wheel drive 2.0 litre cars would have an Aisin six-speed automatic, while all-wheel drive models score a nine-speed automatic, a ZF design manufactured by either Jeep themselves or ZF in North Carolina. This transmission also comes with stop-start and responds to the Terrain-Selec system.

Straight away this feels like one of the best Jeeps on the road.

The all-wheel drive system is known as Active Drive and can send 100 percent of torque to a single wheel if need be. The Trailhawk is exclusively fitted with Active Drive Low (ADL), with a 20:1 crawl ratio and additional Rock mode.

In the case of the all-wheel drive cars, the rears can be disconnected to save fuel.

Australia should also see a 2.0 litre Multijet turbo diesel four which will also be mated to the nine-speed auto. It's exceedingly unlikely that a manual will be offered.

Acceleration 0-100km/h is unlikely to better ten seconds given the sub-ten mark set by the smaller, lighter Renegade.

How much fuel does it consume?

Jeep reckons the 2.4-litre Renegade will return 9.5L/100km for the nine-speed auto all-wheel drive, which seems like a combined figure derived from US testing. Official testing will happen later in the year in Australia and we'll get a number for you. During our testing we saw 20mpg on the dash (or 14.12L/100km) which is about right considering our test regime.

What's it like to drive?

Straight away this feels like one of the best Jeeps on the road. While it's noticeably softer than other cars in the segment, it's still a tidy handler. The tarmac section of our test loop we tackled in a Longitude 4x4 and 4x2 and both rode and handled well on twisty roads and the mega-freeways outside of San Antonio.

Of particular note was the serene cabin. On only the worst concrete surfaces was there a noticeable racket from the tyres. On most other surfaces, the Compass was very quiet, with little wind and road noise right up to Texas' legal limit of 120km/h.

Compared to the previous Compass, it's a revelation.

A challenging back road section revealed the car to be settled but happy to use the full length of its suspension travel both when riding over some steep drops and on compression at the bottom, delivering a surprisingly plush ride without the stomach churning associated with softer long travel suspension tunes. This appears to come courtesy of clever Koni shocks and well-chosen springs. Suspension at both ends is struts, MacPherson up front and Chapman at the back.

Compared to the previous Compass, it's a revelation. It won't stay with a number of its competitors in a chase down twisty roads (which is obviously not the point) but it won't feel out of its depth either.

The engine and transmission would be no help even if the chassis was tuned for sharper handling and is perhaps the weakest link of the new Compass. The 2.4 is already familiar to us from the Renegade and suffers from the same problems. From Fiat's MultiAir family, it's happy to rev and give up every last kilowatt and Newton metre, but having to shift a fair bit of weight and deal with a transmission that heads for ninth gear like a meth-addicted hop-scotch participant.

Pushing the selector into manual doesn't improve things as much as you might hope - push the stick forward for a downshift and the transmission takes a long time to respond. In automatic, there isn't a sport mode. Engineer Model Responsible (aka, the person in charge) of Compass, Jim Lyjynen, said that customers preferred the Terrain Selec software as a priority.

It's not bad - its penchant for higher gears translates to lower fuel usage (or would if we weren't driving as enthusiastically), but it does mean that the traffic light grand prix won't hold much joy for the Compass driver.

A further side-effect of the lack of power is that the towing capacity of the petrol is just 900kg braked, although the 2.0-litre diesel will do a better job there.

The stability system, particularly on the 4x4, cuts in swiftly and effectively and of course works with the Terrain Selec system to aid progress on various loose surfaces. Jeep says that even non-Trailhawk cars are pretty handy off-road, but are limited by the lower bumpers, ride height and lack of low-range and Rock mode.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Seven airbags, stability and traction controls, roll mitigation and hill descent control are standard.

Safety systems such as forward collision warning, AEB and lane departure warning are also part of the package and will be optional on some models and standard on others.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Fiat Chrysler Australia recently announced a new after-sales regime consisting of a five year/100,000km warranty with lifetime roadside assist as long as you have the car serviced by Jeep. There are two prepaid servicing arrangements covering three or five years and an additional plan that covers oil changes. Jeep expects to see you at either 15,000km intervals or once a year, whichever comes around first. Service pricing, as with the vehicle pricing, is yet to be confirmed.

2min Insurance Quote

Verdict 

The new Compass is a vastly better machine than both of the cars it replaces. Comfortable, refined and capable, the only real blot on the copybook is the tardy performance that doesn't look like being fixed anytime soon. Without knowing prices and equipment, the upper-spec Longitude seems like a the best of them.

With the unique off-road capability offered in the Trailhawk (which would put the Forester's modest abilities to shame), that will be the car for a family who wants to really chuck it in the mud as long as they don't want to tow anything.

Does the new Compass light your fire for your next SUV purchase? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Specifications

  • Price From Not confirmed
  • Fuel consumption 9.5L/100km (combined) Tank 51L
  • Seats 5
  • Warranty 5 years/100,000km
  • Service Interval 12 months/15,000km
  • Engine 2360cc 4-cyl 95RON, 129kW/230Nm
  • Transmission 9-spd automatic
  • Spare Space saver
  • Dimensions 4394mm (L), 2033mm (W), 1647mm (H)

Jeep Compass 2018 review

What we like

  • fine exterior and interior designs
  • good quality, not just for a Jeep
  • Trailhawk's off-road hardiness

What we don't

  • underpowered engine
  • low towing capacity in the petrol
  • irritatingly slow gearshifts

Rivals

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