Jeep­ers! A seg­ment-strad­dling SUV that ac­tu­ally goes off-road

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - DANIEL GARD­NER

New model points medium Yank SUV in right di­rec­tion

IN THE late 40s, few could have imag­ined the re­spon­si­bil­ity that would fall to the orig­i­nal Willys ATV. Not only would its dev­as­tat­ingly ef­fec­tive recipe of sim­ple but rev­o­lu­tion­ary de­sign al­low the tiny four-by-four to lug count­less tonnes of troops and equip­ment, but its name – Gen­eral Pur­pose, short­ened to GP or Jeep – would go on to be the plac­ard of an in­sti­tu­tion.

Flash for­ward more than 75 years and this car – the gen-two Jeep Com­pass – is charged with a sim­i­larly hefty re­spon­si­bil­ity. From a sales peak in 2014 when the Grand Chero­kee was fly­ing off show­room floors faster than any other large SUV, the seven-slot grille brand is in need of help and this all-new small-to-mid-sized SUV could be the charg­ing cavalry.

Un­like the smaller Rene­gade that rolled in two years ago with size­able prom­ise but then dis­ap­pointed with a price tag al­most as big as its per­son­al­ity, the lo­cal team toiled to sharpen the Com­pass’ price – and suc­ceeded. Start­ing at $28,790, the en­try Sport ap­pears to be a bul­let to the head of al­most all ri­vals, but that cash gets you into a lightly equipped vari­ant with a man­ual gear­box – mere bur­ley bait to get you into show­rooms then. An auto trans­mis­sion costs $1900 and above that, a Lon­gi­tude is on of­fer for $33,750. Move up the range though and you find your­self at the more gen­er­ously equipped Lim­ited, the model Jeep says will be its Com­pass cash cow.

The base and mid-spec vari­ants were not at the Aus­tralian launch so we fo­cused on the $41,250 Lim­ited. Off-road, this ver­sion only lives up to its Lim­ited name in com­par­i­son to its Trail­hawk sib­ling (see side­bar). By the stan­dards of its di­rect ri­vals, the Lim­ited has ex­cel­lent all­ter­rain abil­ity and can despatch sub­stan­tial rocks and mud with lit­tle fuss. You might ex­pect this to mean com­pro­mised on-road dy­nam­ics, but you’d be wrong. The “small-wide ar­chi­tec­ture” which un­der­pins Com­pass – with front struts and an in­de­pen­dent rear end – not only de­liv­ers fine ride qual­ity, but also en­ables the Com­pass to be fun in cor­ners, with re­spectable body con­trol.

The Lim­ited rolls on 18-inch al­loy wheels, but tall tyres pre­vent the ride be­ing com­pro­mised by the largest di­am­e­ter wheels. Bet­ter front seat er­gonomics would im­prove all-round com­fort while rear seat ac­com­mo­da­tion is bet­ter with gen­er­ous space for adults. The cabin de­sign is like­able, roomy and fea­tures good-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als at this price point.

As for en­gines, for­tu­nately there’s some choice. Stan­dard for all ex­cept the Trail­hawk is a 129kw/229nm 2.4-litre atmo petrol mill that’s ad­e­quate at best. The lack of torque is es­pe­cially ev­i­dent when over­tak­ing or climb­ing hills, but a new 2.0-litre diesel is op­tional for the Lim­ited and, with 350Nm, is a bet­ter match. A nine-speed au­to­matic is the only trans­mis­sion we sam­pled (lesser vari­ants get a six-speed) and the slick unit is seam­less in op­er­a­tion with a cal­i­bra­tion tar­get­ing smooth­ness rather than per­for­mance. There are no pad­dle shifters but that’s not some­thing most cus­tomers will miss.

Our only other ma­jor crit­i­cism re­gards safety equip­ment: for­ward-col­li­sion mon­i­tor­ing, lane-de­par­ture warn­ing and blindspot mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems cost $2450 in an op­tion pack for Lim­ited and Trail­hawk mod­els.

Re­gard­less, this is the first small Jeep that will ap­pear on the radars of class lead­ers. It now has the abil­ity to worry many of them.

Model Jeep Com­pass Lim­ited 2.4 4x4 En­gine 2359cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v Max power 129kw @ 6400rpm Max torque 229Nm @ 3900rpm Trans­mis­sion 9-speed au­to­matic Weight 1659kg 0-100km/h 10.1sec (claimed) Econ­omy 9.7L/100km Price $41,250 On sale Now

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