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