Jeep Compass 2.0 Multijet II 140 ROAD TEST
Jeep has promoted its old crossover to compact SUV market status. Will it be a hit?
The Compass is Jeep’s assault on the lucrative compact SUV market. Their ranks are numerous, and led by the likes of the Volvo XC40 and Volkswagen Tiguan, but few do much to embrace the utilitarian principles their raised ride heights espouse.
It shouldn’t therefore come as a surprise that a company with 70 years of off-roading know-how should seek to leverage its experience and appeal to drivers who might just want some substance to match the style. It’s why the Compass not only has a stylishly raked roofline but comes with a switchable, Gkn-built all-terrain four-wheel drive, and why it matches a more luxuriously appointed interior with suspension hardware designed to provide proper wheel articulation. The gearbox is also fitted with a ‘crawl ratio’ capable of delivering maximum torque to either axle and yet amenities such as an electrically operated tailgate and 19in wheels are available as options. In terms of sheer versatility, very little else in this class comes close – at least on paper.
That’s why we’re road-testing the Compass. Nobody should doubt the makers of the Wrangler – a veritable mountain goat of a machine with an enviable history – can deliver a robust and ruggedly capable compact SUV on a budget. But equally, merely cloaking such a car in an attractive body is no guarantee of satisfactory on-road manners. With unrefined engines and a chassis easily f lustered on British roads, the previous Compass was testament to this. Can this latest iteration do any better?
DESIGN AND ENGINEERING
Where the old Compass was a slightly awkward, ungainly looking thing, this new model manages to combine a degree of sophistication with some of that rough-and-ready aesthetic Jeep is famed for. The iconic seven-slot grille contributes to a commanding front end, while squared-off wheel arches and a wide stance lend the Compass a presence that’s arguably more dominant than we’re used to from the established soft-roader set. Peel back that exterior and you’ll find the Compass is based on Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ ‘small wide architecture’ (which also underpins the smaller Renegade), albeit here in extended-wheelbase form. A range of petrol and diesel four-cylinder engines are available – our test car came in 2.0-litre, 138bhp Multijet II diesel flavour, with four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox.
While for most compact SUVS off-roading will likely be limited to grassy fields or a slightly muddy forest car park, Jeep claims the Compass offers class-leading prowess off the beaten track. Suspension is by way of Macpherson struts and coil springs up front, while the rear employs a Chapman strut arrangement (read: simplified multi-link) – supposedly for greater axle articulation capabilities. Highstrength steel links and an isolated subframe for 4x4 models should also bode well for off-road durability.
The Gkn-sourced, clutch-based four-wheel-drive technology,
meanwhile, incorporates a disconnecting rear axle and power take-off unit. Under normal conditions, power will only be sent to the front wheels in order to improve fuel economy, although the rear axle will come into play when a shortage of traction is detected. A 4Wd-lock function is also present, while Jeep’s Selec-terrain system offers Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud driving modes.
While we don’t have a dedicated road test quarry in which we can put this off-road tech under the microscope, a glance at the Compass’s technical specs provides some insight as to how well it should fare against rivals. As far as ground clearance is concerned, the Compass puts 215mm between its undercarriage and the floor, while its breakover angle is 22.9deg – respectively, that’s a 15mm and 2.9deg advantage over a VW Tiguan. Volvo’s XC40, meanwhile, offers 211mm of ground clearance and a 22deg breakover angle, so there’s precious little separating the American and the Swede. The Volvo offers superior wading depth too: 450mm versus the Jeep’s 406.5mm.
Jeep is playing to a more mature and sophisticated market here than it was, three years ago, with the Renegade crossover. It has created an interior with less in the way of visual charm and intrigue – but, instead, what’s clearly intended to be a more refined and luxurious ambience, and a more upmarket feel.
But, judged against compact SUVS’ increasingly high standards on perceived quality and fit-and-finish, our test car’s relatively plain, monotone and ordinary-feeling cabin failed to make much of an impression. Parts of the Compass’s interior clearly represent attempts at material richness, but they’re not all convincing (the cheap-looking ‘leather’ on the centre armrest is a case in point). Meanwhile, the car’s nicer ingredients are significantly outnumbered by plenty of fittings (HVAC, headlight and infotainment controls) that look or feel a bit cheaper than the likes of the Tiguan and XC40 now lead you to expect.
The Compass’s cabin is adequately comfortable and broadly pleasant. Our test car’s front seats were a touch too flat to offer decent support and didn’t have enough head restraint adjustment for taller drivers to make themselves entirely at home, but ergonomic control layout and adjustability were otherwise good.
This isn’t a particularly spacious car by class standards, but it’s
competitive. Head room is eaten into in both rows by Jeep’s ‘doublepane’ sunroof, and typical leg room in the second row is only an average 740mm. The boot offers less loading space, according to the tape, than you’ll find in a Tiguan, DS 7 Crossback or Mazda CX-5, although our test car’s loading depth was a little adversely affected by an optional-fit temporary spare wheel that prevented use of its lower boot floor setting.
The car’s instruments are presented clearly. Its trip computer is easy enough to read and to navigate via the thumb consoles on the slightly awkwardly shaped spokes of the steering wheel. Meanwhile, our test car had both USB and three-pin AC power sockets for the use of secondrow passengers. The latter socket is useful for charging tablet PCS and other power-hungry mobile devices.
The 2.0-litre Multijet II diesel engine in the Compass has been in service throughout FCA for a decade now – and, at times, particularly when the car’s starting from cold or when hauling hard from low speed, it sounds and feels every inch the decade-old power unit.
Though it’s crotchety under load and often feels soft in its responses to the accelerator pedal, however, the diesel isn’t actually short on outright torque or real-world pulling power. The boosty, mid-range-centric power delivery became very apparent on the day of our testing. The Compass needed plenty of revs to make a fast getaway, but then insisted on upshifts no later than 4000rpm in order to maintain the best rate of acceleration. Other more modern diesels are certainly more flexible.
But compare the Compass’s in-gear acceleration with that of its rivals (3070mph in fourth: 12.1sec) and you’ll find empirical evidence to support our observation that, in its sweet spot, the Jeep can certainly knuckle down; it would have plenty of lowrpm torque for assertive off-roading or towing, for instance. The Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI 150 we tested in 2016 wanted more than a second longer for the benchmark 30-70mph fourth gear sprint. Also, for all the extra apparent coarseness of the Compass’s diesel, it was only a decibel noisier than the Skoda when cruising at both 30mph and 70mph – proof that the Jeep’s engine settles well enough from its loaded gruffness when being driven in part-throttle conditions.
The Compass’s controls are uniformly medium-of-weight, though the gearlever has a spongy tactile feel as you shift that makes you a little unsure whether the gear you’ve selected has really engaged. There’s a slightly woolly feel to the clutch pedal action too, though neither is enough to be really problematic to the driving experience, neither is welcome.
Even less welcome, however, and speaking particularly ill of Jeep’s attention to detail when it comes to the car’s level of dynamic finish, is the irksome combination of that vague feeling clutch with an electronic handbrake that doesn’t engage automatically or disengage quickly enough and an engine starter generator that doesn’t act quickly enough to restart the 2.0-litre diesel at the traffic lights. Too often, then, as a result of a three-way confluence of incompetence, the car causes you to stall – until you’re either used to its quirks, or sufficiently scarred that you remember to turn off the engine stop-start function in the first place.
While smallish pedal pads seem to make for the potential to miss the brake entirely when attempting an emergency stop, we never actually missed it in several full pedal pressure stops. Our test car, on its optional 19in rims and high-performance SUV Bridgestone tyres, hauled up strongly on dry Tarmac. Customers should expect some compromise to that, of course, from Trailhawk models (on 17in wheels, hybrid off-road tyres).
RIDE AND HANDLING
The woolly, imprecise impression given to you by the Compass’s pedals and gearlever finds its equal in the car’s overly permissive initial body control. It’s loose enough to admit enough pitch and headtoss into the car’s ride on motorways, A-roads and faster B-roads as to disrupt your comfort levels just a fraction, and to
make the car carry just a suggestion of restlessness and dynamic coarseness with it wherever it goes.
This is perhaps the result of Jeep’s adoption of ‘frequency selective’ dampers for the car. Each damper has a pair of reservoirs and switches to a firmer damper setting when quicker inputs force the oil it carries through a pre-defined threshold on pressure. What that means in practice, on the road at least, is that the Compass isn’t without a sense of suppleness or support; and also avoids backing up its soft initial ride with handling that lets the body run out of control in extremis. Even so, you’d say the car’s ride tuning lacks a bit of sophistication in comparison with a better-checked, better-tied-down compact SUV class average.
The Compass’s steering has a similar flavour in that it’s slightly spongy and vague just off-centre, progressing to improve as you add lock by picking up more tangible road feel. At all times, it feels a touch overassisted in its normal setting, getting even lighter at parking speeds to the extent that the parking steering mode included on every new Fiat and now FCA model for a decade or more, which adds even more power assistance, would seem superfluous.
Though the car’s lack of good close body control and its failing on on-centre steering feel combine to make it slightly trickier to drive smoothly and instinctively, neither affects its road-holding. The Compass certainly rolls to greater angles than some of its competitors, but it settles in a mid-corner stance in which it maintains balanced grip levels and good stability. Hurrying the car through a bend is a benign process too, with the car’s electronic traction and stability controls combining with its four-wheel-drive system to deliver torque where there’s grip to be had, but subtly keeping you from deploying too much.
BUYING AND OWNING
The Limited Compass tested here might be the third-highest of four trim levels but, starting at £31,495 and costing more than £36,000 with options, it will seem prohibitively expensive to many, and rightly so given its various weaknesses. Included as standard are 18in alloys, privacy glass, electric leather seats and several bits of off-road-related hardware – and so assuming the car will be used predominantly on traditional roads, cheaper Longitude trim represents better value. The wheels are an inch smaller, but included are a reversing camera, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, the larger 8.4in touchscreen and dual-zone climate control.
Further down the line, the Compass is expected to hold its value reasonably well – almost identically to a comparatively priced Tiguan, in fact, though some way behind the XC40, which is our current pick of the class.
But given its modest power output, the Jeep should certainly return better fuel economy than it does. Its touring figure of 44.8mpg is only marginally better than the much more powerful D4 XC40 and some way off the slightly more powerful Tiguan TDI 150, which managed more than 50mpg.
In its sweet spot, the Jeep can certainly knuckle down
MODEL TESTED 2.0 MULTIJET II 140 4WD LIMITED Price £31,495 Power 138bhp Torque 258lb ft 0-60mph 11.0sec 30-70mph in fourth 12.1sec Fuel economy 37.6mpg CO2 emissions 138g/km 70-0mph 46.8m
Many stories concerning the origins of the seven-slot grille exist. One of the more interesting says it came about because a Jeep was the first vehicle to be driven on all seven continents.
Old Compass was taken off sale in 2015
Width 1000-1050mm Height 400-720mm Length 800-1620mm Subwoofer of Beats Audio stereo robs loading width in a boot that hasn’t got much to spare. Floor would adjust downwards but for optional full-size spare wheel.
Front seats are too flat in the base to provide decent lateral support and the headrests didn’t adjust far enough upwards for our tallest testers.
Typical leg room 740mm Second-row space is pretty average by class standards; sufficiently so that you should avoid the panoramic sunroof if taller occupants will be travelling regularly.
Our Compass responded decisively when its brakes were applied suddenly. The sluggish stop-start set-up meant getting the 19in wheels turning again was less easy.