What is it?
The latest Jeep Compass is an all-new version of the road-friendly, but off-road capable, compact SUV.
Proper 4×4 system, off-road friendly chassis, good specification.
Compared to its many hatchback-based rivals in the compact SUV segment, the Jeep Compass does not appear to write any headlines.
Compare its off-road ability and appearance, however, and it stands ahead of most of them, as a proper compact SUV for those who want such a vehicle for more than just looks.
Jeep – the name conjures up immediate images of the archetypal World War 2 all-terrain vehicle, a name that came to be used, wrongly, for anything promising off-road prowess. And the most American of American brands has traded on that name ever since.
Jeep once shared with Land Rover the unofficial title of ‘proper 4×4’ – tough machines you bought if you wanted to spend as much time on the green, loose or wet stuff as the grey tarmac.
These days, however, such prowess does not bring the big rewards in the SUV market. While everyone wants an SUV, they really only need it to look like it can go rock climbing. They do need, however, all the home comforts of their previous road car.
Jeep needs to compete in that market but is unwilling to throw away its heritage. And so we have the Compass – one of the brand’s two most shamelessly road-pitched SUVs, the other being the Renegade.
This is not the first Jeep Compass but its predecessor, launched in 2012 and killed off in 2015, can be quickly forgotten – it rated alongside the Chrysler Sebring as one of the worst cars to come out of the US brand, and its most memorable attribute, for all the wrong reasons, was a two-star (yes, two…) safety rating.
Have no fears, the new Compass cannot be compared to the old one in any way – that car is a bit like the long-dead relative that no-one talks about any more. From a five-star safety rating to its general build, this is a competitive entrant in today’s burgeoning SUV market. It offers most of what its rivals do, plus rather more off-road ability than most of them.
Buying and owning a Jeep Compass
Confused at the Jeep line-up? Well, the Compass is slightly bigger than a Renegade, slightly smaller than a Cherokee. It is also Jeep’s major entry in the now fiercely competitive compact SUV segment. This means its rivals include the model that first made SUVs ‘cool’, the Nissan Qashqai, top quality contenders such as Volkswagen’s Tiguan, and a whole lot of others from just about every brand going.
The Jeep scores an early victory in looks, which again are nothing like the visually awful presence of the previous Compass. The styling is modern, particularly with regard to the latest iteration of the trademark seven-bar grille, but unlike most of today’s rivals this car also looks like an off-roader, with bold, squared-off wheelarches and muscled-up panelling.
And you can have just the looks – the Compass is available as a front-wheel-drive only machine, something that once would have been anathema to the Jeep badge.
The full range comprises two petrol and three diesel engines, that fact alone pointing to the expected customers for this car. All these powerplants are familiar from the Fiat Chrysler line-up, and among many mechanical aspects that the Compass shares with the Fiat 500X that we’ve just tested at The Car Expert.
So there are two versions of the 1.4 petrol engine, with 140 or 170hp. The former comes with front-wheel-drive and a six-speed manual gearbox, the latter with all-wheel-drive and a nine-speed auto.
Diesel options centre on the long-lived Multijet unit – in 1.6-litre form with a six-speed manual and 2WD, and two versions of a 2.0-litre with 140 or 170hp, and 4WD.
Trim levels number four – Sport, Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk. The latter is specifically designed for those who want to do some serious off-roading in the Compass, adding such niceties as protective skid plates, bespoke bumpers, raised and off-road-tuned suspension, hill descent control and a ‘Rock’ crawl mode in the transmission.
You don’t need Trailhawk to leave the tarmac behind, however. All versions with a 4×4 transmission, such as the Limited model we are testing, include a ‘Selec-terrain’ system. Using a rotary control just ahead of the gear lever, one can switch between auto, snow, sand and mud modes. It also includes a switch to lock the differential when escaping difficult situations – this is no soft-roader.
Equipment levels are adequate – prices for the Compass start from around £23,000 and entry-level Sport customers will get such niceties as 16-inch alloy wheels, LED tail lights, a leather steering wheel with audio controls, air conditioning and cruise control.
Our Limited-specification test car, top of the ‘normal’ range, includes 18-inch alloy wheels, halogen projector headlamps, silver roof rails, privacy glass, powered and heated seats in leather, rain-sensitive wipers with de-icers and a heated steering wheel.
The Limited’s safety package includes a reversing camera and front and rear sensors, and driver-assistance technologies ranging across blind spot and cross path detection, and parallel and perpendicular parking.
Safety is strong on all Compass variants, however, topped by the standard-fit autonomous emergency braking. When crash tested in 2017 the Jeep earned a top-level five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
Inside the Jeep Compass
Jeep is pitching itself as a premium brand, and the interior of the Compass has to straddle the twin requirements of appearing of high quality and being able to cope with the odd bit of green-laning and the resultant mud and muck that will find its way inside.
Mostly it succeeds, but we are not that sure whether the gloss-black surround of the infotainment screen atop the centre console really shouts premium like its makers want it to.
Said screen is part of the Uconnect infotainment system, familiar from other FCA products but specified for the first time in a Jeep. There are two versions depending on trim, with either a five- or eight-inch screen.
It’s worth going above entry-level to get the eight-inch variant, as this includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility allowing hands-free calling, navigation and voice texting. And using the navigation app on your phone is preferable to the occasionally frustrating in-built system. Generally, the infotainment system is a little laboured in operation compared to some rivals.
The major feature of the driver’s surroundings are the number of controls – there are lots, including several festooning the rear of the pleasingly chunky steering wheel. This leads to initial irritation trying to get to the screen menu one wants, but it soon becomes second-nature.
Space in the Compass is adequate – good up front with plenty of adjustability in the seats, slightly more cosy in the rear. Not helping with the headroom in our test car was the optional panoramic sunroof, a cool £1,200 extra on one’s bill.
Those who particularly want to go off-road will likely more happily pay the £150 for the full-size spare wheel, which lives under the boot floor. Yes, it cuts available space in the boot from 438 to 368 litres, but is a so much better option than a tyre inflation kit…
Driving the Jeep Compass
Our test car came fitted with the top engine option, the 170hp diesel. This hits 62mph from rest in just under 10 seconds and will go on to 122mph, while returning quoted fuel economy of 49.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 148g/km.
This diesel has been around for a while and sounds like it, with a noticeably audible note that more recent rivals have succeeded in mostly drowning out. However it is a competent accelerator and cruiser, helped by a very efficient auto transmission that only swaps between modes as needed, rather than constantly jumping about as can often be the case with such units.
On the road, the 4WD transmission effectively acts in front-propelling form and leaving it in auto is fine for most situations. One has the comfort of knowing it will bring all four wheels into play if road conditions become more challenging, such as in the ice and mush of winter. The extra modes are really only there for proper off-road stuff.
Where the Compass differs from almost all of its mainstream SUV rivals is in its suspension. There are no multi-links but struts in the rear setup – this means they operate over a wider range which is good, you guessed it, for going off-road.
Surprisingly, however, the car does feel quite stiff at slower speeds, even with the ‘Frequency Selective’ dampers claimed as an exclusive by Jeep, and which are supposed to find that sweet spot between on-road ride quality and off-road ability. They do, but only after a fashion.
Cruising at speed, the Compass is reasonably composed and comfortable, but it only really comes into its own when cornering with the enthusiasm that few owners will want to.
In such situations the dampers firm up, the 4WD system keeps the grip where it should be and the initially woolly steering gains somewhat more feel to produce progress that will leave road-focused rivals struggling to catch up.
In a compact SUV market that is now saturated with choice, the Jeep Compass sits somewhere in the middle – adequate in most respects. But that only holds true if you consider it by the same criteria as those rivals.
The selling points of the Jeep Compass are that it looks not like a car on mild steroids but a tough SUV that is capable of leaving the blacktop behind. And it backs up this visual impression with actually being able to do it – offering a combination of powertrain, transmission and chassis that provide the go to match the show.
For adventurous motorists, those who like to get out into the countryside at weekends, tow a trailer or a horsebox to events, the Jeep Compass should certainly be on the consideration list.
|Make & model||Jeep Compass||Volkswagen Tiguan||Ford Kuga|
|Specification||Limited||SE L||Titanium X|
|Engine||2.0-litre diesel||2.0-litre diesel||2.0-litre diesel|
|Power||170 hp||190 hp||180 hp|
|Torque||380 Nm||400 Nm||400 Nm|
|0-62mph||9.5 sec||7.9 sec||10.0 sec|
|Top speed||122 mph||131 mph||124 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||49.6 mpg||49.6 mpg||43.5 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||148 g/km||149 g/km||171 g/km|
|Euro NCAP rating||5 stars (2017)||5 stars (2016)||5 stars (2012)|
|TCE rating||7.6 / 10||8.0 / 10||Not yet tested|