Jeep grooms Compass for competitive sector

Peter AtkinsonAAP
The Jeep Compass has updated its look, enticing those searching for a city-focused machine.
Camera IconThe Jeep Compass has updated its look, enticing those searching for a city-focused machine. Credit: AAP

Jeep.

It might be the only car-maker in history that has never actually made a car.

Not what most people would call a car, anyway. Just four-wheel drives.

From its storied history in the mud and ruts of World War II battlegrounds, the Jeep has always been about one thing. Going anywhere.

While other automotive brands have trodden the 4WD-only trail - Land Rover, for instance - their posh 4WD machines, like the little Range Rover Evoque, definitely belong in "car" territory.

But not Jeep.

The closest they've come to making a "car" in almost 80 years of history is this one. It's called the Jeep Compass and it's the first model ever to wear the famous nameplate that isn't exclusively about getting places that others can't.

The Compass is ... gulp ... an SUV. It's even available in front-wheel drive-only configuration, for goodness' sake.

Most Jeeps have names like Gladiator, Commander, Aggressor and Liberator that reinforce their muscular, hairy-armed persona.

But a Compass?

It could make a driver feel lost, which is not altogether misleading in the case of this rather soft, rather civilised Jeep.

The Compass has been around for a couple of years but it recently underwent a comprehensive mid-model makeover, inside and out.

Most of the attention was on the all-new interior with better technology, vastly improved infotainment systems and plenty of luxury appointments. Outside, a new grille and headlight arrangement bring the Compass into line with Jeep's latest corporate look.

Tested here is the S Limited model, which sits just beneath the flagship Trailhawk at the top of the Compass range.

It's softer and more sophisticated than any other Jeep - nicely designed, impressively finished and strongly equipped.

The new interior comes with twin 10.1-inch digital display screens - one for the instrument panel and the other for touch-screen access to the infotainment and cabin management systems.

The new Uconnect 5 system is impressive and easy to use, while driver-assistance safety features include traffic sign recognition, intelligent speed assist, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitoring.

It does, however, have an over-zealous lane keeping assist system that makes unnecessary and often unwelcome inputs into the steering when it senses the driver is not paying proper attention to line markings.

The leather seats are both heated and ventilated - impressive for a car in this segment - as is the sunroof and 360-degree parking camera.

That generous kit comes at a price - $46,500 - which pushes the Jeep perilously close to some of the best-selling vehicles in this competitive market segment. Key rivals include the Toyota RAV4 Edge, Mazda's CX-5 GT and the Hyundai Tucson Highlander - all of which are $50,000 investments.

While the Compass is good in many ways, it will have its work cut out dragging buyers away from these segment leaders. The main culprit is its 2.4-litre engine - a carry-over from the previous model and delivering a modest 129kW and 229Nm - which feels insufficient for a car this size.

It consumes an official mark of 9.7L/100km which is not great for any modern machine, let alone a smallish vehicle boasting a nine-speed automatic transmission.

There was also a noticeable hum (or growl) coming from the drive train during normal sealed-road operation . It can be intrusive, particularly on quiet, smooth surfaces.

While a turbo-diesel is offered in the Trailhawk, the petrol version could do with a turbocharger to compete with its Mazda and Hyundai rivals.

The new cockpit speaks of quality, but its well proportioned looks somewhat oversell the car's off-road capability - as do the controls for the off-road system.

The switch marked 4WD Low, for instance, doesn't mean low-range but merely ensures the transmission stays in first gear while powering through soft ground. Likewise the "diff lock" setting engages four-wheel drive permanently, rather than on-demand.

The system does allow the driver to select from mud, sand and snow settings which suggests the Compass has at least some level of off-road capability.

While it may tick plenty of boxes for those seeking a city-focused machine that can also be a useful off-road performer, its weaknesses, coupled with the car's price tag, make it a difficult choice against some quality opposition.

JEEP COMPASS S-LIMITED

* HOW BIG? It officially belongs to the small SUV category but it's probably a half-size bigger than that, with impressive interior space and generous carrying capacity.

* HOW FAST? Its 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine - producing 129K/W - is a fair way behind the class leaders.It does the job but is hardly a dynamic performer.

* HOW THIRSTY? It guzzles 9.7L/100km which is nothing to write home about.

* HOW MUCH? It costs more than $50,000 once on-road costs are taken into consideration.

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