For a brand that is built on toughness, off-road ability and macho style, the rapid growth in popularity of so-called soft-roaders must be a concern. Initially, it appeared as if Jeep had done enough by launching the Cherokee, a notably more compact, less hard-core quasi off-roader than what the brand had been famous for.
However, the market is still shifting, increasingly favouring vehicles that merely "look" to offer off-road ability. For a purveyor of serious adventure machines, the dilemma is clear... run the risk of diluting your hard-won brand image by selling vehicles that offer less ability than traditionalists may expect, or continue with the current approach, and face limiting yourself to a shrinking niche.
Jeep's brave marketers have decided on the former strategy, and the result is this vehicle, the Compass, soon to be joined by a slightly more hard-edged sibling, the Patriot.
Soft stylingThe Jeep Compass 2.0 CRD Limited is an awkward-looking vehicle. Fairly low-slung and wide, the front-end is pure Jeep, with a trademark seven-slot grille and round headlamps. The sides feature subtly flared wheelarches, but also strange indentations that, from certain angles, look like accident damage!
The rear door handles are mounted upright, Alfa-style, in the window frame. At the rear, the look is fairly generic, with only the bold branding of "COMPASS" onto the rear bumper being noteworthy. It's a vehicle that seems to divide opinion. Certainly, some on-lookers commented positively on the 18-inch alloy wheels and the mix of chunky and curvy design, but others found it lacking in masculinity... for a Jeep.
One or two also commented that the front end was much too low for off-road use, a valid comment seeing as the angle of approach is a poor 21 degrees. The ground clearance is a reasonable 205 mm, but it's clear the Compass isn't going to be seen on too many an off-road track.
Well-equipped interiorThe Compass's cabin is more spacious than the exterior dimensions suggest, with good levels of shoulder- and legroom all-round. The front seats proved to be superbly comfortable, and the driving position, aided by the standard fitment of a rake-adjustable steering wheel, is excellent. The facia design and layout is very simplistic, perhaps overly so, because the lack of detailing makes it looks sparse, even cheap, in some places. The downmarket visual effect is not helped by the sea of hard-to-the-touch grey plastic.
Then again, the Compass is well-equipped considering its aggressive pricing. It features dual front as well as curtain airbags, leather upholstery, air-conditioning, cruise control and a comprehensive audio system with nine speakers (including drop-down speakers from the tailgate, a la Dodge Caliber). Unfortunately, the Compass's boot is rather small, with a luggage cover that is set too low. Most owners are likely to leave it at home.
German gruntThe Jeep is powered by a Volkswagen-sourced 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine that delivers 103 kW and 310 Nm of torque, the latter figure available from 1 750 to 2 500 rpm. It is coupled with a six-speed manual transmission that delivers power to all four wheels via Jeep's Freedom Drive I all-wheel drive system.
In normal driving, most of the power goes to the front wheels. When slip is detected, a multi-plate clutch directs some power to the rear wheels. There may be no low range or differential locks, but there is a switch to "lock" the vehicle into four-wheel drive mode, but only at very low speeds. In reality, this system is likely to be of benefit in slippery conditions rather than genuine off-road situations.
The engine is fairly gruff at idle, as direct injection diesels from Volkswagen tend to be, but it does improve at speed. There isn't too much torque very low down, so it's possible to "stumble", but once you've got the hang of its power characteristics, it is an easy daily driver. Mid-range punch, as well as fuel economy is impressive, too.
In fact, considering the target market, Jeep appears to have hit a sweet spot with the Compass's driving characteristics. The steering is light which, combined with the vehicle's compact dimensions lends the Compass great manoeuvrability around town. Low-speed ride is quite firm, but always well controlled, and the Compass has no trouble ironing out larger bumps with ease. Push on, and the Compass is perhaps less impressive.
You'd expect better body control from a vehicle with a multi-link rear suspension set-up and such a firm primary ride. It also understeers rather early, which is not so much of a concern with this type of vehicle. In any event, the Jeep features ERM (electronic roll mitigation), traction control and ESP (electronic stability programme) should things get out of shape.
VerdictAt the price, this Jeep Compass 2.0 CRD Limited looks well placed to win a significant number of fans. It offers enough of a Jeep look, combined with the practicality and comfort of a modern soft-roader.
Yes, it's not a serious off-roader, and this will be a hard pill for Jeep traditionalists to swallow, but as far as soft-roaders go, the Compass is a strong new competitor that also boasts a certain degree of charisma, often lacking with these vehicles. If Jeep could add some warmth and detailing to the somewhat stark interior, it would be an even more serious rival for class honours.
Value for money
We don't like:
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 103 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 310 Nm @ 1 750-2 500 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
Wheels: 18-inch alloy
Top speed: 189 km/h
0-100 km/h: 11 seconds
Fuel economy: 6.5 litres/100 km
Significantly more expensive, but the Toyota is a more spacious and more sophisticated product all-round. Offers a far more comprehensive safety specification, and is better off-road than the Jeep.
Down on power, specification and refinement compared with the Jeep, but the neatly styled Kia is cheaper and more spacious, especially in the boot. It is also cheaper.