Jeep’s overhauled Compass brings a fresh, appealing look although underneath the skin it is mostly the same.
Despite relatively small sales the Jeep brand is well-known in Australia and has earned a certain level of acknowledgement thanks to the ability of most of its cars off-road. Sales were not always small though, Jeep’s Grand Cherokee SUV booming when introduced. It held a presence on the road and was good off of it. It was big and spacious yet easy to drive. The Compass is yet to take off the way the Grand Cherokee did but this overhauled model intends to attract a new wave of adventurous upmarket buyers all the same.
The mid-sized Jeep Compass is based on the same foundations as the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X, but is stretched in length by about 70mm. It was designed to tempt buyers away from size-comparative rivals including the Nissan Qashqai and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, although this facelifted Compass Limited-S which costs $46,950 puts it closer to the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota Rav4 – a size up – or an upmarket competitor from the likes of Volkswagen or even BMW.
However, a design update makes the Indian-built Compass more attractive than ever. From the outside, it bears a strong family resemblance to the Cherokee and it has had a sweeping overhaul inside that’s a precursor to the incoming, next-generation Grand Cherokee. This is a good thing because the previous iteration Compass was beginning to age around the cabin and the update is a considerable step up, including some new technology.
The engine remains untouched meaning a 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol developing 129kW at 6400rpm and 229Nm at 3900rpm via a nine-speed auto to the wheels. The Launch Edition gets a six-speed auto to the front wheels, and the Trail Hawk a 2.0-litre diesel turbo making 125kW and 350Nm. It’s a shame that the diesel engine isn’t available in the Limited-S spec as previous experience tells us it is better to drive. The petrol is sufficient but lacklustre, the automatic doing a commendable job to help keep the combined fuel cycle rating to below 10L per 100km at 9.7L (although real-world figures will see it above that).
The Jeep Compass uses ‘amplitude reactive’ suspension dampers, which are designed to absorb road bumps and surface imperfections – but the Compass still tends to fidget. It has more body lean in fast corners than something like the Peugeot 3008, and a lack of feedback through the steering wheel ultimately makes it less fun to drive, which is a shame given that Jeep is targeting buyers that might look at the upmarket Volkswagen Tiguan and BMW X1.
Another feature of the Compass – and any other Jeep – that some will wonder about is off-road ability, and while this Limited-S is more of an urban run-around with its 18-inch alloys and moulded lower bumpers than an off-road explorer, it does come with all-wheel drive and a ‘low range’ setting that keeps the nine-speed auto in first gear. It locks AWD so that the rear wheels are providing traction along with the front and there are a variety of driving modes such as sand and mud. We tested it down some sandy and muddy coastal roads and it performs well enough for getting to a more remote camp spot, but isn’t a more competent off-roader like the Compass Trail Hawk which is not yet in dealers.
While the enthusiastic driver might not be in their element behind the wheel of a Compass, their passengers should be happy. Compared to the smaller Renegade previously sold here, the Compass is a far quieter and more comfortable car, as well as a usefully more spacious one with a much nicer interior.
The dashboard design has a resemblance to that of the new Grand Cherokee, even though that model will have an even more upmarket feel than the Compass. The Compass dashboard features and buttons have changed and are much nicer than before, and the care to separating the three-level dash with quality material choices goes a long way to making it a premium-feel cabin. It takes on more upmarket rivals with confidence and is the saving grace for hum-drum driving performance. Nearly every surface has been changed, including the soft-leather upholstery on seats and a new, rather stylish three-spoke steering wheel.
The central infotainment screen is striking, with a large 10.1-inch screen and high resolution for crisp graphics. The standard Uconnect software is one of the better systems going around and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity bring the best phone mirroring around, plus wireless phone charging. There’s also a 10.25-inch display in the dash for the driver and it provides clear information on the speed, driving assist settings, and other details.
For the back row, there are isoFix mounts on the outer pews and three top tethers, and a rear-facing baby capsule fits in fine in our testing which means space between the seats is good, particularly in this size segment. There are also air vents and USB charging ports, plus a decent 438L boot in the back that is expansive once the 40:20:40 split-fold seats are down. A big tick inside, then.
Crash safety body Euro NCAP tested the Compass in 2017 and awarded it the full five stars that ANCAP has given the model locally. That’s a dated test but Jeep has added some new safety systems for 2021. The list includes AEB, stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, traffic sign recognition, drowsy driver alert and a new parking assist mode. There are also front and rear parking sensors on the Limited-S and a 360-degree camera is optional.
Like all Jeeps, the Compass comes with a five-year/100,000km warranty. It also includes five-year roadside assistance although this can be valid for the lifetime of the vehicle provided it is serviced at an authorised Jeep dealer. Servicing is every 12 months or 12,000km, with service prices ranging from $425 to $695 for the first five years on the 2.4L petrol.
If you’re in the market for a smaller but practical family SUV that won’t get lost in the crowd thanks to the unique style and a genuinely premium-feeling cabin, the Compass ticks the boxes. Despite the nice interior though, the price feels slightly high at circa-$50k, particularly given the average powertrain, ride and handling.