Is this the much vaunted ‘Jeep for ladies’ then?
Well sort of. This is Jeep’s first ‘compact sport utility’ and it’s hoping the softer more modern lines will appeal to drivers who want a Jeep but don’t want to look all checked shirt and hairy arsed. They’ve made it more on-road biased and more economical and easier to live with, too, in an attempt to lure buyers from more mainstream motors. Oh yes, and it’s the first Jeep to be driven predominantly by the front wheels.
Front-wheel drive? But it’s a Jeep. I thought the whole point was that they were four-wheel drive
Having all the wheels powered all the time is great if you live on a farm and never go on the road, but powering two extra wheels when they’re not needed is a tad wasteful on petrol. The Compass has a clever system using an Electronically Controlled Coupling (ECC) to transmit engine torque to the rear wheels when it detects the fronts slipping. There’s a switch for locking it on and the system is effective enough for most people’s off-road requirements judging from our test on a Swiss snow field.
And what about on-road?
Jeeps aren’t known for their poise and handling on tarmac so this car riases the bar. A little. It corners with decent grip and the steering isn't horrifically vague. And the ride is firmer than a North Korean policeman. It means your bottom – particularly if you’re a back-seat passenger – gets a virtual running commentary of every blemish in the asphalt.
Any other skeletons in the closet?
To prove that this is a car designed primarily for the road, it’s actually based on Dodge Caliber running gear. Now that probably isn’t something Jeep should shout about, but while it doesn’t make for such a good small family car it suits the character of a compact SUV. It’s a shame they’ve taken the interior from the Caliber too. It’s quite simply shocking, a proper hard plastic-fest with ugly curves and unsophisticated lumps and bumps that would give a Volkswagen cabin designer nightmares.
There must be an upside to the inside?
The shame of it is they’ve put quite a lot of thought into the detail of the interior. It’s genuinely well equipped compared to similarly priced opposition: leather seats, roof bars, cruise control and 18-inch wheels are all standard. The driving position is excellent, too, with a wide range of adjustment through the seat even if the steering wheel only moves up and down. Inside there are plenty of thoughtful touches such as the mobile phone flip pocket in the front armrest, the boot light that detaches to double as a torch and swivelling speakers in the tailgate that swing down so you can inflict your music on fellow picnic-ers.
That’s in the back, what’s under the bonnet?
There’s a choice of two engines, a 2.4-litre petrol and 2.0-litre turbodiesel. The petrol engine comes attached to either a five-speed manual gearbox or Continuously Variable Transmission unit. Ignore the latter. It roars away and makes the engine feel gutless even if it does have reasonable power. The turbodiesel is sourced from the Volkswagen Group and it’s quite noisy, particularly between 40 to 60mph, although it give reasonable grunt. The six-speed manual box isn’t unpleasant to use, but sixth could be a bit longer.
The Compass is distinctly average. Handling is unengaging and the ride isn’t up to scratch. The engines are powerful, but irritatingly noisy. And while the interior might look horrible, it’s remarkably functional with some great features. Although the Compass is very well equipped compared to more expensive rival motors, in the US it’s a $15,000 (£7700) car and there are elements of it (particularly the interior) that betray the fact. Only consider if you're desperate for a soft-roader with Jeep DNA.