► Compass nameplate makes a return
► Based on the Renegade, takes on Qashqai
► Trailhawk version impresses off-road
Well lookee here, y’all – the latest SUV from the most ’Murican of brands is upon us. Say hello to the second-generation Jeep Compass.
Second? I don’t remember the first Compass
Aren’t you the lucky one? Jeep’s first stab at a Qashqai-sized crossover wasn’t terribly successful, not helped by its wilfully ugly styling and a material finish that couldn’t hold a candle to the best of its European, Korean and Japanese rivals.
That probably explains why, despite some neat detailing, Compass Mk II errs towards the inoffensive in its design language. It’s not quite a 90% scale Grand Cherokee, but it’s not far off.
Sure, there’s some attractive detailing, such as the contrasting trim that traces around the roof before looping around the rear window, while those trapezoidal wheelarches are a Jeep staple.
Its design team also cited the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird as a styling influence for the car’s flanks. No, us neither…
Back in the late 1980s when the Wrangler debuted, the brand faced an army of loyalists sporting T-shirts proclaiming that ‘real Jeeps have round headlamps.’ Forget the Compass’s illumination qualities, because those guys would surely be apoplectic with rage upon discovering its trademark seven-slot grille was nothing of the sort – instead it’s a moulded plastic panel without any holes whatsoever. To paraphrase President Trump: sad.
So what’s the Compass based on?
Peel back the Jeep’s bodywork and you’ll find a 70mm stretched version of the platform used by the (slightly) smaller Renegade and the Fiat 500X.
That extra length’s for the benefit of rear-seat passengers, while the bodywork at the back of the car is longer to liberate a more generous cargo bay.
Unlike its more compact Italian-built sibling, right-hand drive Compasses will originate from a new facility in Ranjangaon, India – European left-hookers and North American market models will be sourced from Mexico.
No surprise then that the limited range of engines is also familiar FCA forced-induction fodder. Expect the British market powertrain line-up to consist of:
- 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol, 138bhp, six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol, 168bhp, nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
- 1.6-litre MultiJet diesel, 118bhp, six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- 2.0-litre MultiJet diesel, 138bhp, six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
- 2.0-litre MultiJet diesel, 138bhp, nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
- 2.0-litre MultiJet diesel, 168bhp, nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Those motors will be variously available across the four-tier trim structure of Sport, Longitude, Limited and the off-roading focused Trailhawk, the latter exclusively fitted with the most powerful diesel.
Trailhawk conjures up notions of the great outdoors…
It certainly does – and far more convincingly so than if British marketeers had Christened it Gennelthrush – but the image is justified because in this guise the Trailhawk is remarkably capable off-road.
Jeep claims class-leadingly so. Complementing the 30-degree approach and 33.6-degree departure angles – possible because the bumpers have been chamfered at their lower edges – is 21.6cm of ground clearance. That’s 1.6cm more than other four-wheel drive Compasses and 3.6cm more than its front-drive brethren.
Rotating the Selec-Terrain control ahead of the automatic gearlever allows the Trailhawk to switch between Auto, Snow, Mud, Sand and Rock drive modes, with additional features such as a four-wheel drive lock, a low-ratio gearbox for plundering the torque necessary for steep inclines and an off-road cruise control so that all the driver has to do is steer.
So how is it on the road where it’ll spend most of its time?
Head back to the asphalt and the Jeep’s less convincing. While smooth motorways pose it little problem, where it feels comfortable and planted, undulating B-road surfaces and urban ruts and speedbumps quickly unsettle the Compass, the damping not proving pliant enough to stop it bouncing along, much to the chagrin of its occupants.
It’s not a sporty crossover that responds well to being hustled along a ribboning section of road, either. Although body roll’s reasonably well contained, the steering’s been anaesthetised of much of its feel, although it does feel weightier than many of its direct competitors.
There’s plenty of grunt from the Fiat-sourced 2.0-litre MultiJet diesel – audibly so at lower speeds when you’re looking to build up speed rapidly, but it’s refined enough when it’s at a relaxed cruise. It certainly doesn’t feel fast – as flagged by it failing to crack the academic 0-62 in sub-10 seconds, but it’s adequate enough to prevent you from feeling vulnerable when overtaking.
The ZF nine-speed automatic’s a fine pairing for it most of the time, albeit occasionally prone to a clunky ratio swap at lower speeds.
Trailhawk looks the part
In addition to the slimmer bumpers and ride-height elevation, the Trailhawk edition of the Compass has a number of distinctive visual hallmarks, including a peppering of anodised red details such as the protruding towing eyelet, and a matt-black panel in the centre of the bonnet.
That red theme continues inside, doing much to lift a dour, but well-assembled, cabin. It’s not the last word in roominess, but four adults can be well-accommodated, providing the panoramic glass roof that gnaws into rear headroom isn’t specified.
UK specs are still to be confirmed, but if the latest-generation of Uconnect multimedia system, complete with a responsive 8.4-inch touchscreen isn’t standard, then tick the relevant option box.
It features sharper graphics than before, smoother rendering and refresh rates for the sat-nav and a Jeep Apps function where you can actively monitor steering angle, torque split front-to-rear, battery status and so on. Frustratingly it kept turning itself off on our test car, so time will tell whether it was the pre-production glitch we were assured it was.
If you’re an adventurous family who off-road regularly, then in Trailhawk guise the Jeep Compass makes a compelling argument for itself, despite its occasionally unruly road manners.
But further down the range, it becomes more of a contender against a plethora of capable crossover competition, rather than a distinct choice.
For us, the less expensive, marginally shorter, but significantly more charming Renegade remains the compact Jeep of choice.