Jeep Compass First Drive Review

What is it?

Why will I buy the Compass? Has most of the signature Jeep attributes and more.

Why will I avoid the Compass? Perceived quality isn’t as good as the competition and lack of dealer network can be an issue.

As soon as the prices were announced for the Jeep’s iconic Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee last year, excitement was turned into disappointment. For all their capabilities and talent, the asking price wasn’t justifiable. So will Jeep’s brand-new Compass be plagued by the same issue? Well on paper it shouldn’t. Although prices aren’t out yet, we expect Jeep to price the Compass competitively as the right hand drive version is produced here with localization close to 65 per cent.

Based on the Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade platform, the Compass measuring at 4395mm in  length, 1818mm in width and 1640mm in height is actually smaller than the Hyundai Tucson and the VW Tiguan in every direction. So ideally it should be lighter, which unfortunately it isn’t. The minimum kerb weight of the Compass is rated at 1650kg (for the petrol 4×2 manual variant). Although compact, the signature Jeep design language makes the car look much bigger and wider than it actually is. Upfront the Compass looks like a mini Cherokee, thanks to the signature seven slat Jeep grille and even the angular xenon headlamps are similar. From the side the squared-out wheel arches and tall profile tyres give it a macho look. The glass-house is quite unique as it ends abruptly near the D-pillar which makes the rear portion look beefy. Another unique element which adds to the design is the chrome strip, which extends from either side of the window-line that neatly swoops onto the boot-lid. At the rear the Compass does look a bit ordinary but the shapely tail-lamps do their bit in adding flair.

How is it on the inside?

Like the exterior, the Compass’s dash design and layout is similar to the Grand Cherokee. The seven inch touchscreen dominates proceedings, which sports a high-res display. Overall the dash design is a good mix of old-school and modern themes. First impression of quality is good and all the touch points, like the hand rests, upper door pad portion, steering wheel and dash-top is either draped in leather or soft-touch plastics. Even the aluminum gear knob is of high quality and adds a sporty touch. But it’s in detail where the Compass disappoints. Although you get soft-touch dash-top, the graining could have been better. The gloss-black panel which surrounds the infotainment system is a fingerprint magnet, the stalks aren’t of the highest quality and lower-down the Air-con switches and music system controls look and feel cheap.

Front seat comfort though is first rate and the well-contoured buckets are a nice place to be in. Visibility up-front is decent too and the high seating ensures a commanding view. The rear bench is comfy with an ideal backrest angle and good lateral support. We wish it had better under thigh support though, but on the flip side you have lots of space to slide your feet under the front seats, which somewhat overcomes this deficiency. The rear seat has more than enough width and knee room but the high-window-line and the big front seats mean the rear doesn’t feel too airy.

The boot at 408 litres is smaller than the competition and the high bay makes loading heavy luggage difficult too. We also wish there were more storage spaces inside the cabin. Upfront you get two cup holders and bottle holders but the door pockets are too small and the glove box too is shallow.

In terms of equipment, the Compass is a bit of mixed-bag. You get essential things like a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, dual-zone climate control, six airbags(lower variants will get four airbags), ESP and ABS. But you miss out on things like powered driver seat, sunroof and powered tailgate which its rivals offer.

How does it drive?

The Compass will be available with two engine options – 1.4-litre turbocharged 158bhp motor and a 2.0-litre 170bhp diesel engine. We drove the later and unlike the petrol which also gets an automatic gearbox option, the diesel just comes with a 6-speed manual transmission. The diesel motor is the latest to come-out of the Fiat’s Multijet engine family and is locally produced at the Ranjangaon factory. Start the motor and it settles down to a relatively smooth idle. Off-the-line the Compass diesel moves ahead smoothly and there is more than enough grunt on offer. You do experience some lag below 1500rpm, yet off-boost torque is sufficient and the engine’s drivability is really good. This motor performs the best between 2000-3500rpm, as there is a strong wave of torque which makes overtaking extremely easy. The motor’s punchy nature means, you don’t have to constantly shift gears to make quick progress. The gearbox itself is a joy to use, thanks to its slick action and well-defined gates. The clutch though is a bit heavy and springy, which makes driving in traffic a bit painful. Out on the highway the engine cruises comfortably and the high gearing means the engine feels stress-free even at high speeds. But the power does taper-off once past 3500rpm and the engine sounds strained too.