Jeep signalled the fact that they were considering a smaller model in their range with a concept car that they showed at the 2002 Detroit Show. It was called Compass and featured a two-door body, all-wheel drive and a 3.7-litre V6 engine. It was a full four years before a production version arrived. The 3.7 litre engine had been substituted with a smaller 2.4 litre 4 cylinder unit, but the styling, albeit now with four doors rather than two, was very similar indeed. Joining it in that 2006 Detroit Show debut was a second vehicle, of similar size, called the Patriot. This one had a boxier body looking very much more like a shrunken Jeep Liberty, whereas the Compass had a slightly gawky appearance to it, especially at the front. Under the skin, the two cars were all but identical, based on the Daimler/Chrysler/Mitsubishi GS platform. Front wheel drive came as standard, though all-wheel drive was an option on some models. Patriot and Compass were largely distinguished by their styling and marketing, with the Compass aimed more at the traditional hatchback buyer and the Patriot presented as like a regular Jeep, but smaller. Neither was particularly warmly received, with the Compass – which was little more than a rebodied Dodge Caliber – coming in for plenty of criticism, with looks, interior quality and driving dynamics all found to be somewhat below par. Even so, sales were steady but not exactly spectacular. Jeep persisted , though and a mid-cycle facelift effected a big improvement, with a new front end addressing the looks, revised suspension making the car rather nicer on the road and interior quality seeing a big improvement. Sales increased accordingly, though these US built cars were really aimed at the US domestic market and did not appear in Europe. That would change with the ambitions for the replacement model. The second generation Compass made its debut at the 2016 Los Angeles Show, replacing both the Compass and the Patriot. There could be no mistaking the fact that this was a Jeep, with styling cues borrowed from the larger Cherokee and Grand Cherokee models, though the fact that it isn’t as bold as the smaller Renegade or larger Cherokee is deliberate, Jeep believing there’s a large number of crossover buyers who are looking for something a little more conservatively styled. Sales started in mid 2017, and even the US market cars were built at Melfi in Italy, as were the cars that were aimed at European markets. There was a logic to this, as the new Compass was based on an elongated version of the same platform that underpins the Renegade, which is also built in Melfi. Following the success of the Renegade in Europe, Jeep had high hopes that the Compass could do the same. UK market sales of the Compass started in the Spring of 2018, to what can politely be called muted enthusiasm. The car is still not a common sight on British roads, and only time till tell whether it will become so. I got the chance to find out for myself how good this version of the Compass is when I was given the keys to one as the service loaner whilst my Abarth was in for its annual service and MoT. The photographer in me was not wildly enthusiastic about the large stickers on the sides of the car proclaiming this to be the “New Compass”, but with Loan Cars, you really don’t get a choice. I got as far as the M4, heading home, though, and the tyre pressure warning lights came on, so I did wonder if I was going to get the chance to drive something else. It’s a long way from junctions 16 to 17 on the M4 and then I had to go back again to be able to return to the dealer. They were apologetic and took the car into the workshop, re-inflated the tyres and so after a wait of more than an hour, was back on the road. With my diary duly disrupted, during the rest of the day I did not have much opportunity to do other than drive home and then later make the return journey to the dealer. Here is what I found.
One significant difference between the European market Compass and the one you will come across in the US, is with the engine. American market cars feature a petrol engine of 2.4 litres whereas in Europe there is a choice of MultiAir petrol or the still commercially more significant MultiJet-II diesel. It was the latter that powered my test car, specifically the 2.0 litre MJet Turbo Diesel, generating 138 bhp. With this output, it came coupled to a six speed manual gearbox, whereas the more powerful 170 bhp version has a 9 speed auto box. There is keyless starting, and when you press that button, you will have little doubt as to what fuel type is going to be required, as the engine is a bit rattly, especially when cold in much the way that all diesels were until recently. It does become noticeably more refined as it warms up and once you get underway, though. You still won’t forget that this is a diesel, as the power and maximum torque are developed low down the rev range, and by the time you reach 3000 rpm, it seems largely to have run out of enthusiasm. However, once the car is at motorway speed, it will cruise quietly, with little engine noise and wind and tyre noise also well suppressed. To get the best out of the Compass in traffic and on A and B roads you will need to use the gears. That’s no particular hardship as the gearshift is quite slick. I drove less than 100 miles during the day, so have to rely on the trip computer for a fuel consumption figure. It reported 42 mpg which is a reasonable but not startling result. There is a Stop/Start system which can be turned off if you really insist, though I am not sure why you would do so. Like so many cars of this genre, the steering is far too light for my tastes, lacking much in the way of feel, though it does make the Compass easy to park and manoeuvre in tight situations. The other driving dynamics are of the sort that confirm that this is not a car for the enthusiast. The handling is tidy but the Compass understeers as you add speed into the bends. There is plenty of grip, but also an amount of body roll, which is not that much of a surprise as vehicles of this type with their higher centres of gravity all tend to do this. The test car was on 18″ wheels, but despite this, the ride was comfortable enough on motorways and smoother local roads, though the firm-ish suspension did struggle with less smooth surfaces. Of course, the party trick that the Jeep has, and where it will beat any rival, is its capabilities off road. I had no opportunity to test this, so have to take on trust what I have read about this aspect of the Compass. Whilst the Trailhawk version, with its low-range gearbox, 4×4 system and raised suspension (just a few of the off-road goodies on offer) is the one to pick for those who need this attribute, even the other models with AWS will do well where the tarmac ends. The test car had front wheel drive so would not be quite as accomplished on the rough ground. The Compass is apparently also a competent tow car, with a towing capacity of up to 1900kg depending on engine choice. I had no concern with the brakes, which had a progressive feel to the pedal. Like so many modern cars, there is an electronic handbrake and it proved somewhat jerky when disengaging. All-round visibility was generally good, with the relatively upright of the Compass making it easy to judge where the back of the car was. Among the many safety features of the car was a blind spot warning system and there are front and rear park assist sensors.
Jeep have made huge strides in recent years with the quality of the interiors of their vehicles. They were starting from a very low base indeed and they certainly are not class-leading yet, but they are at least acceptable now. The Compass continues that trend. It follows the same design style as you will find in other Jeep products, though it is less stylised than that of the smaller Renegade. In the Limited trim of the test car, there is orange stitching and some softish plastics, as well as plenty of gloss black inlays and some titanium highlighter features. The test car had a leather-wrapped steering wheel which was pleasant to hold. The instrument cluster comprises two large round recessed dials for the speedometer and rev counter, with smaller gauges for fuel level and water temperature in between them, and there is also a digital display area with a series of menus and sub-menus that are awfully similar to those used in my Maserati. You cycle through these with a button on the left hand spoke of the wheel. The right hand spoke is used for the cruise control. A pair of column stalks operate indicators and wipers. Auto lights are controlled by a rotary dial on the dash to the right of the wheel. The centre of the dash contains the 8.4″ display screen for the uConnect system. This has a touch sensitive interface and has functions that will be familiar to those who have used other FCA products. The test car included integrated navigation as well as Android Auto and Apple Car Play, Bluetooth and a DAB radio. The graphics are clean and the system reacted quickly. There are knobs and buttons below the unit to operate the Beats audio unit. Also here are those for the dual zone climate control. The whole ensemble is easy to use and relatively uncluttered.
The test car came in Limited trim which endows it with leather upholstery. You also get full electric adjustment of both front seats, including lumbar support and there were seat heaters included. Although it was easy to get the position optimum for my driving position, and relative to the telescoping steering column, I found the seat a bit flat and shapeless, so am not sure how comfortable it would have proved had I undertaken a much longer journey. There is certainly no shortage of headroom and the sunroof in the test car made the cabin light and airy even though it was black in colour. Much of the extra 70mm of length compared to the Renegade goes to benefit those who will sit in the rear of the car, and space here feels quite generous given the size of the car, with ample legroom even when the front seats are set well back. Headroom is generous thanks to the SUV styling and with only a small central tunnel, even the middle seat occupant should not feel cramped. There is a drop down central armrest and there are two AUX ports on the rear face of the centre console unit. Oddments space comes from modest bins on the doors and map pockets on the back of the front seats. The boot is also a good size, being quite deep from floor to the retractable load cover. There is a moulded recess on one side between the wheel arch and rear of the car. A three position false floor is fitted and there is space under it for odds and ends around the space-saver spare wheel. The rear seats are asymmetrically split and the backrests simply drop down to create a much longer load area, which is completely flat if you lift the false floor up a notch. The Limited version has a ski flap in the middle of the backrests allowing for long items to be accommodated whilst the rear seats still seat two people. Inside the cabin there is a modest glove box, bins on the doors, a cubby under the central armrest which is very deep but quite small in area, a small recess in front of the gearlever and there are a pair of cupholders in the centre console and there is a net on the passenger side of the console.
Jeep offer the Compass in the UK with a wide variety of engine outputs. The petrol models have the 1.4 MultiAir unit, generating 140 or 170 bhp. Diesels are available in 1.6 or 2.0 litre capacities, both using the MultiJet II unit, with power ranging from 120 bhp through 138 bhp to 170bhp. The least powerful petrol and diesel models have front wheel drive, whereas the rest have all-wheel drive and there is a choice of 6 speed manual or 9 speed automatic gearboxes. There are several trim versions: Sport, Longitude, Limited, Night Eagle and Trailhawk. Sport models feature 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured, electric and heated door mirrors, body-coloured door handles, automatic headlights, LED tail lights, fabric seats, 60:40 split folding rear seats, leather steering wheel with audio controls, 3.5-inch TFT instrument cluster, five-inch DAB radio with touchscreen, Bluetooth, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, cruise control, rain-sensitive windscreen wipers. Longitude adds 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior window surround, black roof rails, front fog lights, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power-folding door mirrors, fabric and faux leather seats with electric lumbar adjustment, ambient LED interior lighting, dual-zone climate control, 8.4-inch infotainment screen with DAB radio, navigation and Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, reversing camera, keyless go. Night Eagle features 18-inch gloss black alloy wheels, black grille, black window surrounds, black fog light bezels, half leather seats with electric lumbar adjustment, piano black interior accents. Limited builds on Longitude spec with 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome exhaust tip, roof rails with chrome inset, deep tint sunscreen glass, exterior mirror courtesy lights, LED signature lighting, windscreen wiper de-icer, leather eight-way power heated seats, 60:40 split folding rear seat with boot pass-through, heated steering wheel, all-weather floor mats, seven-inch TFT colour instrument cluster, 8.4-inch infotainment system with DAB radio, Beats audio, navigation and Bluetooth, front and rear park assist, blind spot and cross path detection. Trailhawk models are based on the Longitude, with 17-inch off-road alloy wheels, a bonnet decal, coloured roof rails and mirrors, deep tint sunscreen glass, exterior mirror courtesy lights, halogen project headlights, LED signature lighting, windshield wiper de-icer, rain sensitive windscreen wipers, eight-way power heated leather seats, rear 60:40 split folding seat with boot pass-through, heated steering wheel, all-weather floor mats, seven-inch colour instrument cluster, 8.4-inch DAB radio with navigation, Bluetooth and 9 speakers, front and rear park assist, blind spot and cross pass detection, parallel and perpendicular park assist, hill descent control, rock mode, full-size spare wheel, front and rear off-road bumpers, raised off-road suspension, front rear and underbody skid plates, red rear tow hook. The Trailhawk model in particular is intended to appeal to off-road enthusiasts, with its lifted suspension, hill-descent control and underbody skid plates. Although the prices of the range start quite low, you can easily reach £40k for a top spec model, which does seem quite a lot.
Having sampled the Compass for a day, it was not hard to see why the car received muted enthusiasm in its initially press reviews. There are no serious weaknesses with the car, but equally not much really stands out. It has entered one of the most competitive market segments of all, and whilst none of its rivals are going to blow you away with excitement, either, there are some very competent alternatives including the Skoda Karoq, Seat Ateca and Nissan Qashqai. What none of them have, though, is the Jeep branding and Jeep pedigree. For some, that will be enough, as Jeep does have a very strong allure even when the product itself maybe does not, as the early Compass proved. Whilst the Compass may not meet the purist perception of a ‘real Jeep’, it is the peoples’ idea of one: a car you purchase picturing yourself heading off road or at a beach barbeque, tailgate open, its speakers hinged downwards blasting the Blues towards the crashing waves. Credibility of course, is something the Jeep name has never lacked, and with this version of the Compass, which is massively better than the last, they now have a product that lives up to the reputation. However, in its plusher versions, such as the Limited trim of the test car, it is also far from cheap. So by all means put it on your long short list, but do take a good look at the alternatives as well.