Australia won’t get the new Jeep Compass until the end of 2017, but before Jeep’s new-generation SUV lands locally TMR was invited to San Antonio, Texas to sample the second generation of Jeep’s small SUV.
The new Jeep Compass is a truly global model manufactured in Brazil, China, Mexico and India, heading to showrooms in more than 100 countries around the world. Australia will source its Compass line-up from India.
Jeep claims that along with its best-in-segment capabilities off-road, the new Compass delivers premium styling and impressive on-road driving dynamics.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $ TBA
Engine/trans: 134kW/237Nm 2.4-litre 4cyl petrol | 9sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 9.4 l/100km
Despite the long-running but rarely loved original Compass model's entirely forgettable performance in the Australian market for more than a decade, Jeep believes the new one - bigger, smarter and more refined - can shake up the ultra-competitive, ever growing small-medium SUV segment.
It will slot into the Jeep range just below the Cherokee. The pair are similar in size and will cross-over on price, meaning it will also go up against the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5 and a host of others.
In order to succeed against a bunch of very worthy rivals, the 2017 Compass must excel in many key areas. Most importantly, Australian consumers must be convinced that the American brand's quality and reliability issues which triggered a spate of recalls in recent years have been well and truly booted into oblivion.
Only time will tell. In February Jeep took a big step by introducing a new five-year new vehicle warranty. It has also reworked and enhanced its after-sales systems and parts stocks. The fightback is underway.
We can't argue with Jeep's claim that the new Compass is way more premium than the old one. The cabin is a pleasant place to be with a quality look and feel. Attractive leather seats are comfortable with good torso support. The driver's seat is power adjustable, including lumbar.
Our rear-passenger suggests that leg, knee and headroom back there is good even for people of generous height. Then we remember the engineers have stretched the platform 66mm to better accommodate those often under-privileged back seat folk.
The cabin is also a bit of a playground. The infotainment system includes Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. It's so easy to integrate smartphones with the high-mounted screen (with pinch-and-zoom and Siri voice controls). It's simple to make calls, access music, send and receive messages.
The Compass has a large cargo area of 438-litres with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1251-litres with the second row lowered. The Trailhawk gets a full-size spare, of course. The petrol versions are rated to tow a modest 907 kg. Diesels can haul bigger loads.
A panoramic dual-pane sunroof is also offered.
Although we won't yet know exactly how much it will cost until closer to its fourth quarter introduction here, in terms of price and size, the new Compass will slot into the line-up between the baby front-drive Renegade and the mid-sized Cherokee.
ON THE ROAD
Jeep has determinedly set out to give the trail-rated halo Trailhawk 4x4 variant of new Compass a positioning as the gym junkie among the mainly urbanised compact SUVs.
Whilst rivals have all-wheel-drive variants, none have the rough-stuff capability of the new Compass Trailhawk. The current Compass, built on old DaimlerChrysler underpinnings, cringes at the mere mention of dirt roads.
Even though the vast majority of owners are unlikely to tackle anything more challenging than a steep driveway on Collaroy Plateau or Mount Macedon, Jeep is hellbent on convincing potential buyers that some models of its suburban runabout can - if they want - head into tougher terrain without fear of ignominy.
So it's not so much that owners want to go into the wild. It's just knowing that they can scramble down a rough bush track, or trundle through sand or mud.
The new Compass SUV starts from a good base, the same modern and adaptable small-wide platform upon which the smaller, recently launched Renegade model is built.
The styling of the latest Compass hints at this more serious intent, taking visual cues from the bigger, go-anywhere flagship Grand Cherokee rather than the small and cute Renegade, which appeals to young city fashionistas. The styling is certainly more masculine while there are new interpretations of the Jeep seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel arches.
Noticeably bigger than the old Compass, the new model gets a battery of new technology and safety systems too.
It's likely Australia will get the 2017 Compass in four different configurations: entry-level Sport, Longitude, Limited and the new Trailhawk.
A 134kW 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine hooked up to a nine-speed automatic transmission has been confirmed for the Trailhawk and other 4x4 variants. No word on a diesel for the Trailhawk.
Because half of the sales in the Australian compact SUV segment are now two-wheel drive, the 2017 Compass line-up will certainly reflect this mix, almost certainly with a 2.0-litre turbo diesel powering the front-drive versions through a six-speed auto.
There won't be a manual alternative, which is understandable seeing autos and CVTs make up 95 per cent of demand for compact SUVs here.
Off-road stats, for those who like getting their tyres muddied, include approach/departure angles of 30 degrees and 33.6 degrees respectively, a break over angle of 24.4 degrees, robust under-body skid plates, up to 20cm rear wheel articulation, higher 21.6cm ground clearance, up to 48cm water fording, and versatile all-season 215/65 tyres on 17-inch wheels. With a full-size spare.
Other 4x4 variants slotted below the Trailhawk in price and capability get a simpler full-time system called Jeep Active Drive, and more of an on-road look.
Sophisticated electronic 4WD systems are a twist of a knob away, providing up to five Selec-Terrain modes - auto, snow, sand and mud, plus rock on the Trailhawk.
The nine speed automatic is unobtrusive. The engine has a bit of a bellow if we accelerate harder than usual to whip past the occasional local dragging a massive RV.
One niggle is the steering, which is a little numb at the straight ahead position, with the driver needing to make regular small adjustments to keep the Trailhawk tracking well.
Off the interstate on to some very twisty undulating back roads reinforces the maturity of the Compass's cushy ride. It soak up cracks and patches in the bitumen with aplomb and just a little body roll, aided partly no doubt to the use of frequency sensitive damping typically found in performance cars. It fairly jumps off the line in a way Australians love, although its overtaking response is not in the same league.
At the ranch, Jeep created an off-road course to illustrate the Trailhawk's credentials in intimidating conditions. There are steep climbs, slushy mud sections, huge rocks and a couple of awkward, sharp descents.
In the end, the Jeep gobbles it up easily. After pre-selecting Rock mode and low range 4WD, the liberal suspension articulation and smart electronics combined to snack on the challenge. A softer throttle setting - part of the Rock mode - helps when crawling over substantial chunks of uneven terrain.
Off-road and on, the Trailhawk adapts nicely. Whilst no sports machine on road - the compromise tyres won't give perfect roadholding - it is a fine, versatile all rounder.
Among a long list of up to 70 available advanced active and passive safety and security features are seven airbags, rear backup camera with dynamic grid lines, forward collision, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross path detection.
The new Compass needed to be a whole world better than the insipid original. On our brief appraisal, it is pretty darn good with a pervasive level of refinement not often felt in the compact SUV arena. No small SUV rival can get near it off road, we suggest.
Our reservations remain the quality issues, and we await the official pricing before the value judgement can be made, but it’s certainly clear that the new Compass owes little to its underwhelming first-generation namesake.
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