Charged with the important role of replacing not one but two of Jeep's oldest Sports Utility Vehicles and restoring the brand's toughness in the compact segment, the all-new, second-generation 2017 Compass is on a mission to show that the world's first real off-road manufacturer of SUVs can still set benchmarks in the rough stuff.
In both price and size, the new Compass will fit into Jeep Australia's portfolio between the baby Renegade launched late last year and the mid-sized Cherokee. Competing in the red-hot compact SUV sales segment, it will need to have lots of buyer appeal and absolute reassurance that the Jeep quality/reliability issues of old have been banished.
It is to replace both the Patriot and first-generation Compass, two slow-selling models barely changed in the decade they've been on the market in Australia. Until the Renegade came along, the first Compass was the softest of the Jeep range and, in base form, the first Jeep with front-wheel drive.
Unlike the new Renegade which has cute styling inspired by the Wrangler, the new Compass takes tougher looks borrowing heavily from the flagship Grand Cherokee and including familiar Jeep cues such as the seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel arches which have been part of the familiar Jeep look since 1941.
The new SUV looks rather masculine for a compact size. Nicely proportioned, it also has a design feature which will become a Compass signature - a brightwork line running from the outside mirrors along the A pillars and roofline down both sides before swooping beneath the hatch glass.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia president and CEO Steve Zanlunghi says there is no comparison between the outgoing Compass and Patriot and the second-generation SUV with its advanced technology, safety systems and, in the top-of-the-line Trailhawk variant, its off-road capabilities.
The current Compact and Patriot models wince at the mere mention of dirt. These are the models that many at Jeep were less-than-thrilled with. They use old DaimlerChrysler/Mitsubishi underpinnings, while the new Compass SUV comes on the same modern small-wide platform upon which the smaller Renegade model is built.
The 2017 Compass, says the head Jeep designer, Mark Allen, has two vastly different sides to its personality, having great capability off road but also being right at home in an urban environment.
When the design and engineering process began in 2013, Allen insisted the people in his team get out into the desert "in their plaid shirts and shit" and learn how to drive and understand four-wheel drives in a challenging environment.
This helped them understand the attributes necessary to create a vehicle that handles the brutal going.
So with the trail-rated Trailhawk version of the Compass, Jeep insists customers will relish impressive 4x4 capability, but with excellent on-road driving dynamics, and a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with nine-speed automatic transmission.
The Compass Trailhawk has approach/departure angles of 30 degrees and 33.6 degrees respectively, a breakover angle of 24.4 degrees, under-body skid plates, up to 20cm rear wheel articulation, higher 21.6cm ground clearance, up to 48cm water fording, and all-season tyres on 17-inch wheels. With a full-size spare.
Off-road enthusiasts soak up this level of detail and more such as the Jeep Active Drive Low full-time 4x4 system with low range for a 20:1 crawl ratio, and Hill Decent Control (set by the brake).
Other 4x4 variants get a simpler full-time system called Jeep Active Drive.
Both systems provide up to five modes - auto, snow, sand and mud plus rock on the Trailhawk.
As handy as it is off the beaten track, the new Compass will largely be used in suburbia. It's a stretch to think that even one in five Australian buyers will opt for the Trailhawk when they can buy one of the two-wheel-drive models, considerably cheaper and still have the muscly Jeep look in their driveways.
Formally introduced at the Los Angeles International Auto Show, and boldly touted as "the most capable compact SUV ever", the new Compass is a proper global model with production in Mexico, China, Brazil and (soon) in India, the latter being the source of the line-up to be sold in Australia from late next year.
Globally there are 17 different powertrains although Australia is likely to have a small selection of reasonably economical petrol and turbo diesel engines.
Fuel efficiency measures include stop/start and a disconnecting rear axle and power transfer unit.
As well as the nine-speed auto for the Trailhawk, other transmissions include a six-speed manual for 4x2 and 4x4 models and a six-speed auto choice for some 4x2s.
It's likely Australia will take the 2017 Compass in four different trim configurations: Sport, Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk.
Inside, this Jeep is reminiscent of the Cherokee and has a familiar trapezoidal centre stack design cue housing the 5.0-, 7.0- or 8.4 inch touch screen with pinch-and-zoom capability. Housed pleasantly and ergonomically are the gear-shift selection, Selec-Terrain controls, electronic parking brake, engine stop-start (ESS) controls, climate and volume control knobs, and easily accessible media charging and connectivity ports within the cubby bin.
A fourth-generation Uconnect system includes Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto with Google technology. Both seamlessly integrate smart phones with the vehicle's built-in display and controls (with Siri voice control). Drivers can make phone calls, access music, send and receive messages, and receive voice-guided navigation.
The steering wheel has integrated audio, voice and speed controls, and storage solutions abound in a cabin of obvious practicality
The front seats are cushy but supportive, and have four-way headrests. The rear seats with 60/40 split-fold have clever functionality.
The Compass has a convenient power liftgate to a large cargo area of 438 litres with the seats in place, expanding to 1251 litres with the second row lowered.
Loaded with up to 70 available advanced active and passive safety and security features, the 2017 Compass gets 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.
An optional panoramic dual-pane sunroof which stretches from just behind the windscreen has a clever design that doesn't intrude into occupants' headroom.
The pricing, specification and equipment levels for the new Compass are yet to be confirmed. "Somewhere between Renegade and Cherokee," responded a deliberately vague FCA Australia boss Zanlunghi to the price question.
He warned that the Compass's current pricing is not reflective of what the new Compass will be. "It's an older-generation vehicle presently in runout."
Zanlunghi hinted that the price of the gen-two model will be higher than the present $27,000-$35,500 for the last of the first-gen products.
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