Jeep Compass: First Drive Review
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We drive Jeep India's entry-level SUV offering, the Compass, in Goa ahead of its launch and it looks to be a potential game changer in the segment. Here's why
It’s been just over nine months since the iconic American marque Jeep made its debut in the Indian market. Its three current offerings - the Wrangler Unlimited, Grand Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SRT - have been positioned as aspirational products with most affordable of these costing as much as Rs 56 lakh, ex-showroom. There’s a new, more affordable, but not any less desirable Jeep on its way - the Jeep Compass compact-SUV.
Across a two-day drive, we will have a chance to get a first impression of what the Jeep Compass is all about. We are driving the top-of-the-line Compass ‘Limited’ variant powered by a 2.0-litre, turbo-diesel engine, with a 6-speed manual transmission and an intelligent all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.
At first glance it is easy to see what inspired the designers of the Compass - its bigger brother, the Grand Cherokee; this is especially obvious when you look at it from the front. But apart from that, the Compass has its own identity.
The Jeep Compass looks tough but also premium, sophisticatedly brawny almost. At the front, the highlights include the wide swath of black that stretches from one headlight to the other - including the modern take on Jeep’s iconic 7-slat (chrome lines) grille. The headlamps have a white element in them which help them pop out - an almost animalistic ‘eyes’ look, according to Jeep’s lead designer Mark Allen. They also contain LED guide lights, these are not DRLs - the actual DRLs actually sit on the bumper, just above the fog lamps. The clamshell hood is sculpted, with a slight power bulge in the middle, but the lines on it are not harsh - Jeep wanted the Compass to look more inviting.
The Jeep logo sits on the bonnet, just above the grille. A small horizontal slat-like grille on the painted part of the bumper helps break the huge swath between the main grille and air dam, it also directs air towards the radiator. The air dam is as wide as the main grille and taller - it adds to the muscular look at the front. A chrome lip at the bottom of the air dam adds a bit of bling.
The bulk of the Compass is actually hidden well thanks to the use of a thick black cladding that goes all around the car. The Jeep-signature trapezoidal wheel arches contain the 17-inch silver alloy wheels shod with Firestone 225/60 section all-weather tyres; it feels like larger wheels could have made the Compass look even better. Surface detailing like the lines over the wheel arches, the prominent line that passes through the door handles onto the taillamps etc. make the compact SUV exciting to look at. Prominent ‘Compass’ badges are placed on both the front doors.
The crowning jewel of the design here is the chrome line that separates the contrast-painted roof from the rest of the body - this line goes all the way from one outside rearview mirror (ORVM), over the windows, swoops down under the rear windshield, up over the windows on the other side to finally end at the other ORVM. The roof line seems to flow down towards the rear, while the windowline rises up, adding a kink at the very end of the windowline and the C-pillar looks like - according to Jeep - a shark fin! The roof rails and the spoiler do not stand out too much.
At the rear, the design of the Compass becomes a bit sedate. Highlights here include the wraparound rear windshield with the chrome line running across its base, a two-part taillamps which consists of a prominent LED guide-light (mimicking the units in the headlamps), a slightly recessed number plate holder and a two part bumper with integrated fog lamps. The Jeep logo sits on a carved out recess just below the windshield, a unique touch.
Look all around and the Jeep Compass feels solid, the panel gaps are consistent and the paint quality is impressive. The Jeep Compass will be offered in five colour options - Exotic Red, Brilliant Black, Minimal Grey, Vocal White and Hydro Blue (the colour of the car you see in the pictures).
Use the sensors on the front door handles to open the Compass, pull the handle and swing open the well weighted door and you are greeted by a dual-tone cabin. The black-and-almost-white interiors look inviting, but the lighter coloured parts will get soiled easily - our off-road session on the second day should put these elements to the test! At the presentation before the drive, Jeep officials also showed us a different interior theme, all-black with sporty red inserts/highlights - they did not confirm if this would be available as an option or would be limited to certain trim levels.
Survey the dashboard from the firm but comfortable seats and you notice that it is a bit cluttered towards the driver’s side. Most of the surfaces on the inside feature soft touch materials; be it the dashboard, the armrests on the door pads, the centre armrests, the floor-mounted centre console, etc. The buttons, be it the power window switches on the door pads, multi-function buttons on the steering wheel or the buttons to control the climate control system are soft-to-touch and feel premium.
The cluster placed just under the touch screen consists of dials and buttons to control the infotainment system and the dual-zone climate control and is a bit cluttered. Lower down the centre console, the Compass has USB and Aux-in ports, a charging port and a rotary knob to control the ‘Selec Terrain’ traction modes.
At first glance, the obvious signs of cost cutting include the 7-inch infotainment screen on the centre console (in some markets, this space is filled up by a 8.4-inch unit), the dummy buttons on the steering wheel and the manual-dimming inside rearview mirror (IRVM).
The ‘uconnect’ infotainment system with the 7-inch touchscreen does not feel top notch to use. While the touchscreen is responsive, the system seems to be laggy. I was able to check the Android Auto system built into the infotainment system and experienced mixed results; while it worked perfectly at certain moments - responding to voice commands, reading out Whatsapp messages etc, and other times it simply refused to respond to simple requests through the touchscreen - through an almost three hour long drive, it seemed to think everyone in the car only loved songs from Indian Ocean and refused to change playlists/albums. The icons on the screen could have been bigger for better usability. Apart from the usual FM/AM/USB/Aux-in/Bluetooth connectivity options, the system is also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compliant. The system plays through a six-speaker setup which sounds good, changing the equaliser settings make discernable changes to the sound quality.
Getting into the Compass may not be easy for everyone, thanks to the tall door sills. Once inside, the front bucket seats feel nice to sit in; they are firm but comfortable and wide enough to accommodate even someone of a bigger build. The under thigh support is especially amazing. The driver seat can be adjusted for height too, but all the controls are manual - which slightly dampens the premium feel of the Compass.
The steering is adjustable for both reach and rake, the leather covered chunky rim feels good to hold and the thumb indents are also nice. The dummy buttons on the right spoke on this three-spoke unit are an eyesore. These black spaces could have been used to house the controls for the infotainment system; the volume and mode control buttons are placed behind the steering wheel, which you may not be able to find unless someone tells you they are there!
Move to the second row seats and you realise that the Compass is strictly a four-seater. It doesn’t feel wide enough to allow three adults to sit beside each other in absolute comfort over longer journeys - the middle passenger does not get a three-point seat belt or a headrest and he/she would also have to deal with a large hump in the centre and the A/C vent module. There is enough cabin space to seat four 6 footers comfortably; with enough legroom, knee room and headroom for all passengers.
The luggage compartment is not very spacious in the Jeep Compass; Jeep officials have not confirmed the exact dimensions.
The Jeep Compass will be offered in India with two engine options - a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged ‘Multijet II’ diesel motor developing 173PS of maximum power and 350Nm of peak torque, and a 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged ‘Multiair’ petrol developing 162PS of maximum power and 250Nm of torque.
The diesel engine will be only available with a 6-speed manual transmission, while the petrol engine will be available with an additional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Both 4x2 and 4x4 drivetrains will be available, but Jeep has not confirmed the full variant list.
What Jeep has confirmed is that the first models to be launched in India, sometime around August, will have the 2.0-litre diesel, 6-speed manual transmission, 4x2/4x4 configuration. The petrol models will follow a little later.
We drove a Hydro Blue Jeep Compass powered by the 2.0-litre diesel, paired to a six-speed manual transmission and Jeep’s Active Drive AWD system with ‘Selec Terrain’ driving modes. The diesel motor switches on with almost no noticeable vibrations or noise - the effort put into making the cabin feel comfortable and premium show through. The clutch action is surprisingly light for a transmission that is designed to take higher torque. Moving off line is easy, and you only need to dab the accelerator to move off inclines. The long throw but sure slotting gearbox is fun to use, the metal-finish ball-like gear knob makes shifting gears an event by itself.
The 2.0-litre motor likes to potter around at lower speeds; with max torque made quite low down in the power band you don’t need to work the gears or slip the clutch or modulate the throttle to make the Compass move along in slow moving traffic conditions. We have not been able to put the Compass through its paces till now, but it seems eager to gather up speed. Jeep has not revealed the official fuel-efficiency figures of the Jeep Compass Limited Diesel 4x4 MT, but the on-board computer on our car was consistently showing an average fuel-efficiency of 8kmpl - and we were not being easy on it.
Drive and handling
On the smooth roads of Goa, the Compass’ suspension offered a good compromise between comfort and handling. The Compass gets ‘frequency sensitive damping’ which adjusts the damping rate of the suspension as per road conditions and driver inputs. The SUV is able to keep occupants comfortable over most undulations except when going over sharp lateral bumps. The suspension seems to be tuned for more comfort higher speeds, there is a hint of bounciness - but it never gets uncomfortable. Taking some tight corners also showed how poised the Compass is, there is barely any roll.
The steering unit on the Compass is a revelation. Though it is electrically assisted, it feels well-connected to the front wheels. While there is almost no resistance from the steering system at parking speeds, it weighs up nicely as you pick up speed.
A brief drive on the beach also gave us a preview of how effective the ‘Selec Terrain’ system is. Controlled via a rotary knob on the lower centre console, it offers shift-on-the-fly traction modes - including ‘Auto’, ‘Snow’, ‘Sand’ and ‘Mud’. Though the Compass has all-weather tyres, which are generally just enough to cope with varying terrains, the AWD system made sure the Compass felt comfortable on soft sand. The system automatically sent power to the rear wheels when it detected slip and stopped it from digging in.
On a dedicated 3.5km long off-road track, the Jeep Compass felt like it was built to do such stuff. Water wading, steep inclines, slush tracks, slippery grass, wet rocky terrain and a very bumpy log path were all dispatched with minimal effort. We were tackling all these in the ‘Mud’ mode which locks the 4x4 system and disengages traction control. The short first gear compensates for the absence of a crawler gear and there is enough grunt low down the power band that you don’t need to slip the clutch to go over steep obstacles. The responsive steering wheel has to be given another mention here - it had enough feedback for me to know where my front wheels were pointing at, without tiring my arms.
The standard safety features list on the Jeep Compass is a long one. Anti-lock braking system (ABS), Electronic brake distribution (EBD), Electronic stability control (ESP), Traction control, Hill start assist, Panic brake assist (PBA - if driver slams the brakes in an emergency, the system applies consistently more pressure to ensure maximum braking effect), Electronic brake prefill (if the system detects the driver lifting off suddenly from the accelerator, it engages the brakes slightly so that there isn’t a delay in braking performance), Electronic rollover mitigation (uses a combination of brakes, traction control and engine torque control to prevent the car from rolling over during extremely tight turns), and dual front airbags are offered on all variants. The 4x4 variants, like the one we are driving, gets six airbags in total.
Other safety systems like cornering fog lamps, rear view camera with display on the infotainment screen, rear parking sensors, manually-dimming IRVMs also add to the sense of safety. Jeep could have offered an auto-dimming mirror on the inside, the manually operated unit does stand out as a cost-cutting measure.
The Jeep Compass will be offered in three trim levels - base 'Sport’, mid 'Longitude’ and top-spec 'Limited’. The diesel variants, powered by the 2.0'Multijet II’, will only be paired to the 6-speed manual transmission. The petrol variants, powered by the 1.4 'Multiair’ will also be available with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Jeep Compass is available with the 4x4 system only on the top-of-the-line Limited variant powered by the 2.0-litre diesel motor.
It is difficult to come to a definitive conclusion about the Jeep Compass based on a short drive. Jeep has priced the Compass rather competitively with prices ranging from 14.95 lakh to Rs 20.65 lakh - much more competitively than we had anticipated earlier. It comes across as a value-for-money product as compared to its only direct rival, the Hyundai Tucson, which is priced from Rs 18.13 lakh to Rs 23.86 lakh and is only available with 4x2 petrol and diesel variants. At that price, it not only undercuts the Hyundai Tucson comfortably but also falls in the range of top-variants of SUVs like XUV5OO & Hexa. While these may offer some features that the Compass skimps on (a sun roof, for example, which the XUV500 gets) they cannot match the brand value that the compact Jeep offers.
Initial impressions are encouraging; it looks tough but also welcoming, has a very comfortable and spacious cabin, feels premium with the features on offer, is surprisingly good to drive and is practical too. There are some bits of the Compass which could have been done better (the dummy buttons on the steering wheel especially), but customers may choose to ignore these because of the premium badge feeling of the SUV. Jeep has small sales and after-sales network in India as of now, which is spread across 50 cities - for those who follow their head rather than their heart, this will be a big deciding factor.
By: Siddharth Photography: Vikrant Date