Jeep Compass Review
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If you have been looking for a rugged SUV which also qualifies as a comfortable family car, there is now a very attractive option - one which bears the iconic seven slat grille and promises to balance capability and comfort. The Jeep Compass. But, with a tempting starting price of Rs 15.35 lakh, are you getting a true Jeep experience or has the DNA been diluted? We go camping with the Compass to find out if it manages that perfect blend of off-road ability and on-road manners.
Wait, is that a scaled down Grand Cherokee? That was our exact thought when we first saw the blue Compass roll into our office parking. The front grille, bumper, creases on the bonnet and the placement of the insignia, all are almost identical to the bigger Jeep. This combined with the 1818mm width makes the Compass look muscular.
The headlamps are powerful bi-xenon HID units underlined by an LED strip. But the twist is that these are not the DRLs (daytime running lamps). The actual DRLs are located above the fog lamps, next to the indicators. And since they’re not using LEDs, they have a yellow tinge, which is a bit of a letdown.
Even from the side, the Compass carries a proper SUV stance, with squared off wheel arches as well as a rising window line with a sharp kink towards the end which makes for a wide shark fin C-pillar. The Limited variant also gets smart looking 17-inch alloy wheels. The body line which goes through the door handles, the slight depression towards the lower half, and the Compass badge on the front door add a bit of drama to the design. The 4395mm length and 1640mm height make for perfect compact SUV proportions.
The Compass looks stylish from the back as well. The LED taillamps carry the same kind of underlines as the headlamps, and the cluster even splits into the tailgate. The dual-tone roof has a chrome outline belt, which dips down with the rear windshield and looks pretty neat. That is all the chrome the rear of the car gets and and we think it’s just the right amount.
Overall, the Compass looks very solidly put together. All the panels feel heavy and there is a sense of assurance that the Compass can take a few hits without skipping a beat. The design itself isn’t much of an attention grabber, but its stance and the fact that this is a Jeep is enough to make heads turn.
The Compass unlocks the moment you touch the door handles, no button pressing required, as long as you have the key on your person. And on the inside too, the sense of a strong build quality continues. Right from the weight of the doors to the round metallic gearknob and the heaviest seat belt buckle I have seen in my career, everything feels well built and of top-notch quality. There is ample use of synthetic leather on all the places that you touch - like the door armrest, centre armrest, steering wheel and the seats. The sheer quality of this material and the contrast red stitching adds to the overall premiumness. However, almost all of this faux leather is white in colour and given our dusty conditions, it’s going to get dirty soon and will be quite difficult to maintain.
The front seats are comfortable and can provide a commanding driving position, thanks to the manual height adjustability and the tilting and telescoping steering. There is a good amount of headroom as well but the shoulder bolstering feels a little lacking.
The same is true for the rear as well. The seats get a wide bench which is well contoured. That said, the shape of the bench makes the middle seat feel small and seating three abreast isn’t so easy. Also, the backrest feels a little flat and doesn't do much to hold the occupants in place. But if you only have two rear passengers, the good part is that the centre fold-down armrest gets two cup holders and also a mobile holder in the middle. There is ample leg/knee room here but the sloping roofline compromises headroom just a bit for taller passengers. Also, while the rear AC vents help cool the cabin quickly, they don't fully close, which means there is a slight air flow even if the rear passengers don't want it.
The dashboard gets a dual tone layout. The lower white plastics are of average quality at best and get dirty quickly, but the black soft-touch plastics on top feels solid. The chunky steering wheel is wrapped in black leather and gets controls on the left for calls and MID. The music controls, however, are located at the back side of the steering, which oddly feel very satisfying to use and fall perfectly within reach of the fingers.
The instrument cluster gets a 3.5-inch digital display in the centre, flanked by by two round analogue dials for speed and rpm. The centre driver information display has readouts for engine temperature, fuel, off-road modes, trip and a digital speed readout. All the info is presented clearly and switching between menus is also fairly simple.
The 7-inch touchscreen Uconnect system in the centre console gets 6 speakers for audio. It supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, though the latter does not run full screen. With CarPlay running, the bottom row of Jeep’s own user interface is still visible and operational, which feels odd to say the least. But, I like how you can still control the automatic AC and other options with CarPlay still on the screen. A couple of other highlights include a full screen digital Compass and a reversing camera with dynamic guidelines.
The controls on the centre console feel a bit cluttered. The layout takes some getting used to and though they are backlit, it requires some attention to press the right button, especially at night.
The lower portion of the centre console gets the off-road mode mode selector (Auto, Snow, Mud, Sand), AUX and USB inputs and a 12V power socket, but there aren’t too many storage options in this area. All you get are two cup holders behind the gear lever and no other space for knick-knacks. There is no place to even keep the key! But, speaking of storage, you do get bottle holders on all the 4 doors and a deep glovebox.
Though the quality of the cabin feels upmarket, there are certain elements which take away from a premium experience. For example, the IRVM gets a manual day/night adjust, the buttons for the interior lights don’t have a reassuring ‘click’, and the blank switches on the right steering-mounted controls and on the key make you feel you don't have the top-spec car, even when you have the top variant that's on sale in India. The piano black surround of the centre screen also feels a bit tacky. And that’s because this is just a filler, as we don’t get the bigger 8.4-inch system available in the international markets.
Moving out and to the boot, the Compass gets a low loading lip and a wide opening, which helps loading luggage in the 438 litres of boot space. This can be increased further by dropping the 60:40 split-folding rear seats. The good thing here is that they fold flat. The spare wheel hides under the boot, and is a full size steel unit.
Engine And Performance
The diesel-engined Jeep Compass packs a 2.0-litre Multijet II motor mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. Get going and you get a surge of power slightly over 2,000 rpm as the turbo kicks in. With its maximum torque figure of 350Nm available from 1750-2500rpm, city drivability is great and it’s even easy to keep the Compass in third gear at city speeds. There are no significant vibrations or noise from the engine at cruising speeds and the cabin is well insulated from road and suspension noises as well. In out city efficiency test, the Compass managed to return 11.07kmpl.
Put you foot down and the Compass pulls strongly till 4,500rpm, beyond which the engine feels out of breath. The peak power of 173PS is available at 3750rpm, which helps the car pull at higher revs, and it reaches the 100kmph mark from standstill in just 10.03 seconds. When pulled hard, the engine does become noisy but not to the extent where it irritates occupants. Keep pulling in the 6th gear and the compass will keep going well over 170kmph. Drive steadily at a more reasonable pace, and the Compass manages 16.02kmpl.
The gears slot in precisely, which really makes holding the round metallic knob and engaging each gear a joy in itself. The clutch feels light but is not linear in operation. It engages a lot initially and then there is a lot more travel, which completes the engagement. This makes picking up from slow speeds after a gear change a bit tricky as the car tends to stall if the throttle input is light. But once in gear, the Compass picks up well with 30kmph to 80kmph in third gear coming up in just 7.32 seconds.
In terms of braking ability, the Compass offers good bite but lacks feedback. Much like the clutch the brake response is also nonlinear, as the initial bite is strong and then it it requires more input for not that much added force. This is not so much of an issue under hard braking as the Compass manages to come to a halt from 100kmph in a decent 45.09m, but when trying to slow down gently, especially in the city, this brake behaviour can feel a bit irritating.
Ride And Handling
The Compass looks like a proper SUV, and rides like one too. Over bumps, the suspension feels soft and absorbs undulations very well. Especially over speed breakers, the Compass just glides, with the suspension settling down instantaneously. This softness in the suspension made us believe that the Compass would exhibit lots of bodyroll in corners, but we were wrong!
Chuck the Compass into a corner and it maintains its lines properly. There is only slight body roll and the suspension suddenly feels stiff enough to the point where you could even call it sporty! This is because this SUV gets Frequency Selective Damping, which means that the suspension can mechanically differentiate between bumps and body roll and alter damping accordingly.
But this has a flipside too. While going over small undulations like rocks or broken roads the Compass’s suspension remains stiff and hence you can feel some side to side movement in the cabin. But at the same time, if you go over the same undulation a bit faster, the damping increases and the car just glides over such patches. This nature keeps you guessing whether you are going to feel a bump or not. The perfect balance between a cushy ride and sporty handling is really hard to achieve, but for the most part, the Compass manages it really well.
Given that the Compass gets an electrically assisted steering, it does suffer in terms of feedback. While turning, the feel from the wheels is not well translated and keeps you guessing what the tyres are up to, partially because of the four-wheel drive system. But it does weigh up at high speeds, which helps give an assurance of control on the highway.
And speaking of four-wheel drive, only the top-end diesel Compass gets 4X4. Drive is primarily sent only to the front wheels, with torque being split to the rear only when the electronics think it's required. This helps the Compass deliver better efficiency on tarmac.
Its likely that the people buying a Jeep aspire to get their wheels dirty someday. For such an occasion the Compass gets Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which lets the driver select off-road driving modes from Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud. Altering these modes changes how the power is sent to the wheels as well as the level of traction control and stability program controlling the wheels.
The path to our camping site had mud and rocks, and hence we switched to the Mud mode. The Compass was able to maintain control while going down on a rocky slope without losing much grip. Surprisingly, it even went over some of the serious rocks without any unpleasant ‘thunks’ from grounding the underbody. But while it had ample confidence crawling down the muddy path, coming back up presented a real problem.
The Compass does not get a low-range gearbox, which becomes a hassle when climbing up or going over obstacles. There is simply not enough torque at low rpm to let the SUV power over steep obstacles. We struggled to get it going but once the Compass caught on some momentum, it managed to cross the entire muddy uphill section at once.
Hardcore off-roading over rocky terrain in the Compass is not really advisable and is best left to more experienced off-road drivers. But, on the usual rough patches of mud, slush or sand, the compass should get you through unfazed.
The Jeep Compass aims to offer a good balance between a rugged off-roader and an everyday premium SUV. And we are glad to say it does just that. There is sense of solidity in the way the Compass has been put together, making it feel rugged and ready for action. Even inside, it feels plush thanks to the kind of materials used and features on offer.
When it comes to the driving bit, the selective frequency dampers keep you very comfortable in the city while providing a sporty handling package, whether on the highway or when pushing it hard. It's not an outright off-roader but it has a lot of capability to help you take unpaved detours and have some fun when the tarmac ends.
There are some downers though, such as the blanks on the steering and key, lack of storage spaces in the cabin and the manual day/night IRVM. And we’re not particularly fond of the suspension’s dual nature which makes it difficult to anticipate how the damping is going to be. That said, these don't take away from the premium experience overall. The only question now is of the aftersales service and the dealer network. But all things considered, if you are looking for something in the 18-24 lakh bracket, that really puts the S in SUV, the Jeep Compass makes a strong point for itself.