The first 'soft-roader' from Jeep is good, but can it face the competition from cross-over hatches?
Could Jeep’s first foray into the ‘soft-roader’ segment pay off? The price is undoubtedly high for a car in this sector, but sharp styling coupled with bags of safety features may leave potential buyers feeling it is worthwhile. The decent 2.0-litre diesel also adds value. However, with so many hatches set to take the crossover route, including Ford’s Focus and VW’s Golf, the Compass still has its work cut out in this competitive market.
It’s a Jeep, but not as we know it! The American 4x4 legend is steering away from its roots with a crossover which is more hatch than SUV.
Appropriately, the car that’s leading the company into the unknown is called the Compass – and it’s expected to have a major bearing on its sales success in the coming months.
Blending smart design with on-road refinement and bags of safety features, the Compass hopes to attract a younger audience. And there’s no doubt that the entry-level model we tried is certainly difficult to miss!
Sharp bodylines, flared wheelarches and chrome rubbing strips give it an impressive, sleek profile. The only area for concern centres around the trademark round headlamps mounted above the famous seven-slot grille. To our eyes, the styling is not very well proportioned and gives the Compass a muddled appearance.
Climb inside the cabin and you’re instantly reminded you are in a Jeep. A vast expanse of grey plastic on the dash and exposed seatbolts in the rear give the Compass a utilitarian feel – surprising in a car that’s supposed to attract buyers seeking a more refined driving experience.
But at least the simple interior design combined with clearly laid-out switchgear means the major controls are easy to navigate. Build quality appears good, too, with no rattles or squeaks evident on the road. Our test car’s plush leather seats were comfortable, while the high stance provides an elevated driving position and a great view of the road.
There is bags of legroom in the back, too, thanks to deep footwells. A spacious boot offers 436 litres of stowage with the rear bench in place, which is better than a conventional hatchback can manage. And folding down the chairs increases that capacity to 1,277 litres. In action, we found the Compass surprisingly quick. The VW-sourced 2.0-litre diesel variant we drove had plenty of torque (310Nm) even in the low gears, and made motorway cruising pretty effortless.
Also, fully independent suspension gave an extremely comfortable and quiet ride. The steering was well weight-ed and the precise manual shift preferable to the slightly jerky automatic CVT option in the petrol version. How-ever, the steeply raked screens meant intrusive A-pillars at the front and limited visibility in the rear.
At £18,990, the price tag seems high, but the Compass isn’t short of kit – although there’s no socket for MP3 players. The standard safety features particularly impress, especially the electronic stability programme. This blocked all our attempts to put the car in a spin – even while dodging obsta-cles or cornering at speed on ice. Slippery surfaces can also be tackled by switching to four-wheel drive.
There is no doubt that the Jeep Compass has bags of appeal, par-ticularly if you can learn to love its distinctive front end. We think traditional family hatchbacks could have a real fight on their hands.