Jeep – Promise of adventure

The Compass is not like every other crossover. This one can actually turn things around and cross over to the off-roading stuff.

The first-generation Jeep Compass was not a pretty sight. Launched in 2007, it was an awkward-looking, ill-proportioned attempt at a sub-Wrangler product capable of attracting family-oriented customers who still wanted that sense of adventure the brand stands for.

That means Jeep got something wrong in the design department but was clearly right about where the market was heading: crossovers are a never-ending epidemic in today’s industry and still its fastest growing, as well as most profitable segment.

In Europe, sales of the first-generation Compass were quite poor, and it was withdrawn in late 2015. Good decision. The new car arrived in Portugal at the end of last year and you just have to look at it to know it has nothing to do with its clunky forebear. Modern looks introduce a crossover that is now up to speed with the times and ready to face the competition. A fierce competition. From the top of my head, I can see the Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 3008, Renault Kadjar, Seat Ateca and the VW Tiguan as the Jeep’s biggest worries. But there are lots more.

Jeep estimates the crossover segment will account for two million sales in Europe by 2020, up from 1.6 million in 2016. So how does the Compass fare against all those rivals in the fight for a piece of the two-million cake? Well, I would say it fares pretty damn well. I drove around in it for a week and I found it very likable, comfortable, practical and I confess I found the rugged Jeep look a lot more attractive the day I gave it back than the day I picked it up, which means it grows on you – always a good sign.

Jeep is on an upward trajectory and seems to have found the right balance between its traditional 4×4 go-anywhere attitude and a more stylish, urban approach, which is vital in getting a new type of customer to pay attention to the cars.

Still, the Compass is a true Jeep and four-wheel drive is an important feature across the range. Sourced from GKN, its 4×4 system is the same used on the Renegade and its Italian cousin, the Fiat 500X. It is one of those clever units that simply sends all the power to the front wheels when grip is good and, when necessary, activates the rear axle for improved traction. It does so in 300 milliseconds. Really, it does.

At the push of a button, the Compass can be locked in 4×4 mode or Selec-Terrain mode, itself with its four custom modes: Auto, Sand, Snow and Mud. If you know you are never, ever going to take a 4×4 Compass off-road, then you will be buying it for all the wrong reasons. This is a car that deserved a chance to show what it can do. Especially because when the tarmac ends, the competition usually stays put.

Inside the cabin, the Compass is proof Jeep is taking important steps to ensure quality is on par with their European competition. Lest we forget, Jeep is owned by Fiat these days and Fiat themselves have been on an upward trajectory lately with their own standards when it comes to choosing materials and assembling them with a high level of fit and finish.

I tried the 2.0 litre diesel version with 140 horse power, a manual gearbox and all-wheel drive. To me it seemed like a good spec, although I would prefer the auto transmission for everyday driving. Visibility is really good, obvious, and the Compass is not yet so big it makes cities look too small. Easy to park, easy to manoeuvre, easy to live with, easy to like. And not even that expensive. The 1.6 diesel, in front-wheel drive, begins at just over €30,000, while the 2 litre is 10k more. Is it worth it? Well, that depends on what you will do with the car and what you expect from it.

Moreover, being 4×4, the 2 litre is a Class 2 car on national tolls. The front-wheel drive 1.6 is Class 1 with the Via Verde system fitted.

All in all, I think the biggest asset the Compass has is that it does what it promises to do and does it well. The adventure the brand promises is there for the taking, if you are willing to take the chance.

By Guilherme Marques