Jeep takes Compass in new direction

Gemma Senington says Jeep has freshened the appeal of the Compass with a sophisticated new look.

Hasn't the Jeep Compass grown up fast? Gone are its familiar, doe-eyed headlights and in place is a new sophisticated look – stolen from its older brother the Grand Cherokee.

The Compass, tired of living in the shade has adopted a smarter and more expensive look in an effort to appeal to more people. It's got a fresh face with a new bonnet, grille, headlights and front bumper and some chrome detailing has even been thrown in for extra bling.

It's not just evolved on the surface though and the Compass is now available in two-wheel drive form and boasts improved fuel economy and plenty of equipment. Entry-level Sport comes with air-conditioning, cruise control and MP3 connectivity. Sport Plus has climate control and Bluetooth while Limited and 70th Anniversary get leather upholstery, heated front seats, DVD player and a six-disc CD autochanger.

So all the good intentions are there and it looks the part but what is it really like beneath sheet metal?


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Its 2.2-litre diesel engine has plenty of low-down torque and feels strong once in its stride. On the motorway and around town the Jeep feels capable enough but it copes less well on twisty B-roads. Here the chassis is flustered by bumps, dips and turns and the ride feels unsettled.

The Compass sounds fine at lower speeds but pick up the pace and the ride is further spoiled by too much wind, cabin and road noise.

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Despite a few flaws with the ride quality, the Compass is very easy and pleasant to drive thanks to the light steering – a great asset when parking but less of one in terms of feedback and involvement.

The Compass has good visibility and a great elevated driving position which is what 4x4 buyers like. The seats are supportive and feel soft but there is no reach adjust on the steering wheel so some people may find it difficult to get comfortable.

Inside, the dash has been updated and there are lots of neatly-designed instruments and chrome trims which give it a modern feel. Other improvements include new seats and a chunkier steering wheel with integrated cruise control and stereo controls. The Compass also comes with an iPod connection, electric sunroof and fold-flat rear seats.

Although it looks compact, the Compass has a high roofline and there's plenty of space front and rear. There's a good storage space with the glovebox and door pockets and the boot offers 436 litres of space with the rear seats in place. Folding them raises capacity to 1,277 litres.

There is no doubt that the Compass will appeal to families. It is practical with good levels of equipment and space and the cabin is full of durable, easy-to-clean materials but the new 'soft-touch plastics' just feel and look like normal, hard plastic.

So it's a little rough around the edges but the Compass is based on a rugged 4x4 Jeep underneath rather than a totally refined and dedicated 'soft-roader' like some of its rivals. This robust Jeep can tow 2,000kg on a braked trailer and the four-wheel-drive versions should be pretty capable off-road.

The Compass aims to attract hatchback owners who want to trade up and larger 4x4 owners who want to downsize. It feels like Jeep is trying to please too many people at once with the Compass and I'm not sure it knows exactly what it wants to be just yet. Is it a rugged 4x4 true to its roots or is it a comfortable, car-based sport utility vehicle for picking the kids up from school? Despite its sophisticated new look it seems like the Compass still has a bit of growing up to do.

But you can't ignore that the Compass is competitively priced and cheaper to run than some cars in its segment. It offers decent off-road capability and generous standard equipment for its price. So really it all depends on whether potential buyers want a car-like SUV or something that works on the road as well as off, at the sacrifice of some refinement.

FACTFILE

Price: �16,995 to �23,995 on the road

Engine: 2.2-litre, 161bhp four-cylinder turbo diesel

Transmission: Six-speed manual driving all four wheels

Performance: 0-62mph 9.8 seconds; top speed 125mph

Economy: 42.8mpg

CO2 Rating: 172g/km

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