Jeep Compass heads south and finds its adventure mojo
The Jeep Compass was launched in 2007 as a new compact SUV range positioned between the entry-level Renegade and the mid-level Cherokee in the US brand’s line-up.
It was originally conceived as a crossover vehicle for first-time Jeep buyers who drove primarily on tar, but the second-generation Compass has been launched in SA as a more off-road-focused model. The single derivative on sale is the 2.4 4x4 Trailhawk, which has all the gear needed to tackle rough trails, including intelligent four-wheel drive that can send 100% of available torque to any one wheel when needed.
It also has a generous 216mm ground clearance, a low-range transfer case, hill-descent control, and different modes for Snow, Sand, Rock and Mud that the driver can select with a dial.
We took the Compass Trailhawk for a jaunt around the Gerotek off-road course near Pretoria, and though it got through the trail, it wasn’t all plain sailing. The good ground clearance kept the belly out of harm’s way and the four-wheel-drive system delivered as promised, keeping the vehicle moving forward through axle twisters.
The hill-descent control behaved inconsistently, however, and sometimes let the vehicle run downhill too fast. Also, the dual-purpose Falken WildPeak HT tyres weren’t very grippy on slippery ascents — I’d expect knobblier rubber on a vehicle that wears an off-road-rated Trailhawk badge.
The tyres were at least sensibly sized with a high profile that delivered a very plush ride. The ability to cover rough tar and gravel roads in comfort is one of this Jeep’s finer characteristics.
I could hear the car creaking sometimes as it traversed unkempt surfaces though, and it was unclear whether the noise was caused by the suspension or the body. This was a blot on a vehicle that otherwise seems to have good solidity, as attested to by its five-star Euro Ncap crash test rating.
The Compass is a unibody design riding on independent suspension, a set-up that helps this vehicle feel fairly light on its feet and take curves without undue clumsiness, though it’s no sports SUV; the emphasis is more on ride comfort than pin-sharp handling.
The new Compass mixes contemporary styling with traditional Jeep design cues, such as a seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel arches. Its aerodynamic curves won’t necessarily sit well with Jeep traditionalists who favour the boxy design of the Wrangler, but the LED headlamp bezels and dual-tone body colouring give the vehicle a fresh look that could attract younger buyers to the brand.
The modern styling continues inside a black leather-clad cabin that’s perked up with red detailing and comes with the latest infotainment and connectivity. The large central touchscreen incorporates satellite navigation and a reversing camera, and onboard entertainment for the whole family is facilitated by USB ports for the front and rear seats.
The driver’s instrument panel combines an analogue speedometer and rev counter with a digital colour information display.
Rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights are part of a reasonably well-stocked spec sheet, but you have to pay extra for items such as full leather upholstery and an electronically adjustable driver’s seat. Additional budget is also required for functions such as a powered tailgate and adaptive cruise control. The test car was also equipped with optional keyless entry, but it didn’t work.
The trimmings aren’t as upmarket as some other contenders in the segment, but the soft-touch dashboard plastic and optional leather seats create a suitably deluxe effect for the price. For a compact SUV, the Compass is quite roomy and will take four adults comfortably, while the boot is a fairly practically sized 438l.
The 2.4l normally aspirated petrol engine feels relatively peppy with good cruising legs, but the nine-speed auto gearbox is a little lazy in kicking down for overtaking moves.
The drivetrain automatically switches between front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive as a fuel-saving measure, and the test vehicle averaged a reasonably efficient 10.4l per 100km in a mix of town and open-road driving.
The four-cylinder engine’s quite smooth and, except for the intermittent creaking noises, this Jeep’s all-round refinement is decent, with no major wind or mechanical sounds intruding.
The R604,705 price might be a sticking point for those who would find better value in a much larger, seven-seater Toyota Fortuner 4x4 selling for R590,500. But for those who might find a Fortuner too fuddy-duddy, for around R120k lower than the cheapest Cherokee, the Compass 4x4 Trailhawk is a good entry point into the Jeep family for buyers seeking trendy looks, reasonable cabin space and decent off-road ability — if fitted with the right tyres.
Type: Four-cylinder petrol
Type: Nine-speed auto
Type: Full-time four-wheel drive, with low-range transfer case
Top speed: 185km/h
Fuel Consumption: 9.5l/100km (claimed); 10.4l/100km (as tested)
Climate control, ABS brakes, stability control, six airbags, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, parking camera, navigation, touchscreen infotainment system, cloth/leather upholstery
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service plan: Three years/100,000km
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
Toyota Rav4 2.5 AWD VX, 152kW/243Nm — R630,800
VW T-Roc 2.0 TSI 4Motion R-Line, 140kW/320Nm — R593,600
VW Tiguan 2.0 Tdi 4Motion Comfortline, 110kW/340Nm — R644,800
Toyota Fortuner 2.4 GD-6 4x4 auto, 110kW/400Nm — R590,500
Jeep Compass 2.4 4x4 Trailhawk
Styling, (potential) off-road ability, plush ride
Creaking noise, non-off-road tyres
Family SUV with American vibes
****Value For Money
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