Jeeps have always been the American equivalent of the Land Rover, iconic vehicles with a reputation for toughness, off road ability and practicality. The Wrangler rivals the no frills workhorse Land Rover Defender while the Grand Cherokee offers a kind of cut price alternative to a Range Rover though without the build quality, luxury or prestige. The Grand Cherokee in particular has been a steady, if unspectacular, seller over here but has always seemed more at home in its American heartland.
Somewhat belatedly Jeep has seen the writing on the wall for big SUVs and is pushing its Compass crossover heavily at the moment. The Compass has actually been around since 2007 and the original version was notable for its switchable four wheel drive system and one of the ugliest noses ever to be slapped on a car. This new version features heavily revised styling, new engines and a choice of either permanent four wheel drive or front wheel drive. Of course, the whole point of a crossover is that it combines the street presence and elevated driving position of an SUV with the practicality, low running costs and road manners of a family hatch. Will Jeep be able to pull off this trick with the same panache of the Nissan Qashqai and impress motorists in Sutton Coldfield?
Straightaway, I have to say that the styling is a huge improvement on what went before. The chunky grill and headlights blend nicely with the squared off flared wheel arches and the sharp lines of the bodywork to deliver a pleasing combination of chunky offroader and crisp contemporary styling. Step inside and there is plenty of room for five adults on comfortable (leather in the case of my test car) seats. Put the back seats down and you get a load area the size of a small van. There’s plenty of kit as standard too but the fit and finish of the interior feels fragile, the plastics are hard and shiny and I didn’t feel any confidence that the switchgear would still be working properly in a couple of year’s time. All pretty much what you would expect from Jeep then!
Jeep offer a pair of petrol engines with the Compass or a 2.2 litre diesel sourced from Mercedes. The two wheel drive version kicks out 134bhp but the 4×4 has 161bhp as standard. The engine is nicely refined and gives you all the grunt you need with a respectable 125mph top whack and a sub 10 second 0-62 time. I managed 42mpg as well, not bad for a car like this. Although I didn’t take it off road I’ve no reason to doubt that it would acquit itself well in the mucky stuff. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare so well on the tarmac; the ride is bouncy on any kind of rough road surface and there is way too much roll through the corners. I thought the whole point of a crossover was meant to be that it drives like a hatchback.
All in all the Compass is not a bad effort; it’s certainly an improvement on the previous model. I really don’t think that it is quite good enough though; it doesn’t have the drivability of the Nissan Qashqai and it lacks the prestige of the two wheel drive Land Rover Freelander. Chrysler, Jeep’s parent company, has now merged with Fiat and the Compass will be replaced next year by an all new Fiat based model. My concern is that the Compass is serving to downgrade the Jeep name, a global brand that has been over sixty years in the making. General motors made a similar mistake when they handed the blue collar icon of the Chevrolet brand to some sad little cars from Korea – remember Daewoo? Rather than using the Jeep brand to add kudos to a Fiat, perhaps Chrysler should concentrate on producing a car good enough to add kudos to the Jeep brand.
Car tested Jeep Compass 2.2 CRD 4×4 £23,595 OTR