The Jeep Compass, tested here in 2WD Blackhawk guise, looks the part but is a step behind newer rivals
More often than not, CarAdvice’s garage is full of recently launched cars, but sometimes it pays to look back at something with a design that goes back a few years. Enter the Jeep Compass.
With the small SUV segment such a hive of activity, it can be easy to forget some of the more established contenders in the mix. The Compass, and its Patriot twin, may have designs dating back to 2007, but both have still experienced sales growth in 2014.
Anyway, it’s not like people only buy cars with new, or recently facelifted, designs. So what happens if a Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage or Skoda Yeti — to use but three of many examples — doesn't float your boat?
Well, this year, 3262 Australians have chosen a Jeep Compass instead, drawn perhaps to its quirky styling, Jeep image and decent entry price. That figure, for point of reference, is more than a Nissan Juke or Suzuki Grand Vitara.
To spice things up, Jeep recently released a limited-run Blackhawk version based on the entry Compass Sport front-wheel-drive, priced as tested at $30,200 plus on-road costs, or $1200 more than the regular model.
But given all the mechanicals are unchanged, consider this a review of the regular Compass model as well, if you can’t find a Blackhawk.
As far as we see it, we have to ask and answer a couple of questions with this review. First, how does the aged Compass match up to price-point rivals like the aforementioned. And more importantly, how does it stay relevant against the relatively new, and not much larger, Cherokee?
Let’s break it down.
At $27,000 for the manual or $29,000 for the CVT, the Compass Sport FWD is about line ball with a base Holden Captiva 5, Hyundai ix35 or Kia Sportage, mid-range Skoda Yeti 90TSI, and a smidgen more than an entry Qashqai or Mitsubishi ASX.
It’s also only $880 cheaper than a base Mazda CX-5 Maxx, and you can also have a front-drive, nine-speed automatic Cherokee for $33,500. It all goes to show more than anything just how competitive the small-medium SUV market really is.
How about standard equipment? Features at base level include a lovely leather steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, heated front seats, a four-speaker audio system, Uconnect Bluetooth connectivity, USB port, and a nice decorative appliqué on the passenger storage shelf.
You also get six airbags, but a sub-par four-star ANCAP rating (its Patriot twin was recently upgraded to five stars).
The $1200 Blackhawk kit seen here adds glossy Jeep badges and body inserts, and those menacing 17-inch wheels.
Missing are reversing sensors or a camera and Bluetooth audio streaming. The cabin itself is a disappointment in more ways than not.
The fascia itself is dated, with 1990s neon green backlighting. We don’t so much mind the absence of a touchscreen at base level, but at $30,500 as tested, be aware that an array of cars can be had with one.
Over our weekend with the car, we also found the USB streaming system to be needlessly glitchy. Plug your phone’s charger into the wobbly (added-on) input inside the glovebox and prepare for its to either fail to connect altogether, or cut out with regularity.
The plastics quality also feels average at best, while some concerns linger over the fact, for instance, that you can shake the centre console side-to-side a good few inches, or that the roof-lining has a few inches of ‘give’ to it if you give it a gentle prod.
The premium-feeling steering wheel also has no column reach-adjustment, and coupled with the large bump of plastic that sits beneath said column, yields restricted legroom for a taller driver.
Cabin storage up front is decent, with a nice cubby ahead of the passenger, and good door pockets, though that flimsy dual-section centre console lets the team down.
Jump in the back (via the flimsy plastic rear door handles) and you first notice the excellent headroom. Legroom and knee-room is also fine, though the seat backs themselves are non-adjustable and the bases are short and flat.
Passengers in the back get hard plastic seat-backing greeting their knees, no map pockets, small door pockets, no vents and very little outward visibility thanks to the small rear-side window and fat D-pillar. The vinyl headrests are hard on the head, and offer little support.
Cargo capacity is a competitive 458 litres, expanding to 1269L with the 60:40 rear seats folded. This is decent, especially considering you also get a full-sized spare. The space itself is shallow, but has a very large surface area.
There’s no 12V socket back there, no way to drop the rear seats from the cargo area (you have to do this via a fabric pull-tab mounted at the base of the seats) and the plastics that line the tailgate likewise felt cheap.
Under the bonnet of our 1437kg (gross weight) test car was a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine producing 115kW of power at 6300rpm and 190Nm of torque at 5100rpm, sending power to the front wheels via (in this case) a CVT automatic transmission. Higher-grade Compass models use a conventional six-speed auto instead.
At lower speeds around town it lacks responsiveness, though with a light foot you could match the fuel economy claim of just over 8.0L/100km. That said, over our mixed urban/highway loop under routine driving, we managed 10.6L/100km.
A small sideline — the fuel filler cap has to be opened with a key. That’s a bit old school.
As its figures suggest, the engine requires a few revs to squeeze the best out of it as you whirr towards highway pace, which is always going to dent refinement. The doughy throttle, lack of low-end torque and droning ratio-less CVT make progress stately at best. There's also too much wind roar through the A-pillars.
The hydraulic (not electric) power steering is weighty at low speeds, which we like but you might not. The 10.8m turning circle is acceptable, though the lack of sensors and the fat pillars makes parking a little tougher than some.
The Compass has all-round independent suspension (MacPherson struts at the the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear). It soaks up low speed nasties such as cobblestones well enough, though it has a propensity to feel fidgety over B-roads.
By this we mean it amplifies road imperfections more than some, causing occupants to feel constantly unsettled. Better-riding options have the effect of ironing out these niggles, and are more comfortable to occupy because of it.
All compass models come with a three-year/100km warranty and three years of roadside assist. Service intervals are 12,000km, and Jeep is one of a shrinking number of mainstream brands without a capped-price servicing scheme in place.
The unfortunate reality is the Compass feels its age. It’s outclassed in most departments, including by other Jeep models. Come 2016, a brand new Jeep small SUV will be available to replace both this car and the Patriot. That car will sit between the Renegade and Cherokee.
Based on Jeep’s current form with the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, it should be a worthy offering.
But what we have now, the Compass, is not. Our suggestion? Look elsewhere.