If you rewind the clock to 2014, the previous-generation Jeep Compass managed to achieve one of the lowest scores we've ever awarded at CarAdvice: 4.5 out of 10. It was a car that seriously showed its age; woefully wanting on the engine, interior and infotainment fronts.
Thankfully that has all changed. The all-new Jeep Compass uses a global platform shared with the smaller Renegade SUV. The right-hand-drive Compass for the Australian market is built in India, with production commencing almost a year after the Compass was originally launched for the US market in left-hand drive.
Sitting between the Renegade and the Cherokee, the Compass measures 4400mm long and sits on a 2640mm wheelbase. While it's similar in size to a number of SUVs in its segment, Jeep says the Compass will go head-to-head against the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Volkswagen Tiguan.
Launching with two engines and four variants in Australia, the Compass is priced from $28,850 (plus on-road costs) for the Sport, moving on to $33,750 (plus on-road costs) for the Longitude, then $41,250 (plus on-road costs) for the Limited and capping out at $44,750 (plus on-road costs) for the off-road-focused Trailhawk.
Sport and Longitude models are exclusively front-wheel drive and powered by a 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 129kW of power and 229Nm of torque. The Sport is available with a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission, while the Longitude comes only with the automatic. Manual models consume 8.6 litres of fuel per 100km, while the automatic drops that figure down to 7.9L/100km.
The step up to Limited brings with it a four-wheel-drive system with a nine-speed automatic gearbox and the naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine from the Sport and Longitude, which bumps fuel consumption up dramatically to 9.7L/100km. Buyers wanting a diesel will need to fork out an additional $2500.
The Trailhawk and diesel Limited models both share a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 125kW of power and 350Nm of torque, mated to a four-wheel-drive system and nine-speed automatic gearbox. Fuel consumption for the diesel engine comes in at a respectable 5.7L/100km.
Standard features at the base level include 17-inch alloy wheels, reversing camera, seven airbags, a 5.0-inch main display and 3.5-inch instrument display, DAB+ digital radio, leather steering wheel and an electric park brake.
Depending on the model, stepping up into the range will add features like automatic headlights and wipers, roof rails and fog lights, tinted glass, leather seats, 18-inch wheels, a larger 8.4-inch display, satellite navigation, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, bi-xenon headlights, enhanced safety features and proper off-roading options.
While each model is well equipped at its price point, safety features such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) are not standard. In fact, you need to spend almost $2500 to get the gear that comes standard on a number of models in this segment.
According to Jeep, AEB will be available across the range from May production onwards (including the entry-level Sport model) and it's expected to cost around $1000. It still won't be standard, though.
From the exterior, it's not hard to see that Jeep has drawn parallels to the larger Grand Cherokee in the Compass design – certainly not a bad thing. The smart design gives this small SUV an upmarket look, especially in Limited trim.
The Trailhawk features a number of design changes to help differentiate it, including exposed recovery points, a steeped front end that improves approach angle, off-road tyres and a 'Trail Rated' badge.
Inside the cabin is where the Compass has impressed the most. Build quality is excellent and the quality of materials is light years ahead of the previous-generation car. The cornerstone to this interior is the brilliant 8.4-inch UConnect infotainment system.
While it's only standard on the Limited and Trailhawk, it can be optioned on Longitude models. It brings with it a super-responsive 8.4-inch colour touchscreen that includes voice recognition, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also has the ability to add extra apps on top of the standard kit.
It's incredibly easy to use and we rate it as one of the best infotainment systems in the game. Curiously, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are omitted from the smaller 5.0-inch version in Sport and Longitude models, which means they don't have the ability to feature any form of satellite navigation. Including this smartphone technology could have easily overcome this issue, as is the case in cars like the entry-level Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.
There is plenty of storage around the cabin with large door pockets in the front and rear, a decent-sized glovebox and ample centre console storage. There's even a storage cubby built into the base of the passenger seat for valuables. It's standard from the Longitude model upwards.
Visibility from the driver's seat is excellent out the front, side and rear windows. There is a small blind spot about the C-pillar, but it's easily overcome thanks to the big wing mirrors.
We had the chance to drive both Limited and Trailhawk models at the national launch (Limited models fitted with the naturally aspirated petrol engine and Trailhawk models with the turbocharged diesel) and both feature a clever park assist feature.
Hit the button when looking for a park and it displays a graphic on the driver information display with a couple of old Jeeps, indicating when a valid park is available. From there, the system can park the car parallel, perpendicularly, and can even be used to pull the Compass out of parks – a great feature for drivers that aren't confident with parking.
Leg and head room in the second row are excellent. I'm around 186cm tall and I can easily fit in the second row with ample leg, toe and head room. I normally drive with the driver's seat quite far back. Even with the optional dual-pane sunroof, I had enough head room to sit comfortably.
Second-row passengers also have a 230V, 150W power outlet available and a USB charge point. A giant centre armrest folds down to offer two cup holders and a port into the boot. The boot offers 438 litres of cargo capacity, which expands to 1251 litres when you fold the second row. The second row folds in a 40/20/40 split-folding configuration.
The cargo space is quite versatile with storage either side and full-sized steel wheel beneath the cargo floor.
We hit the road in the diesel Trailhawk first. We weren't left thrilled with the petrol offering when we drove the Compass in the USA last year, so we were keen to see if the diesel solved that torque deficit.
It's a cracking engine with generous amounts of torque low in the rev range. The nine-speed automatic gearbox is supplied by ZF Sachs, meaning it's a well-sorted unit even before Jeep engineers get the chance to work on calibration.
Peak torque is available from 1750rpm and the engine makes full use of its range of gears. There's never a time when it feels out of breath or hunting for gears. It's easy to increase throttle and have the engine start pumping out more torque, or you can rely on the expansive torque band to just lean on the throttle in a higher gear to get what you need out of it.
The electrically assisted steering rack works nicely with the package. It offers plenty of feedback and enough weighting to not feel easy, while also not being overly heavy, which affects low-speed city driving.
This engine really comes into its own off-road. Whereas we found the petrol struggled in Trailhawk trim in our USA test car, the diesel worked a treat. The Trailhawk is a serious off-road car, let alone just in this segment.
It features a 30-degree approach angle, 33.6-degree departure angle, 225mm of ground clearance and the ability for the wheels to articulate up to 200mm, plus a 480mm wading depth. It makes use of a low-range transmission with five off-road modes that adjust stability control intervention and the distribution of torque. There's also a manually lockable centre differential and hill descent control.
Jeep was confident enough in the car's ability to take us through a fairly serious rocky track. The rocks were big enough to whack the underbody a few times, but it's well protected thanks to four underbody sill plates.
Sections of the track that had diagonal wheels struggling for traction allowed the all-wheel-drive system to come into its own and distribute torque effectively. So much so that we deliberately tried to place the car into positions where it should fail on the slippery and muddy terrain.
It passed with flying colours, partly thanks to the 17-inch off-road tyres that err towards the chunky side of road tyres, making them perfect for this type of off-road driving. We used this opportunity to also test body rigidity. Lesser SUVs won't be able to open and close doors when the body is being twisted when two diagonal tyres are off the ground, but the Compass easily opened and closed its doors.
The Compass features a Jeep 'Trail Rated' badge. This is a certification by Jeep that the Compass passes standards set by Jeep for traction, water fording, maneuverability, articulation and ground clearance.
We stepped out of the Trailhawk and into the Limited. It picks up more features and also the option of a petrol or diesel engine. Each of the Limited models at this launch were fitted with Jeep's Tigershark petrol engine.
Unfortunately, this great package is let down by an engine that lacks motivation. While the numbers look good on paper, the peak torque figure of 229Nm isn't achieved until 3900rpm. That means you're always stuck into the throttle trying to urge the car to get moving.
This became most obvious during the launch drive in Tasmania, where a number of hills required the petrol Compass to dive through gears and sit north of 4000rpm to keep up with the speed limit.
To give you an idea of the pace you are expecting, the all-wheel-drive Limited with petrol engine takes 10.1 seconds to move from standstill to 100km/h. It also has an official fuel consumption figure of 9.7L/100km, which is much higher than its other all-wheel-drive competitors in this segment, such as the Tucson (7.7L/100km), Kia Sportage (8.5L/100km), Mazda CX-5 (7.5L/100km) and Holden Equinox (8.4L/100km).
This may not be a concern for some consumers, but it's hard to not justify spending the extra $2500 for the diesel Limited. An investment that would be paid back within four years of ownership. Unfortunately, the diesel engine isn't available in Sport and Longitude trims.
We are big fans of the Jeep Compass. It's well built, drives nicely in diesel trim and offers plenty of room inside. It also has a segment niche with the Trailhawk model, an SUV capable of doing things previously limited to much bigger and more sophisticated SUVs.
It's ultimately let down by a pretty average petrol engine and optional safety equipment that absolutely should be standard in this segment. If you can afford to fork out the cash for a Limited or Trailhawk model with the diesel engine and optional safety gear, you'll be laughing.