Replacing the old Compass means the new generation had to be significantly better, and it is. This is a competitive segment, though, so even the Jeep brand heritage won't do all the hard work for the company's small SUV.
Not quite small, not quite medium, the 2018 Jeep Compass Limited is an interesting SUV in the ever-burgeoning Jeep range. Jeep is trading on decades of heritage – and why not – even though the off-road-focused Trailhawk variant is the vehicle for that purpose across the Jeep fleet.
Having driven the all-new Jeep Compass at its international launch in Texas last year, I was keen to sample the 2.4-litre petrol Limited on local roads. A ground-up revision of a vehicle is often a glaring signal that it’s time for change, and while it was never going to be hard for the new Compass to improve upon the lamentable previous generation, this segment is getting tougher every year.
Headlining the changes is the exterior redesign, which sees the all-new 2018 model look a whole lot more like a baby Grand Cherokee than some strangely shaped box on wheels. It’s all the better for it too, and most punters reckon the new Compass looks the business before you get anywhere near the drive experience. That’s a large part of the battle in this segment too.
Pricing for our 2018 Jeep Compass AWD Limited starts from $41,240 before on-road costs. Our tester, of course, has the 2.4-litre petrol engine rather than the slightly more competent diesel variant, although a diesel engine in this size and type of vehicle isn’t always the smartest choice for buyers.
Options fitted to our test vehicle include: the $495 black roof finish, a $1950 dual-pane sunroof, and a $2450 driver-aid pack that introduces forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise, auto high-beam, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and auto tailgate.
You could argue that some of those features should perhaps be standard, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) isn’t available on any model, so keep that in mind if it's a factor.
While the Trailhawk variant will, of course, deliver the most capability off-road – as is par for the Jeep course – the Compass range presents as an SUV that has been tweaked for better all-round road quality day-to-day. These segments often feature hatchbacks that have been jacked up into SUVs, but the Compass is a well-mannered SUV first and foremost, which will undoubtedly suit buyers of these vehicles in 2018.
Beyond what it looks like and how it behaves on-road, though, the most important thing to buyers in this segment is how the Compass feels. Straight up, the cabin experience, either from behind the wheel or as a passenger, is akin to a more expensive, larger SUV than a cut-down, built to a price cheapie in the smaller segments. The Compass feels like it’s more expensive than the starting price indicates, which again is a vital part of the successful formula here.
However, it’s not all sweetness and light. The front seats are way too flat and don’t offer enough support. With the move to more premium cabins in the various SUV segments, flat seats don’t cut it anymore, and to be honest, they jar with the rest of the cabin experience.
While the infotainment system is the quality U-Connect system we’re now familiar with, there were still some annoying electrical gremlins. The most prominent of which was the tyre pressure monitoring system. Jez Spinks had a full shutdown and reset on his drive loop, but I was tearing my hair out with the pressure monitoring. I would have checked the tyres no less than 15 times over a week, because the monitors kept firing off saying the tyres were low. At no stage were they actually more than 1psi outside the placard guidelines, so there was no safety issue. Clearly, though, there is an issue with the monitoring system itself, which is way too sensitive.
The quality and clarity of the touchscreen and controls is all excellent, though. Bluetooth phone connectivity is seamless, as is audio streaming, the screen never went glitchy or was slow to react to commands, and the proprietary satellite-navigation system is excellent too.
We found the general ride quality to be above average, but on the firm side, and the Compass was even pretty engaging when we went corner-hunting. Yep, I know, we didn’t expect it either, but while it’s not a race car, it can actually tackle a twisty road with competence and without generating seasickness for passengers. You could actually argue for sportier seats given the fact this Compass can corner quite well.
The steering surprised us on test, near perfect around town and sharp at speed, meaning the Compass changes direction quicker and more directly than just about anything else in the class. The slightly too firm ride comes into its own the minute you head into some corners, with the Compass changing direction with hardly any body roll, and real balance. The firm ride will compromise the ability of the Limited off-road, but there’s a two-pronged response to that.
First, the intended buyer won’t be going anywhere near a proper off-road track anyway, and secondly, Jeep has the Trailhawk for such dirty work.
The driveline verdict is a mixed bag – in that the nine-speed automatic is excellent, but the small petrol engine (fine around town) doesn’t have as much punch as we’d like. It’s perfectly serviceable rolling around town and up to freeway speed, but it won’t get there rapidly. Generating 129kW at 6400rpm and 229Nm at 3900rpm, the 2.4-litre doesn’t have the lowdown or mid-range punch to get cranking if you need to roll-on overtake or get up to highway speed quickly. Everywhere else it’s fine, but if you do that kind of driving regularly, we’d suggest you look at the diesel.
The mixed-bag reference I make is also relevant to the gearbox in that while it’s a clever and smooth unit, the small petrol engine isn’t the best platform to showcase its chops. Because there’s not enough torque and peak power is reached high up in the rev range, the gearbox is often chopping and changing ratios looking for either efficiency or the best gear for acceleration. As such, the ADR fuel claim of 9.7L/100km is almost impossible to get anywhere near, with high 12s or low 13s more likely.
In the second row, there’s enough room for adults so long as you don’t have super-tall occupants up front. While it’s unlikely mum and dad with two teenage children will be looking at this size of vehicle, the Compass could easily pass muster as a second family runaround. Those of you with dogs, mountain bikes, or large bags of sporting gear will be well catered for once the second row is folded down. ‘Lifestyle SUVs’ is a newish segment and the Compass certainly nails that brief.
The 2018 Jeep Compass Limited is light years better than the model it replaces, but that was no hard task either. Does it compare to the best in the segment? In some areas it does, but not in other areas. Still, it appeals with design, style and a quality cabin. If you can get past the seats and you don’t intend to do too much country driving, the Compass Limited is a consideration-worthy, city-focused SUV.