Among the never-ending stream of new and updated mid-sized SUVs, two of the latest face off.
In that ocean of choices in the medium SUV segment, we’ve got two of the freshest facing off.
In one corner, the facelifted and updated Jeep Compass. It’s Italian owned, American designed and Indian built. In the other corner is the (also refreshed) Skoda Karoq. The Skoda brand hails from the Czech Republic where this Karoq is built. But, the brand is owned by Germany's Volkswagen Group.
Let’s get stuck into it.
Pricing and Spec
Our Jeep Compass S-Limited 4x4 has a starting price of $45,950 before on-road costs. Although, throw in some premium paint (Minimal grey, $645) and you’ve got a $46,595 proposition.
This is the second most expensive iteration of the Compass, behind the off-road-capable, diesel-powered Compass Trailhawk. Unique features for the S-Limited include a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, 19-inch alloy wheels, black roof, and black headlining.
On top of that, there is some extra gear like a nine-speaker Beats sound system, automatic high beam, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go), leather trim, heated front seats, powered tailgate, front and rear parking sensors, park assist, keyless entry with push-button start, bi-xenon headlights and LED tail-lights shared with other Compass models.
Throw in blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert (standard across the range), and you’ve got a good coverage of tech included in the price.
The Karoq 140TSI Sportline 4x4 is a new top specification, and our test model has pulled no punches with options. With an initially cheaper price of $39,990 (before on-roads), two big option packs make the Karoq the most expensive in this review. As tested, it weighs in at $46,690. Hold on, that velvet red paint job adds another $1100. $47,790 it is, then.
Unique gear for this specification includes 19-inch wheels, Sportline front bumper and rear diffuser, full LED adaptive headlights and a Sportline-specific interior. The Karoq makes do with heated and manually adjusted cloth sport seats, but there is also keyless entry with push-button start, adaptive cruise control, and dual-zone climate control.
However, to access some of the nicer features you’d think a top-spec medium SUV would have, you’ll at least need to include the $2600 Travel Pack. In that, you get lane-keep assist, blind-spot detection, traffic jam assist, emergency assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive damping and steering, along with heated front- and second-row seats.
The next Karoq option to ponder is the Tech Pack, and I couldn’t ask for a better segue to the next chapter.
Tech and Infotainment
While the Karoq 140TSI comes with an 8.0-inch infotainment display standard, our optional Tech Pack ($4100) ups the ante to Skoda’s ‘Columbus’ 9.2-inch infotainment system, which has native navigation, digital radio and smartphone mirroring.
There’s also an upgraded Canton 10-speaker sound system, inductive charging pad and a gesture-opening electric tailgate.
Standard is the Virtual Cockpit digital driver’s display in the Karoq, which is able to cycle through a handful of different modes (including a map display).
While it’s not as good as the Virtual Cockpit in more expensive Audis and Volkswagens, it’s still quite good, and better than the digital instruments in a Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, for example.
The Compass has an 8.4-inch infotainment display, which also has native navigation, digital radio and smartphone mirroring. The central multifunction display is generously sized, and importantly (like the Skoda) gives you a digital speed readout.
More traditionally, this screen has a fuel and water temperature gauge, and is flanked by an analogue tachometer and speedometer.
Both of these medium SUVs have a five-star ANCAP safety rating. Both the Skoda Karoq and Jeep Compass scored top points in 2017.
Both the Compass and the Karoq have single USB and 12V outlets up front, but the Karoq’s Tech Pack brings an inductive charging pad. Both centre consoles are small, but the Karoq’s is more versatile. It’s not completely enclosed, and a removable segment can act as cupholders or additional storage space.
The Compass’s centre console is conspicuously small, and barely big enough for two large wallets. The armrest isn’t adjustable like the Karoq’s, meaning my elbow just reached in my driving position. Although, worth noting, I am known to sit relatively close to the steering wheel in comparison to others.
Some extra storage spots around the centre stack are handy in the Compass, and we really like the big secreted storage area under the passenger seat squab.
The Compass has a definite American style to it: more flowing curves and softer angles, with silver-painted plastic acting as highlights. The steering wheel, thick-rimmed and leather-stitched, feels good in the hands. There are plenty of buttons for control, and some extra on the back to control volume and flicking through songs or radio stations.
Conversely, the Skoda Karoq does its own take on the well-worn Volkswagen Group playbook. That’s not a bad thing, either. Common touchpoints are typically well executed, and the overall design of sharper angles, piano-black finishes and demure garnishing leaves it feeling mature, concisely designed, and maybe a little uninspiring.
Unlike the heated leather seat trimming of the Compass, we’ve got cloth seats in the Karoq. It’s what they call ‘Thermoflux’, and these sporty-looking seats proved to be both comfortable and controlling with the bolstering.
Moving from the standard Karoq 110TSI to the Sportline does mean missing out on the VarioFlex rear seats, which can be individually flipped, folded or removed as passengers or cargo command.
The steering wheel is a little thinner, but nicely covered in perforated leather. Stealing from the Audi playbook perhaps, there’s a flat bottom to the steering wheel for those additional sporty vibes.
The Compass has a big dual-pane sunroof, whose glass covers the head of all passengers. This in particular helps the cabin, which is otherwise mostly black, feel airy and open when the cover is retracted.
The Compass has textbook comfy car seats: not much bolstering, but broad and with good adjustment. The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable, but the front passenger will need to rough it with manual adjustment.
Second-row leg room feels very close between the two SUVs. The Compass might have a skerrick more knee room on offer, but the sunroof does impact head room a little; the Skoda has a little more above. Both have 12V outlets and air vents, but the Compass ups the ante with a 220V outlet as well. Both have a transmission tunnel to contend with, if you’re going to load up with five passengers.
Because of the digital display, bigger infotainment and sharper design, the Karoq’s interior strikes me as being better, feeling more premium and better resolved overall.
In the boot-space race, the 438L of the Compass is beaten on paper by the 521L of the Karoq. Although, we’d say in reality they are quite close overall. The Karoq’s lower boot floor yields a bigger lip, but the trick torch/light is a nice touch. So are the adjustable hooks and thick elastic netting. The Compass has a practical thick rubber mat, and both have a space-saver spare wheel hiding underneath.
In this new specification, the 140TSI Karoq gets an iteration of the Volkswagen Group 2.0-litre ‘EA888’ turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. In this application, the Karoq makes 140kW at 6000rpm and 320Nm at 1500–4100rpm.
Running through a seven-speed DSG gearbox to all four wheels, the Karoq 140TSI is good for a claimed 7.3-second sprint to 100km/h. Claimed fuel consumption is 6.9 litres per 100km, but our experience netted an average of around 8.5L/100km. But it did get up to 9.4 in some scenarios. Nowhere near the claim, but we found ourselves either driving in town or having a little bit of a punt on some country roads.
In comparison, Jeep’s 2.4-litre ‘Tigershark’ engine can only draw in air at atmospheric pressure; no turbochargers to be seen here. Peak power is 129kW at 6400rpm, while torque rates at 229Nm at 3900rpm. This runs through a well-known ZF 9HP nine-speed transaxle, which uses on-demand distribution to the rear wheels. For most of the time, the Compass 4x4 runs as a front-wheel drive.
Jeep’s listed fuel economy is 9.7L/100km on the combined cycle. We couldn’t match this either, but came close with 10.0L/100km indicated after our testing.
It’s worth pointing out that unlike the torque converter gearbox in the Jeep, the Skoda uses a dual-clutch automatic gearbox like many others from the Volkswagen Group stable.
It will never match the simple, smooth takeoff that a more traditional torque converter gearbox can offer, as you can feel those wet clutch packs picking up friction points as the car moves forward.
Although, I don’t think it’s bad. As long as you are aware that it’s particularly prickly on steep hills at low speeds, and you drive the Skoda accordingly, it’s fine.
Get up to speed, and the gearbox is responsive and adept. It’s not jerky at all, and combines well with the engine. Seven speeds are plenty with the wide torque band. The Karoq has enough grunt for the application, feeling warm without being hot.
Conversely, the ZF nine-speed gearbox in the Compass feels very typical and easy to live with. More ratios on offer means it’s able to jump between high- and low-revving scenarios quite a lot, and it feels like it needs to run through gears rather than jump some completely. It’s noticeable, because fifth gear is the 1:1 ratio, leaving four overdrive gears. That leaves gears 1–4 covering a bit of ratio ground in comparison to other multi-ratio gearboxes.
It’s a situation not helped by the lack of torque on offer from the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated engine. In particular, anything near 2000rpm requires a downshift (often more) to get the right go forward.
Around town and in most scenarios, the Compass feels adequate and typical, but also a bit boring and unengaging. Tare mass for this specification Compass is 1503kg.
With more torque available through a much broader rev range, the turbocharged Karoq yields significantly more acceleration and purpose. It’s able to lean on each gear with much less downshifting, with the near 100 extra newton-metres (available at more than half the RPM) clear and evident. It’s much more enjoyable, overall, even if a touch more portly at 1550kg.
There’s a real sense of burble and meatiness from the Karoq’s engine, as well, but it’s worth noting some of that is synthetic. If you’re like me and don’t dig fake engine sounds, it's able to be switched off in your own individual driving modes.
On the Road
Despite 19-inch alloy wheels, the Compass rides with nice compliance on typical Australian suburban roads. Evidently, there’s a well-sorted suspension tune used, no doubt helped by the new FCA ‘Small Wide’ platform that this model adopts.
Steering isn’t as fast or sharp as the Skoda, but it’s tidy. And for a medium-sized SUV, there is no scope for redress.
Similarly, the Compass holds its composure through corners well. It’s not sporty, but nor is it boaty or cumbersome.
However, in this comparison, the Compass feels like it's fighting in a class above. Both of these medium SUVs use a relatively new car-based platform, with their own takes on multi-link rear suspension (compound crank for the Karoq, Chapman strut for the Compass). But the Karoq’s addition of adaptive dampers sets a different playing field.
In the default Normal driving mode, the Skoda feels firmer, slightly more fidgety, and certainly sportier than the Compass. Move to Sport and it stiffens up even further. There are small dynamic gains to be had, but I’d say it’s a bit too stiff for a warmed-up medium SUV.
The Karoq feels best in Comfort mode, where noticeably softer damping yields a ride that’s impressively absorbent over rough surfaces and imperfections. Steering lightens as well, but still feels sharp and fast to respond. Body roll is evident in Comfort, but still well within acceptable levels.
For an SUV loaded up with people and gear, pumping down a country road or around town, both are good. The Karoq benefits from the increased technology, however, where it scores a broader sense of ability.
The Karoq has a better listed turning circle: 10.09m versus 11.07m for the Compass.
No on-road driving modes for the Jeep Compass, but it does have a handful of off-road driving modes to flick through: Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud. The Karoq, on the other hand, has a single one-size-fits-all off-road mode.
Since our comparison didn’t include any off-road driving, we can only assume the Compass’s better ground clearance and extra driving modes would make it a better option off-road. However, if you did really want to go off-road, you’d be better off looking more closely at the Compass Trailhawk.
Both the Skoda and Jeep are covered by five-year warranties, but the Karoq’s unlimited-kilometre limit is more attractive than the 100,000km limit for the Compass.
Skoda throws in one year of roadside assistance, while Jeep does it for the full warranty period. And if you keep servicing your Compass through Jeep dealerships, the free roadside assistance remains. And, would you look at that, another nice segue.
For five years (or 60,000km, with 12,000km intervals), capped-price visits of $425, $625, $425, $695 and $425 equate to $2595 for the Compass.
Conversely, the Karoq can be serviced through a pre-payment system. Five years, or 75,000km (meaning service intervals are 15,000km), rates at $1400. A
lthough extra costs could creep in for both vehicles during ownership (on top of these prices), the Skoda looks good on initial impressions.
Even with the full complement of options, there is less than $1000 between these two highly specced medium SUVs. But because of those option packs, the Skoda is able to score better across the board.
Aside from the relatively stagnant driveline, the Jeep Compass doesn’t put a foot wrong. It feels fresh, drives well, and has enough space for a medium SUV.
The Skoda does all of these things as well, but does them better. Having more torque available throughout the low and middle rev ranges makes it much more tractable, refined, enjoyable and ultimately faster.
And with the addition of adaptive dampers and driving modes, you’re able to tailor the Karoq to your own whims nicely. And for me, it’s Comfort mode every day of the week. And it’s the Karoq every day, as well.