Think of the term ‘SUV’ and certain names invariably pop up in your head. Brands that have cemented their place as quintessential off roaders, stood the test of time, and continued to be the very essence of what the term stands for – sporty, rugged with a go-anywhere attitude.
Jeep is one such brand. The American stalwart of hardcore off-roaders has been a byword for well performing SUVs for several years now. But the iconic brand never really forayed into the SUV loving Indian market, till recently. The Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee were the first to be launched in 2016, but sadly, their steep prices put them out of reach for even the most affluent buyers.
But all that changed in the later half of 2017 with the launch of the Jeep Compass; a sharply focussed SUV for emerging markets that clearly put India at the centre of a major global initiative. Both as a manufacturing & export hub, as well as a critical market for the brand. After all, it is hard to ignore one of the top three passenger car markets in the world anymore.
The Compass was the most anticipated launch of the year and a make-or-break effort for the India Operations of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the global owners of the Jeep brand. Venturing into the premium end of the Indian market, where every fourth vehicle sold is an SUV, the brand hoped to cement its place in a crowded space while retaining the quintessential Jeep character. And it has been a fairy tale ever since. The Compass has impressed critics and customers alike, notching up sales of 10,000 vehicles within just four months of launch, and sweeping most of the year end awards for the Car/ SUV of the Year. The compass has been pointing north for FCA India ever since, and they wouldn’t be complaining.
We had the Jeep Compass Limited Option 4X4 2.0 Diesel in our garage for a week and that called for an impromptu road trip. A quick call to our friends Shivi & Rudy Singh who manage the heritage homestay Clifton at Ayarpatta Hill, had our stay sorted. Clifton is a charming old world estate located at a higher altitude overlooking Nainital, and comes highly recommended if you are looking for a peaceful, secluded retreat in the hills within six hours driving distance. Once we had the route figured, navigation mode on and Android Auto activated on our Honor 7X device, we hit the highway at 5:30 am on a cold winter morning, ready to take on the mountains.
Few offerings in the segment demand as much attention as the Compass does on Indian roads. Distinct Jeep styling cues such as the iconic seven-slat front grille design and the rectangular headlamps give it a distinct look unlike any other car in its segment. The Compass looks upmarket and its design is reminiscent of big brother Grand Cherokee. The tail lamps and squared off wheel arches do make it look like a sized down version of its much more expensive sibling. The Jeep Compass is an overall design win, with strong lines and muscular haunches giving it an undeniable presence on the road. The chrome lip in the front and the chrome line running from the A-pillar all the way to the rear adds a touch of class, complemented by the sloping roofline for a well proportioned profile. While bigger alloys would have been nicer, the 17″ ones on the Limited variant looked decent and provided a comfortable ride across terrains. We also weren’t big fans of the Minimal Grey colourway of our test car, and felt that the Compass stood out much more in some of the other colour options that are available.
Inside the Compass you are greeted with a functional cabin design which is pretty no-nonsense in its approach. The dashboard design is a tad old fashioned, and is more function than form. The dual-tone cockpit utilises good materials overall, but don’t expect opulent luxury. Most surfaces that you would tend to touch and feel everyday are soft touch, and a special mention goes out for the satin finish on the gear lever which looks and feels premium. Front and rear seat comfort is amongst the best in class, and rear seat legroom and headroom is ample. The ride quality in the Compass does feel like a class above. The seats are done in ski-grey leather with red stitching and makes the interior look spacious and brighter. Maintenance could be an issue in the long run though.
While the Compass is a great place to be, in-cabin storage spaces are next to nothing. Apart from a couple of cup holders in the front and back, space for everyday storage is limited. Most Jeep aficionados would tend to carry a lot of personal cargo for those outdoorsy trips and the space on offer in the armrest bin, glovebox and door pockets can be seriously underwhelming. The provision for keeping loose change, smartphones and other essentials is woefully inadequate and some more thoughtfully designed slots could have been incorporated with ease. At the rear, the cargo hold of 438L is ample to accommodate weekend luggage for four, but the lift-over height can pose a challenge if you are vertically challenged.
The Compass excels in the features department though. Our top of the line Limited (O) variant came with a 7″ Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system, loaded with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Also available is bluetooth and auxiliary support, with a very impressive 6-speaker audio system. There is a reverse parking camera which was quite helpful while manoeuvring through some tight spots in Nainital and through Cheena Peak Range, Kilbury and Pangot, where some roads are just wide enough for a single car to pass through. Greeted by head on traffic at a blind turn, there were a few occasions where we had to drive in reverse gear for a good 50 metres on winding mountain roads, before finding a spot that allowed two cars to pass.
The Compass has a quiet cabin with minimal NVH levels and comes with a two zone automatic climate control with rear vents. While the air con is effective, a large part of the central console space is occupied by the manual climate control knobs which are pretty redundant, as climate settings can be accessed through the touchscreen. If only one could trade off the space for some much required storage.
The Compass does have a few other misses. There are no auto headlamps or rain sensing wipers and one would have expected electronically adjustable seats for the driver and a sunroof to feature in the range topping model at least. Jeep drives can be arduous and adventurous, therefore these features are essentials at this price point, rather than indulgences. Vanity mirrors are not illuminated either. Another quirk that we found was the visible blank switches on one side of the steering, even though Jeep decided to put the audio controls on the back of the wheel. We would have liked to see a more streamlined design, with the audio controls in the front. However, Jeep has not compromised on safety equipment though, and the Compass Limited (O) comes with 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, Electronic Stability Control and Electronic Rollover Mitigation.
Our test Compass came with the 2.0 litre Fiat derived MultiJet engine producing 173 PS of peak power and 350 Nm of torque. While power delivery is relatively smooth, and the Compass puts down its horsepower in a linear fashion, there is a bit of lag below 1800 RPM. Which is when the torque kicks in. A punchier engine would have made for a more exhilarating drive, though we never felt a shortage of power even when we attempted some mild off roading. That said, the Jeep Compass has really hit the mark with its driving dynamics, and the car’s steering feels perfectly weighted with just the right amount of feedback. The perfectly sized tilt & telescopic steering wheel is a treat and looks brilliant with its contoured horn pad, concentric chrome rings, Jeep branding in the centre and leather wrapped grip.
The Compass comes equipped with a feature called Frequency Selective Damping System, which adjusts the dampers on the suspension according the road conditions and driving style. This ensures that it offers a smooth and pliant ride at all time, while never compromising on driving dynamics. In our experience, the Jeep remained planted on the highway even at high speeds, and induced a comforting feeling to the driver not offered by many others in the segment. The high ground clearance and higher seating position added to the assurance and was confidence inducing in tricky terrains. There is a bit of body roll, but that’s to be expected from a large and heavy SUV such as this. However, the turning radius did bother us on sharp mountain bends and the long front overhang caused a few scrapes on steep inclines.
Our test Compass returned an average of 14.2 km/l over a total drive distance of 827 kms. Which is impressive considering over 150 kms of it was hill driving. On highways, we returned the best efficiency figures of 18.4 km/l, which again was mighty impressive.
The diesel Compass comes mated with a 6-speed manual transmission, and as of now only the petrol variants get a 7-speed automatic transmission. The manual on the Compass is a smooth shifting unit, with short precise throws making for an enjoyable drive. The procedure to engage the reverse gear could take a little getting used to, as it is slotted above the first. Also, the very minimal travel in the clutch pedal could be an issue initially. If you disengage it abruptly in lower gears, you are bound to stall. The Compass also comes with an electronic handbrake, although it is one of those vehicles where you long for a manual unit to aid off roading, steep inclines or declines. Jeep’s SelecTerrain off-roading system is a blessing though, and while the Compass is primarily front wheel drive, with the SelecTerrain system engaged, it can automatically send power to the rear wheels when it detects a loss of traction. It comes with an Auto mode to detect terrain management and has specific modes such as Snow, Sand and Mud to aid multi terrain drives. Not surprisingly, the Jeep Compass retains its traditional ‘go anywhere’ attitude.
Our week with the Jeep Compass quite literally had its ups and downs. We navigated through cities, highways & mountains with a bit of mild off roading in between. But the Compass dealt with everything that was thrown at it rather well. Its quintessential Jeep styling turned heads, its well appointed cabin was a treat to be in, and its pliant ride and strong driving dynamics grew on us as we spent more time with it. A competent product at its price point that will most likely be your first choice for a test drive if you are in the market for an SUV.
What stood out the most about the Compass was its refusal to compromise on the traditional brand characteristics despite being an entry level Jeep. It is a worthy addition to the legacy and reaches out to a newer and younger audience with a truly global product, that is sheer value for money by a significant mile. With prices starting at INR 15.16 lacs and going up to INR 21.37 lacs, there’s a variant to match every budget.
The Compass is already a huge success and it deserves all the applause it has been getting. If it can manage to build on the customer confidence on the product with its after sales and service, it will surely continue with its winning streak through 2018, even in the wake of new launches from competition.