JEEP is America’s original, iconic extreme off-road brand and the oldest SUV brand there is. Originally used by the US military, its since become an upmarket choice for the school run. With its latest Compass SUV, which goes on sale this month (the first modern Jeep to be offered with a two-wheel “soft roader” option), Jeep hopes to attract new buyers who would have previously thought the brand was too expensive, while also grabbing sales from people that would otherwise buy a hatchback.
Jeep’s first-generation entry-level Compass had mixed reviews. The compact SUV was criticised for having a poor interior with too much plastic trim and for having quirky bug-eyed looks and questionable ride-quality. Some of the engines offered weren’t so great either and it didn’t sell as well as it should have.
This facelifted version represents something of a new beginning for Jeep since Fiat bought in to the American brand. The new Compass has an improved interior, reworked chassis and Grand Cherokee-inspired looks. The Compass 2.2 CRD we’re driving also has a new engine.
The result is an SUV that is undoubtedly better-looking, if still a bit quirky. From the front the car carries much of the cool sophistication of its top-end sibling, the Grand Cherokee. But at the rear, it looks bulky and isn’t svelte enough to look truly sporty. Which is why the rear passenger door handles hidden up high in the C-pillars look silly. The resulting unbroken metal door surface appears as if somebody forgot to put the door handles on and it spoils the car’s looks somewhat.
But inside things are better. The new steering wheel, so often quite forgettable in SUVs in particular, is marvellous. Its cool three-spoke design has a quality feel and adds some genuine and unique character to an interior, that though premium, is quite plain. It’s clean, comfortable and has a no-nonsense pragmatism about it. It feels roomy too.
The 2.2 litre CRD diesel I drove has four-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, though there will also be a 2-litre petrol-engined 2WD manual version, a 134hp 2.2 CRD model and a 2.4 litre 4WD petrol version with automatic transmission. Prices will start from £16,995.
Driving the 2.2 litre CRD through the Buckinghamshire backroads, I found its new diesel engine to be pokey and surprisingly refined. Even better, the car felt much more like a compact European SUV to drive than expected. It felt much sportier than any American SUV I can remember. This is a huge plus for a product that will have to deal with European bends, rather than just cruising along on vast highways. The 6-speed gearbox felt pretty slick too and I found I liked it, though the noise of the 120bhp engine was more intrusive than it could have been. On the road it’s not the most refined but it has a cheerful pragmatism, even if it’s a little rough round the edges. All in all, the Compass felt like an improved Jeep that has remained true to its roots. The question now is whether UK drivers will buy into it.
0-62MPH: 9.8 SECS
TOP SPEED: 125 MPH
CO2 G/KM: 172G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 42.8MPG
VALUE FOR MONEY