"The Jeep Compass is more aggressive and rugged looking than most of its rivals, but lacks quality and is noisy on the move"
When it was released in the UK, the new Jeep Compass opened a new chapter for Jeep. Designed to directly rival the Nissan Qashqai and the Land Rover Freelander, it was the manufacturer's first model to be offered with two-wheel drive. It still sports the trademark Jeep grill and boxy exterior design, looking suitably aggressive, feeling as rugged as you’d expect and pretty macho compared to its nearest rivals. It has prominent wheel arches that won’t suit everyone purely because they’re so hard to ignore. Inside, there's been a serious improvement from the previous model's interior, but still doesn’t feel upmarket because of a lack of high-quality soft-touch materials. It certainly doesn’t match rivals such as Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Tiguan or Nissan Qashqai. Passengers in the back don’t get much legroom, either, with a high transmission tunnel nearly filling the whole middle-seat foot well, so a full car gets pretty uncomfortable on long journeys. You get to choose between two petrol engines and a single 2.2-litre diesel, with most buyers likely to plump for the latter – our pick of the range. Off road the Compass performs well, but on the road, while it may handle well, its suspension is a bit firm and the interior gets pretty noisy. It's not an unpleasant place to be, however, because general levels of standard equipment are good.
Off road is where the Compass proves its worth, showing off Jeep's engineering at its best with its high ground clearance and capable engines. On the road, however, it feels noisy and unrefined. There are two standard gearboxes – a five and six-speed manual – that are both alarmingly clunky, while an improved automatic model is only available on top-of-the-range 2.4-litre CVT Limited specs. Luckily, all models grip the road well, and even the base 2.0-litre petrol model has decent performance, getting the Compass from 0-62mph in 10.6 seconds. The fastest of the range is the 2.2-litre diesel with four-wheel drive, but the hike in price and running costs you’ll have to pay for that speed aren't really worth the extra outlay. Body roll is controlled but it can take a while to get used to the big steering wheel movements required to get it to respond. All in, the Compass is only really for people who need impressive off-road ability above all else.
The Compass is noisy. There's no getting away from the fact that even the most powerful diesel engine growls loudly under heavy acceleration. Then there's the inadequate sound proofing inside, which means all engines fill the interior with their loud clatter at motorway speeds, while wind and road noise mix in to create quite a din. The quality of materials used inside also lack sophistication, while limited leg room in the back and a high floor make longer journeys decidedly trying if you want to carry the full five passengers. All in all, it's much less comfortable and relaxing that its similarly priced rivals from Nissan and Volkswagen.
Jeep has an improving reputation for reliability combined with strong build quality – which is backed up by its 18th place appearance in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, showing some improvement over previous bad showings. However, not one Jeep model made it into the top 150 cars, so what that overall ranking is based on is unclear. For its part, the Compass does feel well made and there haven’t been any major problems reported. Safety, however, is not good. While it may get six airbags, electronic stability control and a smart rollover prevention system, it only scored two stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests. It was particularly bad for pedestrian safety, scoring only 23 per cent, but even adult occupancy was just 61 per cent. At least child protection ranked higher at 76 per cent but that's still well off the current class standard and must be improved if Jeep wants to properly compete with the likes of the Nissan Qashqai.
The boot is wide, but not as deep as you’d expect, offering a decent-enough 458 litres of space. Fold down the rear seats and that expands to a strong 1,269 litres. Up front, the raised driving position gives an excellent view sitting above the rest of the traffic, and the dashboard is appealing and suitably functional. But you can’t adjust the steering wheel for reach, so it's difficult to find a comfy driving position and the large rear pillars make the view out the back a bit limited. Then there's the compromised rear legroom, with the high transmission tunnel making the footwells shallower than average, and the middle seat nearly redundant. The rear door bins are a bit small, too, with not enough room even for a decent-sized bottle of water.
Value for money
All models in the range, including the entry-level Sport, come equipped with air-conditioning, all-around electric windows, front fog lamps, cruise control, alloy wheels and iPod connectivity as standard. Sport+ models add Bluetooth and USB connectivity, climate control and extra curtain airbags, while top-spec Limited and 70th Anniversary versions get heated leather seats, a six-CD stereo, larger alloy wheels and four-wheel drive as standard. Price-wise, the starting cost is just shy of £17,500, which makes it quite a lot cheaper than the Qashqai, Kuga and Skoda Yeti. If you factor in its high equipment levels that does make it good value, but you have to decide whether you can tolerate its other deficiencies like ride comfort and safety. It's worth considering more expensive rivals, which offer a more entertaining drive and a quieter ride.
The 2.2-litre diesel, two-wheel drive Compass is the most efficient, returning 46.3mg and emitting 161g/km if CO2, which is adequate for a small SUV. If you go for the petrol engines these numbers tumble – the 2.0-litre petrol returns 37.2mpg and emits 175g/km of CO2, which means an annual road tax payment of £190. You can also expect the petrol models to need servicing more often, which will heavily impact on running costs. If you consider that the Compass is not expected to have good resale value in the used car market, it becomes clear that any savings you might make on point of purchase will then be cancelled out by the day-to-day costs and a substantial loss when you come to sell it on.