The off-road-inspired hybrid sticks to the middle of the road in a market crowded with competent rivals
The Jeep Wrangler was one of my favorite cars last year.
It was an unapologetic throwback to the models that made the brand and the kind of car you buy with your heart, not your head.
But to support that niche model in markets like the UK, Jeep needs to sell more head-over-heart stuff – simple family fare with tax-friendly engines and 21st-century toys. Cars like the compass.
Unlike smaller B-SUVs, this segment is mostly about blending in, so the Compass’ styling is pretty simple, with the usual tall and slightly boxy shape that can trace its roots back to the old Jeep Grand Cherokee. At least the spec of our test car livened things up a bit and actually looked really badass, moody and pretty cool with a deep blue colour, gloss black trim and a subtle blue background on the badges to highlight its hybrid credentials.
Because, yes, despite Jeep’s famous penchant for V6s and V8s, this smaller model is a plug-in hybrid affair with a puny 1.3-litre petrol engine.
Despite its small capacity, together with the 44kW electric motor, the Jeep produces 237bhp and it feels suitably peppy. The EV motor ensures there’s instant response when you need it and the petrol helps pull the car well, although under hard acceleration it’s clear this is a small engine working very hard.
In the Compass, the EV motor drives the rear wheels, while the gasoline handles the fronts, enabling all-wheel drive. Perhaps reflecting Jeep’s heritage, you can lock it into 4WD and there’s even a low-ratio transmission lock along with sand, snow and mud driving modes – something not offered by any rival.
In operation, the hybrid system is as unnoticeable as any other competitor. Auto mode does its job well, but there are EV and battery saver modes if you prefer to control things yourself. The transition between modes is quite smooth, with the shouty engine the most obvious giveaway.
Over a week of intermittent driving and with regular charging, the Compass returned around 60mpg. That’s less than the Ford Kuga but broadly similar to our results from other similar PHEVs. Drive it around with an empty battery for any length of time and, like rivals, you’ll see it drop into the mid-40s at best.
Interior space is decent, although generous rear legroom definitely comes at the expense of those up front. What is not so decent is the cabin quality. Design-wise, it’s as bland as a Coldplay album and, like a Coldplay album, the material quality isn’t up to much, with cheap-feeling leather and some creaky plastic parts.
The ‘S’ specification of our test car provided reasonable levels of equipment, including adaptive cruise control with auto-dipping headlights, dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging and an enhanced interior and exterior package. Unfortunately, it also brought with it a 10.25-inch screen with a painfully slow operating system and the worst driver assistance technology I’ve experienced in a long time.
Lane Assist is oversensitive and inaccurate and can’t be turned off completely – you’re left with the nagging vibration even after you stop it and try to pull yourself across the road. Even worse, the forward collision warning is terrifyingly paranoid and even in its least sensitive setting starts screaming at you almost the minute something ahead starts to slow down.
Euro NCAP downgrades cars if they don’t have such systems but in Jeep’s case it really should be offered extra points for getting rid of its ADAS.
Aside from the hateful technology, the compass is largely unnoticeable. Its looks are straight down the line, as is the driving experience. The hybrid setup works as well as most rivals and the ride is decent but it does nothing to stand out. With rivals such as the Toyota Rav4/Suzuki Across and the new Sportage PHEV impressing with their performance and design, the Compass feels directionless.
Award: £40,895 (£43,575 as tested); Engine: 1.3-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol with 44kW electric motor; Force: 237 hp; Torque: n/a; Transfer: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive Top speed: 124 mph; 0-62 mph: 7.3 seconds; Economy: 148.7mpg; CO2 emissions: 44g/km; EV range: 30 miles