Hands-On Tech – Jeep Compass

This is our Hands-On-Tech (HOT) report series. Here we take a look at the top spec connectivity features offered by manufacturers in detail, and try to compare the connectivity functionality based on various test criteria. The Jeep Compass is fast becoming a global bestseller, nipping at the heels of its rivals in almost all key markets including the US, India and Europe. But is all this glory a little out of place? Performance wise, not one iota. But if Jeep wants this love affair to last forever, they need to make some major adjustments.

The switchgear in the Jeep Compass is extensive. Like Volvo, FCA’s strategy for managing the switchboard digitization transition is to provide all possible options and let the driver choose how they best prefer to use that particular feature. While the breadth of choice is commendable, the duplication is confusing and it could be argued that allowing drivers to control features based on “what they’re used to” won’t help the transition progress quickly. What is the rush? Avoidable costs are added unnecessarily to the price of the vehicle.

Jeep Compass steering wheel controls are new. The left side buttons switch between audio sources, while buttons behind the steering wheel – pressed with the index and middle fingers – move between stations. Ergonomically designed, this is a pleasant discovery. However, it did serve to highlight how spaced out the controls were, making adjusting cruise control speeds much more onerous for smaller hands. The joystick style, found in other vehicles in this series, works much more effectively in this situation.

Instead of having to look down to a horizontal console, the Park Assist button is on the vertical console, just below the display. This is helpful for the driver’s peripheral vision, to keep monitoring the ever-changing parking environment and feels much safer.

Next to Park Assist is the button to turn off the parking sensors. Tesla – at last check, given its ability to send a new iteration to the car remotely – has this as a digital option nested in the settings menu (and there’s a wide range of choices to decide exactly which chimes you want to disable). Given the sensitivity of the parking sensors (parked behind a wall and both the display and beeper were going crazy even though the car wasn’t moving) it’s convenient to have this simple button so quickly accessible. It is reset on each device.

The Compass’s large 8.4-inch display is certainly responsive, although the capacitive screen didn’t like our woolly gloves – only intermittently reacting to selection. At first, the amount of information on one frame seems overwhelming, but you can toggle the display to be more simplified. The bottom inch or so has the seven hexagonal hotkeys. The design of the interface is specific to the UConnect system, which is found in all FCA models, so it is very quickly apparent which car brand you are in. However, a negative result of this unique design is that there is less familiarity, which is distracting and the system doesn’t seem very intuitive initially.

Voice control
There is no data connection on board. As a result, the built-in natural language processing (NLP) is noticeably slow and quite inaccurate. Overall, the usability is incredibly frustrating.

Initiating the voice control on the steering wheel (a short press for the proprietary system, a longer press for Siri or OK Google), brings up a menu of suggested commands. Regardless of the command, the system tends to respond from the telephony menu, and once in that menu, it’s not quick or easy to get back without canceling and starting over. Unsurprisingly, the telephony function is very responsive and smooth, with the system picking out multiple numbers for certain contacts and clearly offering choices. The system is less comfortable with foreign-sounding names, but at least acknowledges this with a friendly “Shall we try that command again?”

We rated the voice control feature for both natural use and accuracy one out of five, where there was very little or no understanding, taking into account syntax and response time.

Surprisingly, the compass accesses data signals through a connected mobile device. As a result, there is no WiFi hotspot option – a shame in a model of this quality.

Companion App and Telematics
The UConnect LIVE companion application enables a user to connect to the vehicle, whether they are the owner or not. This is definitely positive, given the growth in car sharing and car club systems. UConnect LIVE enables the driver to link the connectivity suite to existing web accounts, such as TuneIn, Deezer, Facebook and Twitter. We couldn’t get Facebook to authenticate, but Twitter logged in, which could only be done when the car was stationary and the engine was off.

It was quite a surreal experience listening to a computerized voice read all the latest tweets in your feed to you. There were misplaced emotions and no sense of wanting to take each one, listen, like it and move on to the next. It was just a list. It was also difficult to create one to send, which you understandably couldn’t do while the vehicle was traveling. We are currently awaiting information from the FCA on what percentage of customers actually use this.

The TuneIn app is great because it serves as a platform to access podcasts like Desert Island Discs and This American Life. However, if a driver connects their phone, chances are they already have an app for this, which should be able to be used via the USB or bluetooth functions.

We had some very bizarre experiences when connecting our phones, and found that the audio files the system reached from the phone via a cable tended to be voice files stored elsewhere on the phone. Instead of specifically looking for music files to play via USB, it automatically selects audio recordings. This happened on both Android phones. If CarPlay or Android Auto is connected, the output can be controlled via this interface, but the proprietary system does not offer as much control.

TomTom LIVE traffic updates are enabled via the UConnect LIVE app and this worked as expected. Jeep Skills and eco:Drive are fun monitors that access driving skills and provide tips. Although there was no specific driver profiling, relative to the car, i.e. automatic seat adjustment, playlist, etc., the Jeep Compass system allows personal settings for the key fob.

Despite a number of complaints on forums from customers claiming that the premium sound system doesn’t sound very premium, our experience with the Beats speakers was excellent. A great brand collaboration, the surround sound could be turned on and off as needed and rear seat passengers felt their audio experience was greatly enhanced when it was on. It would have been good to see a selection of Volvo-style audio locations, e.g. concert hall, studio, lounge, as these presets are much easier for the non-audiophile consumer.

It is useful that there are microphones on both the driver and passenger side, which makes the quality of calls in particular much better. Even those annoying audio recordings sounded pretty good!

For the first time in the series, we had to give up trying to set up navigation with voice control. The manual input isn’t that much less frustrating though, due to the unnecessary menu clutter. There were eight steps to set up the route, more than twice as many as for the Peugeot 3008. The navigation menu does not use postcodes. By selecting “Great Britain” (third step in), the system then prompts for the exact country (ie England, Scotland, Wales), city, and so on and so forth.

Adding a waypoint was also confusing. Instead of selecting “add waypoint” at the start of the process, the driver is expected to key in the destination as if setting everything up again – first-time user fears made us wonder if it would overwrite the original route. With frequent use this wouldn’t be a problem, but it shows some of the lack of intuition. There is no standardization for such a user experience (UX) journey, but this would highlight the need to have one to maximize consumer familiarity, comfort and security.

The points of interest were extensive and as expected. Part of the MOPAR® Map Care program, the Jeep Compass is eligible for a map update every three months for three years from the initial registration date. Owners can log into a web portal with the VIN number and download the maps to transfer to the car via USB. This is another example of how useful over-the-air (OTA) updates would be and how relying on a customer-connected network connection has its drawbacks.

We rated the Jeep Compass two out of five for intuitive navigation design, with the system showing an acceptable presentation, long enclosures and somewhat unnatural UX. We scored the Compass one out of three for route accuracy, with the system failing to find the destination on multiple attempts, offering an incorrect ETA and offering little or no rerouting.

The Jeep Compass telephone system is connected to the driver’s handset. While CarPlay and Android Auto both offer this feature, the proprietary system performs strongly here. We rated the system five out of five for clear calls and four out of five for ease of use of the voice control feature, as the system didn’t seem to cross-reference the imported names and numbers for better voice responses.

Commendably, Jeep has integrated two USB ports; one front, one back. Both support mirroring applications and charging devices. There is a 12V port in the front center console and a 115V outlet in the rear. This requires a smaller travel connector and can really only power small electronic devices, such as a rear DVD player or phone (faster than the USB port would offer).

The performance of the vehicle is truly outstanding. Lane deviation helps drivers maintain lane center precisely, while the reminder to place hands firmly on the wheel is an indication of the direction Jeep is taking in the development of self-driving vehicles. The cruise control isn’t auto-adaptive, and due to the aforementioned button spacing issue, it’s not the most intuitive setup, but it eventually works.

The Park Assist function was one of the best we’ve tested so far, quickly identifying parking spaces and making quick progress to get the car parked safely. The 360-degree camera works as expected, and combined with the digital display on the cluster where the sensor picks up an obstacle (or not), it’s easy to double-check around the vehicle when maneuvering – especially useful given its size.

The aforementioned sensitivity of the sensors means that the pre-collision warning is often triggered, especially when overtaking a vehicle on the highway and yelling the words “BRAKE!” on the cluster display. Probably better safe than sorry, but some drivers can become a little “boy who cried wolf” blind to such a warning.

Compass’s appeal is broad and as such it tries to be all things to all people. This has resulted in less focus on the areas that really matter, perhaps under the assumption that CarPlay and Android Auto will dominate anyway. Stereotypically, the Jeep’s navigation leaves a lot to be desired, leaving the driver to refer to Google Maps on their handset just to double-check. The designers have even made the route blue and the car’s progress orange, despite almost all other providers using blue to track the car. At first we followed the blue line, rather than the orange, because of the inversion. Similarly, the voice control needs some attention, although this can no doubt be solved by adding independent connectivity to the vehicle. Overall, the Jeep’s system seems a bit half-baked, with things working well in places and really well in others. Overall, though, it’s mediocre…and therefore makes its own case for using a handset mirroring option.

Other models in the Hands-On-Tech (HOT) series.

*This article is an excerpt from a report that first appeared on our QUBE service. The QUBE article is accompanied by a comprehensive data sheet with our full evaluation of the Jeep’s connectivity and HMI.

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