It may be the only carmaker in history that has never actually manufactured a car.
Not what most people would call a car anyway. Four-wheel drive only.
The Jeep has always been about one thing from its history in the mud and ruts on the battlefields of World War II. Goes anywhere.
While other car brands have stepped on the 4WD track only – Land Rover, for example – their posh 4WD machines, such as the small Range Rover Evoque, definitely belong in “car” territory.
But not Jeep.
The closest they have come to making a “car” in almost 80 years of history is this one. It’s called the Jeep Compass and it’s the first model ever to carry the famous nameplate which is not just about getting places that others can not.
The compass is … gulp … an SUV. It’s even available in front-wheel drive configuration, for god’s sake.
Most jeeps have names like Gladiator, Commander, Aggressor and Liberator that enhance their muscular, hairy persona.
But a compass?
It can make a driver feel lost, which is not entirely misleading in the case of this rather soft, fairly civilized Jeep.
The compass has been around for a couple of years but it recently underwent an extensive makeover in the middle of the model, inside and out.
Most of the attention was on the brand new interior with better technology, greatly improved infotainment systems and lots of luxurious meetings. Outside, a new grill and headlight arrangement brings Compass in line with Jeep’s latest corporate look.
Tested here is the model S Limited, which sits just below the flagship Trailhawk at the top of the Compass series.
It is softer and more sophisticated than any other Jeep – nicely designed, impressive finish and highly equipped.
The new interior comes with dual 10.1-inch digital display screens – one for the instrument panel and the other for touch screen access to infotainment and cabin control systems.
The new Uconnect 5 system is impressive and easy to use, while driver assistance safety features include traffic sign recognition, intelligent speed assistance, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic warning and blind spot.
However, it has an overly zealous lane departure warning system that makes unnecessary and often unwelcome inputs to the steering when it feels the driver is not paying attention to the line markings properly.
The leather seats are both heated and ventilated – impressive for a car in this segment – as are the sunroof and 360-degree parking camera.
The generous kit comes at a price – $ 46,500 – that drives the Jeep dangerously close to some of the best-selling vehicles in this competitive market segment. Key rivals include the Toyota RAV4 Edge, Mazda’s CX-5 GT and Hyundai Tucson Highlander – all of which are $ 50,000 investments.
Although the compass is good in many ways, it will end up pulling buyers away from these segment leaders. The main culprit is its 2.4-liter engine – a transmission from the previous model and which delivers a modest 129kW and 229Nm – which feels insufficient for a car of this size.
It consumes an official mark of 9.7 l / 100 km, which is not good for any modern machine, let alone a small vehicle with a nine-speed automatic transmission.
There was also a noticeable hum (or growling) that came from the driveline during normal operation with dense roads. It can be intrusive, especially on quiet, smooth surfaces.
While a turbodiesel is offered in the Trailhawk, the petrol version can handle a turbocharger to compete with its Mazda and Hyundai rivals.
The new cockpit talks about quality, but its well-proportioned appearance to some extent exceeds the car’s off-road capacity – as well as the controls for the off-road system.
The switch marked 4WD Low, for example, does not mean low range but only ensures that the transmission stays in first gear while driving through soft ground. Likewise, the “diff lock” setting engages four-wheel drive permanently, rather than on request.
The system allows the driver to choose between mud, sand and snow, which indicates that the compass has at least a certain level of terrain capacity.
While it may tick many boxes for those looking for a city-focused machine that can also be a useful off-road worker, its weaknesses, along with the car’s price tag, make it a difficult choice against some quality resistors.
JEEP COMPASS S-LIMITED
* HOW BIG? It officially belongs to the small SUV category but is probably half the size larger than that, with impressive interior space and generous carrying capacity.
* HOW FAST? Its 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine – which produces 129K / W – is well behind the class leaders. It does the job but is hardly a dynamic achievement.
* HOW CRAZY? It sucks 9.7L / 100km which is nothing to write home about.
* HOW MUCH? It costs more than $ 50,000 when you consider the cost of the road.