Jeep's new budget-beater in SA
Jeep's Compass may have the signature seven-slot grille, round lights and all-wheel drive for which the brand is renowned but this baby is also making a very aggressive grab at the lower end of the SUV market.
Aimed from the outset at city slickers aged mid-20s to late 30s, the Compass is smaller than any existing model in the line-up and is pitched directly at Toyota's RAV4 and Honda's CR-V.
Depending on which way you look at it, the Compass is a mix of slinky curves and chiselled angles that needs to be seen to be appreciated. Admittedly, though not immediately bowled over by its idiosyncrasies, there is something strangely endearing about the styling. (The Jeep suits would prefer you call it URV for urban recreational vehicle...).
The Compass is a lot like its cousin, Dodge's Caliber (the two share underpinnings and several other goodies from the DaimlerChrysler parts bin) yet remains different in many ways.
Its interior is also a maze of hard plastics that includes the aluminium-look surround for the centre console. The cabin is made bearable with the use of nifty two-toned leather seats that soften the dark interior significantly.
These seats are very comfortable, though again (as I found with the Caliber) my driving style was compromised by the steering column beating down on my delicate knee caps whenever any footwork was required. On the other hand, my driving partner, who is considerably taller than me, stepped away from the vehicle with joints that were completely unscathed.
Lounging behind the steering wheel really isn't my style, but with the optional Boston Acoustics sound system at full tilt, it does make more sense. A set of speakers is mounted in the tailgate (Caliber, again?) and can be unclipped when the party moves outside of the car.
The load space offers up to 170 cm3 of space with all seats, barring the driver's seat, folded down. The luggage space has in a hardy nylon floor cover that can be removed and washed when required.
One trim level is offered and all Limited models are equipped with heated leather seats, power heated side mirrors, power windows (driver one-touch down), six-disc MP3 compatible CD changer, adjustable steering and a hard sliding armrest above the centre console.
Safety equipment includes ABS (with off-road calibration), ESP (with yaw sensors), traction control with brake assist and electronic roll mitigation. All 18-inch alloys are linked to a standard tyre pressure monitor. Dual front airbags and side curtain airbags take care of the occupants inside the cabin.
A Macpherson strut and multi-link arrangement has been adopted for the first time on a Jeep, with its weight and space saving properties listed as key factors.
Jeep's Freedom Drive all-wheel drive system is biased towards the front wheels in regular conditions, though four-wheel drive is engaged automatically when slippage is detected. The system can be manually engaged at any speed by using a bright chrome lever placed just ahead of the hand brake lever in the centre console.
The system proved very capable on the fast dirt roads we encountered on our route, and a 200 mm ground clearance made the light off road sections tackled seem like child's play. However, the Compass does not come with low range and is not recommended for heavy off road work. Leave those tasks to its bigger siblings instead.
On our route across picturesque sections of the Eastern Cape, we had a chance to put both engines through their paces.
The 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbodiesel pushes out 103 kW at 4 000 r/min and a gutsy 310 Nm from 1 750 to 2 500 r/min (according to DaimlerChrysler), but don't expect any fireworks from this motor below the 2 000 r/min mark.
Once moving through the notchy six-speed gearbox, the turbodiesel was an absolute pleasure and at speed was rather quiet too. It does require some revs to get going though.
NEW PETROL ENGINE
For the first time in any local DaimlerChrysler product, the 2.4-litre World Engine (developed alongside Hyundai and Mitsubishi) is being offered here. The 16-valve four cylinder dispatches 125 kW at 6 000 r/min and 220 Nm at 4 500 r/min. Though the engine capacity would suggest some serious fire power, the petrol unit, like its turbodiesel counterpart, does require a fair amount of revs (and noise) to get up to speed.
Getting the better of a few hills and trucks on the route required the occasional shift down to fourth, even third, but once up the cruising speeds, the engine would happily lope along.
Jeep claims combined fuel consumption figures of 6.5 l/100 km for the turbodiesel, and 8.7 and 9.5 l/100 km respectively for the petrol with the manual and CVT gearboxes.
Regarding the Compass' competitors, the refined Honda and the rugged Toyota have had quite a headstart in this demanding segment, which has allowed them some latitude. However, after the decades on the 4X4 beat, it would be a shame if Jeep had nothing to prove to the softies.
Compass 2.4 5-speed manual - R244 900
Compass 2.4 CVT - R254 900
Compass 2.0 CRD - R279 900
All Compass units are covered by DaimlerChrysler's three-year or 100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.