One has to say that Jeep isn't exactly a mainstream brand in this part of the world. Sure, we're seeing a lot more Wranglers on the road, but you don't often see other Jeep models are cruising the streets. The thing is, that might just change soon.
When Jeep Philippines dropped the prices on the Renegade and Compass (thanks, ACFTA), it seems that they want a bigger slice of the market. With both those models being offered at less than Php 2 million, it could be said that owning a Jeep is suddenly more attainable. We tested the Renegade before and, while it's far from perfect, it has a certain charm. But now, it's the turn of the Compass to be evaluated.
The Compass sits just above the Renegade in the Jeep hierarchy, which could explain its more serious and sober exterior design. Whereas the Renegade has a playful and funky exterior, the Compass looks like a typical crossover, at least in first impressions. Mind you, it's not a bad looking crossover but next to its smaller sibling, the Compass just blends into the background. But if you take the Renegade out of the equation and see the Compass for what it is, you might find it rather good looking.
There's the classic seven-slot grille you see in all Jeep models, so that helps it stand out from other crossovers out there. Its bulging fenders add a bit more aggression and it's helped by its slab-sided flanks. These little visual tricks Jeep applied to the Compass make it look larger than the dimensions. It's less than 4.5 meters long, so it competes in the B-crossover class, but it doesn't look like it.
To be honest, the interior is just as conventional-looking as the exterior. There aren't many “surprise and delight” design touches, but one can appreciate the way it feels. Most of the cabin materials used at the front aren't the garden variety hard plastics. The whole dash is soft to touch and rather thickly padded, which is something of a rarity these days. Switches and dials have a solid feel to them, giving you the impression that the whole car is sturdy. After all, it's something you expect from a brand that prides itself on building tough four-wheel-drives.
I do wish Jeep put a leather-wrapped steering wheel in the Compass because the polyurethane somewhat spoils the upmarket feel of the interior. The steering wheel is something you'll be holding all the time and, personally, it would have been nicer if it felt nicer to hold. Also, the sight of blank switches isn't exactly fitting of a crossover that's competing against the likes of the Subaru XV, Honda HR-V, or Mazda CX-30. Yes, the interior feels well-built, but I couldn't help but think Jeep could have done more.
That's not to say it's bare inside the Compass. It comes with a relatively comprehensive infotainment system dubbed Uconnect. The system comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Baidu Carlife. Apple CarPlay is a feature I greatly appreciate in any car because, for me, it just makes the touchscreen a whole lot easier to use.
Other features? There are three charging ports inside so nobody has to scramble over one 12-volt socket. Its rear air-conditioning vents are a welcome sight too, especially in a country that regularly has 32 degree days. But perhaps my favorite feature would be the massive panoramic sunroof, maybe because I'm a sucker for natural light. Slide back its cover and you've given the impression of space, no matter where you're seated.
Speaking of space, the Compass has loads of it for your legs. Whether you're seated at the front or the back, you never get the impression that you're being squeezed inside. However, the same couldn't be said about the headroom. As much as I like having a sunroof, these things will always eat up headroom and the Compass is no exemption. I'm not a particularly tall person but anyone over 5'8” might find their heads brushing the ceiling. At least the Compass gets some points back by having a massive cargo area. While we don't expect it to haul anything from job sites, it has well over 700 liters of space back there. Carrying balikbayan boxes won't be much of an issue in the Compass.
Now, for the engine and it's largely similar to the one used in the Renegade. To recap, it's a 1.4-liter turbo dubbed MultiAir, and it's sourced from Fiat. Despite having essentially the same engine as the Renegade, the one fitted to the Compass makes more power. Instead of 147 PS and 230 Nm of torque, the MultiAir in the Compass makes 162 PS and 250 Nm of torque. It then shifts with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and, as early as now, I will say that it's the weakest point of this crossover.
I won't beat around the bush here: the transmission hates low-speeds and traffic. The dual-clutch in the Compass is jerky, hesitant, and slow to react. Granted, it's fine when you're cruising but most of us spend our time on the road barely getting past 40 km/h. Since the transmission can't switch as swiftly, overtaking requires a little bit more patience and a different style. Perhaps the transmission wasn't programmed properly, or maybe it's the low mileage of the tester (it barely had 100 kilometers). It wasn't helped by the overly eager brakes either.
Not only that, but the transmission also blunts both performance and fuel economy. In heavy city traffic, it registered a low of 4.2 kilometers per liter. I can forgive it if it had a 3.0-liter under the hood but a 1.4-liter shouldn't drink that much fuel, even it's turbocharged. It does make up for it in lighter traffic, registering about 13 kilometers per liter with little effort.
The transmission also makes the car feel slow too. I know the Compass isn't supposed to be a performance car but it's nice to have that extra bit of confidence when you're overtaking. When the transmission does decide to cooperate, the Compass does get off the line briskly, releasing the untapped potential of that engine.
It's a shame the transmission is like that because the rest of the car is good. Noise isolation is fantastic, especially for a car with a massive glass roof. Steering and handling are also worth mentioning too as it's responsive for a tall vehicle. It's a great cruiser too and I'm willing to forgive its firm ride because it feels so planted and stable at higher speeds and around the bends.
But we can't ignore its one massive shortcoming. The Compass could have been great if it had a better transmission. I'd rather the Compass have a conventional automatic, a CVT, or anything that isn't that specific dual-clutch fitted to our tester. Had the driving experience been smoother, this review would have a different tone. Of course, if any of that doesn't bother you, then we're not stopping you from getting one.
If you take the transmission out of the equation, the Compass has a lot to offer. It's quiet, handles well, comes with a massive (for its size) cargo area, and it feels solid. At Php 1,850,000, it's more expensive than its competition, but it's a still Jeep for less than Php 2,000,000. It's certainly a unique choice if you go for it, and you could even say it's one that lets other people know you're not one to follow the herd.