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What is this? This is something we’ve been waiting on for ages – a replacement for the truly abysmal old Jeep Compass. We like to say that there aren’t any bad cars made today, but that proved us all wrong. It didn’t really warrant wearing the hallowed Jeep badge, so is best forgotten as quickly as possible. This new one didn’t need to be much better to be impressive then? No, it didn’t. But thankfully it is. Way better. Based on the same platform as the new Renegade (known internally as the Small Wide 4x4), just stretched a few inches, this mini Grand Cherokee – available in front-wheel drive and multi-mode 4x4 versions – looks right and goes right, straight out of the gate. What drivetrain is it using?
This is just the first salvo in what will be a global invasion of different variants. The new Compass is being built in four different locations – China, Mexico, Brazil and India – and will feature no fewer than 17 different powertrain options. In the US it gets, initially at least, just the 180bhp 2.4-litre ‘Tigershark’ four-cylinder petrol mated to a six- or nine-speed automatic, or a six-speed manual. In the UK, it will also be available with 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel engines. How does it drive? Leaps and bounds better than the outgoing car. With just 180bhp driving 1,540kg through an auto gearbox, it’s a long way from offering scorching performance. But it’s more than ample for the type of use this car will get on and off-road. The nine-speed auto feels a lot better sorted than in the last Cherokee we drove with the same gearbox, being both smoother in action and less frenetic. The six-speed was fine, too. There weren’t any manuals present so we can’t comment on those yet. The handling is on the soft side, but compliant and secure enough to mop up jumps and hard cornering without complaining. What about off-road? There is a huge difference in the off-road abilities of this second gen Compass. Where the original car would hardly climb a kerb without grinding some of the undercarriage, this new model is now properly capable of scaling and descending impossible looking off-road obstacles. Just like any vehicle wearing the Jeep badge should, then. For serious off-road types, there’s a Trailhawk model (below), complete with tow hooks, stickier tyres and one-inch higher ride height.
And the interior? Huge win here for the new car. Following the design language of the Grand Cherokee, the new Compass now has a class-competitive interior. Everything you use on a regular basis is functionally and visually sound. The standout feature is the new U-Connect control system and Beats hi-fi. The first is still the best in the business and the second is appreciably better in volume and quality than we were expecting. OK, so it’s either the Compass, the Renegade or the Cherokee. Which one should I buy? Good question. In terms of all round practicality, the Compass probably wins. It has the biggest boot, is the best looking, we’d say, and has sufficient performance for the segment. The Renegade only makes more sense if you don’t carry stuff and want a shorter car for parking reasons. And the only real cause to get the Cherokee is its greater variety of engines and specs. Or if you actually like the way it looks. When can we expect to see them in dealers? The US cars will be joining the line-up in the next couple of months, alongside the outgoing Compass – and the Patriot – which remains in the range while production of the new car spools up. The UK-bound cars are being produced in India and won’t be landing until the third or fourth quarter of this year. The wait, though, should be worthwhile.