More power, more grille, and more screens for AMG’s ‘sensible’ sports-4x4s
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£19,470 when new
As I gazed at the new Jeep Compass, drinking in its concept-car-like curves, I remembered asking a dumb foreigner’s question at the launch of the second-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee back in 1999: why do you develop and fit amazing, heavy, expensive off-road systems to these cars, when 99 per cent of them will spend 99 per cent of their time in town, where 4WD is redundant? “Jeep customers like to know that their vehicles can go off-road, even if they don’t choose to use that ability,” said the Jeep boss proudly. Would you ever offer a cheaper RWD version of this car to customers who know they’ll never go off-road? “No, off-roading is at the core of the Jeep brand.”
There’s been some mission creep in the last eight years. Today, about a quarter of all Grand Cherokees sold in the United States are rear-wheel drive. And now we have this new Compass, a cheapish soft-road SUV, which, in a first for Jeep, is identical mechanically to another Chrysler product – in this case the uninspiring Dodge Caliber, a tall Ford Focus rival. Jeep is extending its brand in some distinctly non-hardcore directions, and why not? Chrysler’s in trouble and Jeep makes money, so let’s forget off-roading, eh? The compact SUV segment is a lucrative and growing one, and soft-roaders like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 have been cashing in on Jeep’s rugged 4x4 qualities for years, without being particularly rugged or 4x4. And neither is the Compass, using a useless-for-off-road 4x2 system that sits in front-wheel drive most of the time and delivers torque to the rear wheels when things get a bit slippy. Still, it’s priced competitively, undercutting the bigger and better-built RAV4 and CR-V by about £5k. The Compass drives in a solid way – not inspiring, not bad. The diesel CRD version we sampled is the one to go for, fitted with a 2.0-litre VW engine developing 138bhp and 229lb ft of torque, and mated to a slick six-speed gearbox. The engine is noisy, but delivers adequate oomph – the Compass steers, handles and stops better than you’d expect, and it’s quite economical too. Potential buyers might just baulk at the interior quality though, which is treading very close to being rubbish for a near-£19k car. Fit and finish is borderline appalling. But the chunky design is OK and there’s plenty of kit, so it’s unlikely to affect the length of the queues at your local Jeep dealer.