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First Look: Jeep compass

LiveMint logoLiveMint 13-06-2017 Shapur Kotwal

Think of iconic American brands that have made a mark in India, and Apple, McDonald’s, Levi’s and Coca-Cola come to mind. We recently got a taste of another venerable brand from the US—in Jeep, the carmaker that gave the concept of SUVs to the world. It came to India with two high-end models called the Grand Cherokee and the Wrangler. The Compass, its forthcoming premium SUV, will cost Rs18-24 lakh and rival the Hyundai Tucson. Could this be Jeep’s trump card?

It’s a handsome car, with well-defined shoulders, sharp lines on the bonnet and tough, square wheel arches. Of course, it gets the Jeep-typical, seven-slot grille design and the slightly sunken headlights, all of which make it look like a baby Grand Cherokee. But it looks a touch ungainly from certain angles, owing to the flat bonnet and long cabin.

Step in, though, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The dashboard design is quite boring, with shiny plastic bits (the piano black finish which surrounds the vents doesn’t feel very nice, for instance) and the small touchscreen is a bit fiddly to use. Also, it’s quite a climb into the cabin, and that could be an issue for older people.

Graphic: Vipul Sharma/Mint

These niggles aside, everything inside feels straight out of a luxury car. Soft-feel textures, supple leather and a build that’s genuinely tank-like, leave a lasting impression. Jeep has even specified this top-of-the-line Limited 4x4 variant with a premium alpine leather interior. The soft and supple seats are finished in “snow white”, which won’t be easy to keep clean, but they feel supremely luxurious. Furthermore, the leather-wrapped steering wheel, the superbly crafted door pads, and the metal-tipped gear knob lift the overall experience.

The space inside is huge, with plenty of leg- and shoulder-room, and the front seats are extremely comfortable. Even the rear seats are amply supportive, and set at just the right height; the back rest doesn’t recline though. Still, it will work well for chauffeur-driven buyers.

It’s quite big on safety too. The anti-lock braking system (ABS) and electronic stability protection (ESP) features are standard, and you also get Panic Brake Assist capabilities, Electronic Roll Mitigation, and six airbags.

Jeep has knocked out a few key features though. You get four-wheel drive and Jeep’s Select Terrain multi-drive mode system, but there’s no diesel automatic yet. Also, the equipment expected in a car in this class, such as a sunroof, auto headlights and an auto-dimming mirror, is missing.

To put the Compass through its paces, we got off the road, into some barren fields with bunds, rocky ledges and steep inclines. The Compass initially walked it. It stalled up a steep rise, but with the four-wheel-drive switched on the second time around, it bounded up and over. It comfortably clambered over medium-sized rocks and fairly rough terrain. And what left a lasting impression is that it just felt tough, solid and unbreakable.

Back on the road, it settled down nicely on a slightly bumpy tarmac. There was a mild rocking movement over the lumpier bits, but for the most part, the ride was supple, absorbent and silent.

Straight-line stability is superb, but it wallows and leans quite a bit on curvy sections of road. However, the Compass is not averse to corners; rather, it feels quite confident when you drive around bends enthusiastically.

Fiat’s 2.0-litre Multijet II diesel engine will make its debut in India with the Compass. Producing 170hp, it sends power, primarily to the front wheels, via a six-speed manual gearbox. The engine feels quite refined on the move, but there is a fair amount of pitter-patter at idle. It’s responsive only after 1,800 rpm, and performance thereafter is strong all the way to 4,000-4,500 rpm. In fact, the Compass gathers speed rapidly when you keep your right foot flat on the floor. But even though the slick gearbox is easy to use, the Compass is best enjoyed when not pushed flat out. The motor feels a bit strained when you rev it hard. The Compass will, however, cruise happily between 130 kmph and 140 kmph, and there’s a lot more power available.

In all, the Compass is an impressive SUV that seems to take full advantage of Jeep’s pedigree. It will hit showrooms this August, with the fully loaded variant likely to cost around Rs24 lakh.

What you will get for your money is real off-road ability, solid build and plenty of luxury and comfort on the inside. Sure, the high-set cabin means getting into the SUV is a bit of a task, some essential equipment like the sunroof is missing, and buyers will have to contend with Fiat’s scrawny dealer network. But this SUV’s fundamentals are so strong, it’s difficult not to compare it with costlier cars like the VW Tiguan. The Compass may indeed be the value luxury SUV you have been waiting for.

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