Jeep’s small SUV, the Compass, is a bold choice and not the cheapest in its class – but does it have what it takes to push Mazda and Hyundai off their perch?
The Jeep Compass S-Limited is something of a curio crossover. Although it competes with other small SUVs such as the Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Kona and Mitsubishi ASX, the Jeep is in a field of its own with greater ride height and some genuine trail-bashing ability. In this way, it is probably most similar to the Subaru XV.
Having been introduced in 2007, the Compass is now in its second generation, with Jeep selling 900 examples of the Compass to Australian buyers so far in 2022. The Jeep Compass S-Limited has struggled against cars in the same price range such as the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, both of which sold 1789 and 1556 units respectively so far in 2022.
When there are so many roughly 25 vehicles available in the small SUV segment, I will admit that the Jeep isn’t the first that comes to mind. Its rivals that sell in much bigger numbers here in Australia seem to take the spotlight, but it begs the question: is the Jeep Compass in S Limited trim ($48,350) worth your hard earned money? That is what we are here to find out.
The Jeep Compass is available in Australia in four variants: Night Eagle ($39,950), Limited ($45,350), S-Limited ($48,350) and the exclusively diesel-only Trailhawk ($52,650). We have the luxurious S-Limited on test, which gains features such as an Alpine premium sound system, 19-inch black alloy wheels, a contrast roof and black leather seats.
Standard features include a 10.1-inch central touchscreen, wireless charging, a large 10.25-inch instrument display, rain sensing wipers and proximity keyless entry. Our test vehicle had the S-Limited Premium Package ($3195) which includes a dual-pane glass sunroof fitted, as well as a surround view camera, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats and premium leather seat trim. ‘Brilliant black’ paint on the car is a $895 option.
That brings our Compass S-Limited to a not-insignificant $52,440 before on-road costs, placing it definitely at the premium end of the mainstream small SUV set. The Mazda CX-30 in G25 Astina AWD trim is priced at $47,690 before on-road costs, while the Hyundai Kona in N-Line Premium all-wheel drive guise is $42,700. And if you want something with more luxury flare, the Audi Q3 35 TFSI automatic will cost you $50,300 before on-road costs.
Setting off through the city, on the highway and on some country roads to find out more about this very American-influenced small SUV.
Jumping into the Jeep Compass for the first time and setting off through the city, the first thing you notice is the transmission. Jeep has fitted a nine-speed ZF automatic to the Compass, which is also used in other Jeep models such as the Cherokee, Renegade and the Jaguar E-Pace.
Similarly to our testing of those vehicles, ZF’s nine-speed does not serve up the silky shifts of the gearbox maker’s feted eight-speed unit. It felt lurchy at slow speeds, and with any prod of the throttle at low rpms, the whole car jerked forwards with a sense of unrefinement from the torque converter.
Still, you’d probably learn how to manage this or drive around it, and the good news is that when you get the Compass S-Limited up to speed, it has a comfortable ride, and settles well on the highway. The steering is light but direct, and you can have some fun with the car on a twisty road. The handling is nicely sorted and composed in the corners.
Fitted to all Compass models apart from the diesel Trailhawk is a 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine that Jeep calls the Tigershark. This powertrain produces 129kW of power and 229Nm of torque and is sent to all four wheels, although there is a front-wheel-drive offering in the entry-level Night Eagle.
The Tigershark engine is included in the Stellantis World Gasoline Engine family and is one part of the Global Engine Alliance – a relationship between Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai that has been around since 2005.
In the real world, the Jeep Compass’ engine is punchy enough for day-to-day commuting, but isn’t quite strong enough for confident overtaking. The relationship between the engine and transmission causes the 2.4-litre unit to unnecessarily rev, and lacks some refinement.
The engine itself is noisy, and under wide open throttle, such as getting up to highway speeds, it is also loud and thrashy. It feels strained and would be improved greatly with the use of an efficient electric add-on such as the PHEV 4xe system used elsewhere.
Despite its engine setbacks, the Compass S Limited rides well and is relatively quiet on the highway. It feels composed at higher speeds and has a general sense of comfort to justify its higher price point. It was nice having the natural light coming into the cabin thanks to the large glass sunroof.
While the Jeep Compass S Limited has off-road settings built in, it is certainly more of a soft-roader type – just don’t confuse it for the Suzuki Jimny ($29,990) or Jeep’s own Wrangler ($69,750). If you’re interested in hitting off-road trails in the Compass S Limited, you certainly could, but you would need to be aware of ground clearance as this variant is not the tool for the job if serious four-wheel driving is on the agenda. Still, 212mm of ground clearance for the S-Limited is nothing to turn your nose up at.
Jeep offers 225mm of higher-clearance suspension in the top-of-the-range Compass Trailhawk that has features such as rock mode and a beefier off-road suspension package. The more mainstream brands like Subaru offer small or midsize off-road SUVs such as the XV, which has 220mm of ground clearance.
In terms of driving safety technology on the S-Limited, there is a good suite of equipment available as standard including six airbags, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking, a full-speed collision warning system, lane management, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic detection, parking assist and adaptive cruise control.
Also featured for safety on the Compass S Limited is a speed limiter, speed assist, traffic sign recognition, driver drowsiness detection and tyre-pressure monitoring. A surround view, 360-degree camera is an optional extra on the S Limited variant.
Driving the Jeep Compass with all safety functions switched on, I immediately turned off the lane-keep assist as it was just far too intrusive and was not as natural a feeling as some other systems I have experienced.
I have found in other new cars that the lane-keep assist was not distracting but did help me gently if I did happen to sway somewhat out of my lane by accident. Unfortunately, the Jeep Compass is not one of those cars, intervening even when the car was not drifting towards a lane edge.
When you first get into the Jeep Compass S Limited, you are met by a spacious and open cabin with comfortable and supportive leather seats. All of the main touch points are good and feel like quality components, apart from the indicator stalks which felt clunky and a little cheap. The steering wheel, although well constructed, felt too large for a relatively compact car.
The large 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen is one of the true highlights of the Jeep Compass S Limited, and is well organised around Jeep’s uconnect system, and works well in terms of functions, however I did find myself searching for basic functions like the heated steering wheel that were located in small print on the far side of the screen, away from the driver’s seat.
I tested my Google Pixel 5 with wireless Android Auto with the infotainment and it generally worked quite well, however the Bluetooth connection did cut out during my test route, and would not reconnect without completely resetting my phone’s Bluetooth system. This is, of course, a major annoyance as you have no option but to pull over to the side of the highway to reconnect your phone and get the maps and music going again.
The Jeep Compass is definitely of a size suitable for a small but equally growing family. The rear seats are comfortable and there is decent headroom, too. A small highlight was gaining the extra light from the sunroof which made the cabin feel more airy and open. The boot is generous in size at 438-litres, which is significantly bigger than the Hyundai Kona’s 332 litre boot and the Mazda CX-30’s 317 litres of space.
An area where the Jeep Compass S-Limited struggled somewhat was in its fuel efficiency. We recorded 9.8L/100km for our combined figure, with a low of 9.7L/100km on the freeway and a maximum of 11.0L/100km in the city.
Jeep claims that the Compass S Limited’s 2.4-litre atmo four-cylinder will do 13.6L/100km in urban environments, which is at least honest.
When compared to its competitors, the all-wheel drive Compass is a thirsty beast. One of its biggest rivals, the Hyundai Kona Highlander with its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, claims a combined fuel economy figure of just 6.9L/100km when paired to its dual-clutch automatic transmission and as low as 6.1L/100km on the highway.
For the Jeep Compass range, there is a standard five year, 100,000km warranty and lifetime roadside assistance if you always service your Jeep through their network of dealerships. It is odd that Jeep does not offer an unlimited-kilometre warranty which is basically standard now across a wide range of manufacturers.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 12,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing for the S Limited is $349 per service, which works out to be $1745 for the first five years of ownership. To compare, a similar-spec Hyundai Kona Highlander will cost $319 per service, or $1595 for five years.
Mazda’s CX-30 small SUV is $334 for the first service, then alternates between $380 and $334, coming to a total of $1762 for five years of ownership.
That makes the Jeep Compass only slightly cheaper than the Mazda CX-30 and much more expensive than the Hyundai Kona.
The Jeep Compass S Limited is an expensive, thirsty, yet surprisingly practical and comfortable small-size SUV.
The main problem with the S-Limited is that many of its rivals are just as good to ride in and have newer and more frugal engines – often at a lower price point.
The Compass scores big points for its infotainment, ride quality and packaging, but doesn’t do so well with its uninspiring and thirsty engine and lurchy transmission, and somewhat average servicing.
Mazda’s first ‘premium’ SUV is now a firm favourite among Australians seeking a stylish compact crossover at a reasonable price
Key specs (as tested)
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