Jeep Compass driven!

Jeep Compass driven!

Photography by Vishnu G Haarinath

It’s here, the Jeep to save Fiat Chrysler India. The Compass is made in India for global right-hand-drive markets and there’s a heavy burden of expectation resting on its muscular shoulders. Can it turn an FCA dealership into a viable business? Will we forget the shock the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee delivered when prices were announced? Can the Compass find an in-between ground between the Creta and Tucson? After all if the Compass tanks then FCA might just go the GM way in India.

A man’s Jeep
It all starts with the way the Compass looks and the styling is on the money. Appropriately butch and muscular it carries typical and traditional Jeep styling cues – squared-off wheel arches, the seven-slot grille and son-of-Grand Cherokee cues all over. It’s a handsome car, even better looking in the metal, and the floating roof and chrome accents all give it a rather premium and expensive air. In the product presentations the marketing head revealed that 90 per cent of their target audience will be male and by the way the Compass is turned out that seems just about right. It is a manly Jeep, of that there’s no doubt.

Inside too the materials used are of a rather high quality, the seats hug you nicely and nothing feels cheap, nasty or inappropriate. On the equipment front the fully loaded version we tested had everything save for a sunroof (which even the Tucson doesn’t get so no big deal). There’s a meaty steering wheel with audio controls weirdly located behind the arms, a (slightly laggy) touchscreen to control everything including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and of course a compass. It is surprisingly good in here, and feels quite solid and well put together.

One thing that’s not so impressive is space. Up front you’re brushing elbows with your passenger and you can forget about squeezing in three passengers at the back. Also the rear knee room is only as much as a Creta, forget the Tucson, and with the narrow glass house it can feel quite cooped in. Plus the backrest angle for the rear seat is far too steep to be comfortable on long journeys. It’s not an SUV to be driven around in.

The ride!
I first time I heard of FSD dampers when bunch of Japanese engineers brought down a set of Tein suspension for the Red Rooster rally cars. Those dampers were super-exotic, extremely difficult to setup but when they worked they worked brilliantly taking the team to the national championship.

Outside of motorsport the Compass is the first car I’ve driven with Frequency Selective Dampers and I went in with a healthy dose of skepticism. But drive it ten metres, over the first speedbreaker, and you say holy cow! The Compass rides brilliantly. Nothing in this segment, no SUV south of an Audi Q3 rides as well as the Compass. It literally flies over everything and the damping quality and refinement is also excellent so the suspension doesn’t audibly crash and hammer into undulations. Everybody who drove it couldn’t believe how comfortable the Compass’ ride is.

And it’s not at the expense of handling. Of course there is a bit of float and wallow but only if you’re really paying attention to float and wallow. Even at speed it feels impressively planted and the all-weather Firestone tyres offer plenty of grip when pushing hard. Hustle it into tight corners and there’s noticeable body roll but the tyres grip quite well and squeal only when pushed harder than you would push an SUV, even a compact monocoque-based SUV. Steering feel too is not too bad, by SUV standard is quite good actually. And unlike the Fiat’s we are used to the driving position, courtesy height adjustable driver’s seat and rake/reach adjustable steering is spot on. Jeep have done their homework and have turned out an SUV that does both ride and handling – very well!

Jeep DNA
Our first drive of the Compass was in Goa, at the very onset of the monsoons and with incoming flights getting delayed our drive time the first evening was heavily curtailed. Instead of heading to the usual Goa shoot locations we took a hard right out of the hotel gates and drove right up on the beach and, much to our surprise, the Compass was quite comfortable on the sand. Sure the sand was packed harder than it usually is thanks to the rain but even then there were no worries of getting stuck, so much so that we progressively inched closer and closer to the water before jumping right in and creating big – and childish – waves. You wouldn’t try that on a Creta or even the Tucson, but the Compass has that inherent feel of an SUV – it feels like it can, and will enjoy, taking a beating.

The beach shots weren’t part of the itinerary though, what the Jeep guys had lined up was a serious drive through the forest in South Goa. Two hours away on some lovely forest roads – that opened our eyes to just how good her on-road dynamics are – the DOT 4×4 park had a mix of steep inclines, declines, water fording, slush, rocks and logs. It was a trail that you’d definitely not take your soft-roader through, a trail your soft-roader will not go through, but the Compass made it without struggling at all.

At launch only the top-spec Compass will get all-wheel drive, Jeep’s Selec-Terrain on-demand 4×4 system that has four modes – Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud along with an AWD lock. Basically the electronics alter the engine mapping and traction control settings for different terrain and applications, there is no low-ratio 4×4 unlike other hardcore SUVs. There isn’t even hill descent control. But the all-independent suspension is setup so well, the approach and departure angles are so well considered, that the Compass went through paths that I repeatedly asked our instructor, “are you sure?” Not that Compass owners are going to do even half of what we did but it is fantastic that Jeep have retained their brand DNA; have made sure that nothing in its class will go as easily and as further off the road as the Compass. You don’t need a hardcore (and very tiresome) 4×4 to drive down to Goa next month to spectate at the Rain Forest Challenge.

At launch, the Compass will be available with both petrol and diesel options but the one we are driving is the 2-litre Multijet diesel mated to a 6-speed transmission. This is a new engine, made in Ranjangaon (near Pune) and will go into not only the India-spec cars but also all RHD exports. There is an automatic transmission, a 7-speed twin-clutch in the works but that will come later this year or early next year.

As for performance, with 171bhp and 350Nm of torque, the Compass moves rather briskly. There’s not much turbo lag, the responses are reasonably quick and the mid-range torque is very strong. You can stick it in fifth or sixth and cruise all day long or cruise all day long or row through the gearbox (slick shifts, long throws) and enjoy hustling the Compass along at quite a solid pace. The most impressive aspect of the powertrain is the refinement that is excellent. And with Fiat making this motor in India, expect to see it in many more cars in the future (including Tata cars!).

The petrol is a new 1.4-litre MultiAir turbocharged unit (not yet made in India) and will come with an automatic transmission, deliveries of which will happen six after the diesel is launched.

“We won’t repeat the mistake”
Said FCA India boss Kevin Flynn when I prodded him at dinner on the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee’s crazy prices. He candidly admitted that they were all taken aback by the violent reaction to the prices, suggesting we should complain to the government and not him for the tax structure for CBUs. Nevertheless the lesson was painful and that is probably a good thing because FCA India are very, very mindful of pricing the Compass right. And just to make sure none of us spared even half an opportunity to remind Kevin and his team to price the Compass right.

So where will it be? We expect prices in between the Hyundai Creta and Tucson with entry variants of the Compass coming in just above the top-end Creta (around Rs 17 lakh) and the top-end 4×4 Compass to undercut the Tucson at Rs 22 lakh. It’s going to interesting to see where the Compass actually slots in because in terms of space it is more a Creta rival but capability-wise it is an easy match for the Tucson.

And where are you going to buy it from? FCA India already have 50 showrooms and by next month that count will go up to 60. The second Mumbai dealership is ready, a third is coming up in Delhi, Pune is almost ready and so too at other cities. The boss, Kevin, also started off his career in aftersales and understands that a good service experience is as important as on-point pricing for the Compass. He says they’re introducing Mopar service standards across the network and though I only know of Mopar as Chrysler’s go-faster division it’s good to know that they’ve at least scouted around for best practices and are rolling it out in India.

If they do get it right on the pricing front, and if the dealer network pulls up its socks, Jeep have a winner on their hands with the Compass.

evo India rating:

Engine 2-litre, inline-four cylinder, diesel
Power 171bhp @ 3750rpm
Torque 350Nm @ 1750-2500rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Price (estimated) Rs 18-22 lakh 

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