THE BRAND JEEP has for long stood for adventure, performance, exhilaration - and all of the off - road kind! Once a niche brand in the Chrysler family, it used to sell alongside the now defunct Eagle brand in showrooms mostly in the United States and a few other countries. But in the past decade Jeep has taken on a completely new role - that of volumes driver for the Fiat-Chrysler Group. And yes, that is largely due to the rise of the SUV’s popularity across segments and across markets. The Compass is a step towards really taking that volumes pursuit for FCA to a new level. The Compass is a compact SUV, and shares its platform with the Renegade, its even more compact sibling. That in turn is a shared platform with Fiat models like the 500x and 500L. But unlike all those cars, the Compass claims to be an agile urban warrior and a rustic workhorse rolled into one. And let me tell you, it is.

First off , let me just say I have always thought that Compass was a great name for an SUV! But this new generation Compass is a far cry from the fi rst generation that was sold from around from 2006-2017, primarily in the US. And yes I know we in India do not have any connection to it, but it was a largely uninspiring product. The irony is that it sold well for Jeep. By comparison the new Compass is a much more agile, engaging, spirited and rather fun car. It’s also surprisingly nimble and very capable off-road. Read on to know more.

And so when I got the chance to get behind the wheel of the Compass I jumped at it. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I got off the train and walked out of Grand Central station into the bustling streets of Manhattan, filled with people even before it was 8AM! It was a quick walk to the corner of 48th Street and 6th Avenue - with a detour to grab a cup of joe! And almost instantly, I could see it - from almost a block away. Honestly I cannot imagine how anyone in a two-block radius could have missed this car. Bright, attention-grabbing Spitfire Orange paintwork, with a contrast black roof and the black bulge on the hood - you just couldn’t have missed it. The car has instant road presence and turns heads, despite its compact dimensions. And yes as we have all now seen it’s very much the baby Grand Cherokee. As a result it is that shape which exudes a bigger appearance than the car’s actual dimensions.

In The US market the Compass has been launched in 4 trims - Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited. Prices range from $21,000-29,000 (`14 - 19.5 lakh). The car I am driving today is the Compass in its Trailhawk trim - which means it has also got the all-wheel drive. It is powered by the 2.4-litre Tigershark I-4 engine with MultiAir2 valve-actuation. The gearbox is a new ZF nine-speed automatic that also goes into the Cherokee and Renegade. All 4x4 models of the Compass will likely have the nine-speed as standard, except the diesels which may get a seven-Speed. This Tigershark engine is pretty much reserved for the US market and is primarily being plonked into the made-in-Mexico Compass only. The front-wheel drive Compass has a choice of a 6-Speed manual or an Aisin-supplied 6-Speed Automatic. Globally the Compass will sport five different engine options, and so there are 17 possible drivetrain combinations! In India we care about the 1.4 Multiair petrol and 2.0 Multijet diesel to be honest! I am encouraged by the announcement that we will have the all-wheel drive at launch, though I hope Jeep India is wise about also offering a well specced frontwheel drive variant.

Fortunately I’ve managed to get out of Manhattan traffic quickly, and across the George Washington bridge to New Jersey. Off the bridge, and a quick right of the first exit takes me to the pretty Palisades Parkway and finally I am truly getting a good feel of this car. In the very first impression I have to tell you I am glad this engine is not for me! It is not the most powerful, and frankly comes across as wheezy. It honestly just leaves you wanting. It is also not well-mated to the gearbox, which tends to hold gear even when there is no real power coming! Given my prior experience with other Jeep engines on the Cherokee and Renegade in the recent past, I am encouraged that the versions we will get are actually going to be a whole lot more fun! But now - it’s on to the very good news. The thing I’m picking up on instantly is the terrific ride quality this car has. Despite its compactness the Compass is planted and very controlled, and doesn’t bounce around. The upper body structure and frame are engineered as a single unit and that gives you a stiffer feel. According to the company, the Compass is designed and built with an extensive use of high-strength steel and structural adhesives. In fact, more than 65 per cent of its structure is made up of high-strength steel, to maximise vehicle dynamics and crash performance while optimising weight efficiency. And that comes across for sure - not something I was expecting! And all of this only helps its off-road capability. I did manage to get the car off the tarmac and it does justice to the Jeep badge on the nose. The new 2017 Jeep Compass has a MacPherson front-suspension with 170mm of articulation. There’s a new front crossmember that gives you way more rigidity and also increases the car’s crash-worthiness with improved impact absorption. What’s interesting is a new split-type shock absorber mounting that splits and sends road undulations and bumps to the chassis so you have less road noise and better ride quality. At the rear, the Chapman suspension features highmounted strut-type shock absorbers and coil springs, which helps cut roll rather effectively despite the slightly exaggerated ride height of the car. Let’s now talk about the car’s ground clearance, shall we? Yes, that Indian preoccupation when it comes to the spec sheet! The Compass has a standard ground clearance of 198mm for the 4x2, 208mm for the 4x4. On the Trailhawk trim, that is raised to 216mm. To put that in perspective the Mahindra XUV has 200mm and the Hyundai Tucson has 195mm ground clearance, so while the Compass does well to match up, my worry is that smaller tyre sizes, and a differing suspension setup in India may drop the figure by 10-15mm. The Compass also gives you up to 208mm of rear-wheel articulation for off-roading. Frequency selective damping on the Compass also adds to the very satisfactory handling and ride comfort. Again I reiterate - it’s rather a pleasure, and altogether a surprise here.

Jeep’s Active Drive (the all-time 4x4 system) is effective and can indeed send almost all of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels as and when the need arises. This helps provide more grip of course, and not just when offroad. But the great news is that the car is indeed surprisingly capable off-road despite its compact size. It has a great approach and departure angle, though we have to remember the Indian-spec may not have as much articulation or ride height as the US versions. The Active Drive Low on the Trailhawk makes things even more extreme and you can do more hardcore off-roading on this version for sure. I found the Selec-Terrain dial easy to operate as it switches to different modes - Auto, Snow, Sand/Mud and on the Trailhawk you also get the Rock crawl option! Now that is something I would hope to test on my next chance with this car! The Compass has a new electric power steering, and I have to say it requires minimal input, and is therefore also quite precise and effective. The car is driving well enough to put a smile on my face.

The car is a looker, and you will find its styling will turn into its string asset when it goes on sale. The new generation is striking, has great proportions, and the styling belies its compact size. The two-tone looks really sexy, but even in a single colour it is a good-looking car. The Compass will attract a lot of attention for its handsome, rugged, yet urbane looks. The daytime running lights are not LED, but in their own way create a yellow signature unlike the competition. The interiors are also well done, but this cabin does not have the material, fit or equipment of cars like the BMW X1 or Audi Q3. The large screen in the central console houses navigation and of course Apple CarPlay amongst its connectivity features. The Trailhawk trim is definitely very stylish and attractive. And I hope we get that in India too, though we have already been told that the standard cars will have a beige and black two-tone palette. Fair amount to take in, isn’t it? The Compass is not just an important model for Jeep worldwide but also in India. Here it will play the make-orbreak role for not just Jeep itself, but also the much beleaguered FCA India as a whole. And it would seem that the company has a winner on its hands. Given everything we now know about it, and also the expectation on how aggressively Jeep is going to position it, the interest in the Compass is reaching fever pitch. If priced nearly as attractively in India as it is in America, well then let’s just expect blockbuster bookings. But FCA will need to deliver on network and after-sales too.