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Moab, in Utah is a beautiful and sometimes unforgiving place. The red rock, the valleys and the sparse vegetation make it excellent for hiking, cycling and even motocross and off-roading activites. The weather can pose its own challenges – it snows during the winter, and summer temperatures can hit the 45 degrees, on the hottest days. It’s also home to Jeep. Every year, thousands of off-roading fans come here to tackle the vast number of terrain options Moab has to offer. Not just them, but even the R&D folks at Jeep make it a point to spend days (even weeks) testing their new products on the challenging terrain. The Jeep that you see on these pages has also done its share of testing there, and the pressure on it to deliver is immense.

At first glance, everything about the Jeep Compass seems right. It’s made in India and three other markets around the world, with our local manufacturing plant also catering to the demands of all right hand drive markets. We will get three versions – Sport, Longitude and Limited – with the Longitude and Limited getting the further benefit of Option Packs. Two engine options (a 1.4-litre petrol producing 160 bhp and a 2-litre diesel with 171 bhp) will be on offer, the former getting an automatic gearbox option as well.

Since it is manufactured in India, the Compass is likely to be priced aggressively. Our estimates suggest a price tag in the range of Rs 16 to 18 lakh for the base variant petrol, with the top-end diesel all-wheel drive likely to be no more than Rs 23-23.5 lakh, ex-showroom. This would put it smack between the likes of the Hyundai Creta and Tucson, while also taking on the higher variants of the Renault Duster, Mahindra XUV5OO, Tata Hexa and Honda CR-V. Even SUVs like the Audi Q3, the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and VW Tiguan will appear in its crosshairs, while some might draw comparisons with the Ford Endeavour and the Toyota Fortuner. Indeed, the gamut of competitors it’s up against places it as the meat in the SUV sandwich.

To fully comprehend Jeep’s newest baby, I drove it in Goa, a far cry from the harsh environs of Moab. The terrain on offer was a mix of narrow highways running through congested areas, and some sweeping, winding roads, before I got the opportunity to dunk its legs in slush and flowing streams. I had the Limited (O), the bells and whistles variant on test, with the 2-litre diesel and AWD kitted on.

Jeep Compass

From behind the wheel, the Compass doesn’t seem daunting. At 4.4 metres long, it’s longer than the Creta but shorter than the Tucson. The seating position is excellent, with a good all-round view, and the seats themselves are extremely supportive, especially the side bolstering and the lower back. Start it up and you are greeted by a typical diesel clatter, but it’s rather muted with the windows rolled up, thanks to the excellent use of sound deadening material. Get a move on and past 1500-1600 rpm, the torque wave and the kicking in of the turbo provides a fistful of shove that makes the drive easy. Mind you, this is not a very quick car, but it’s a torquey one that will give you the edge in overtaking (not necessarily at traffic light drags).


Engine

2.0-litre diesel

Power

171 bhp

Torque

350 Nm

Gearbox

6-speed manual 7-speed automatic

What we like

Fantastic ride quality, off-road abilities

What we don’t

Lack of features


The gearbox is wonderful. The throws are slightly long, but the clutch action is light, the gear lever slots into place perfectly and the aluminium gear knob itself is wonderful to hold. Those who enjoy driving will also like the steering wheel; it’s made of very good quality material and has the right support points, with the steering action being light at low speeds and weighing up well at high speeds.

It’s also a rather fun SUV to drive, bringing the ‘sport’ back in SUV. The handling is spot on, the steering providing just the right amount of feedback, while the Firestone tyres and the front suspension work rather well in helping the Compass toe the line effortlessly. For a brand best known for its off-road pedigree, this is remarkable. For me, the biggest highlight is its ride quality. Using Frequency Sensitive Damping or FSD, the ride is pretty flat, whether going over large bumps or simply driving on gravel. Off-road, these very qualities make it an impressive machine to tackle most kinds of terrain. I tried it out at some of the same stages as the annual Rain Forest Challenge, due later this year, and it proved to be more than adept. The 208 mm ground clearance, the useful approach and departure angles, the intelligent all-wheel drive with mode selection and the traction on offer from those road-biased tyres made the Compass seem to have a full leg up on its competition. So what if it doesn’t have four-low; it can leave some well known nameplates with something to chew on. In short, the Compass has enough to impress in the driving department.

It impresses with its exterior design too. What comes across as a shrunken Grand Cherokee to many can actually stand on its own. From the Wrangler inspired wheel arches that house the slightly small 17-inch wheels, the two-tone paint job, the swooping chrome strips that follow the waistline and the roofline as well as the bulging edges all around, it appears more like a martial arts hero than a puffed up gym junkie.

And while the interiors are well built, with good quality material in most places, especially the dashboard, some bits like the piano black finish on the touch screen surround might attract a fair share of finger prints. Even some of the rotary knobs could have been better built, but the biggest gripe for some will be the lack of features. Even on the Limited (O) variant, you don’t get a sunroof, or automatic headlamp and wipers, cruise control and GPS navigation, and the driver’s seat makes do with manual controls. You will, however, appreciate the general interior comfort; even those at the rear will attest to the sufficient leg, knee and head room, while the seat squab offers great support. If you do choose to have a short vacation with your family, the boot will prove to be sufficiently deep and well shaped.

The thing is, for a vehicle whose partial development took place at Moab, the Compass ticks most of boxes. It drives and handles well, puts a smile on your face and should you choose to go offroad, you’ll find that it tackles most situations very easily. It’s also a comfortable and well put together SUV that I would gladly buy, if money were no object.

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