Autocar’s Car of the Year joins the fleet; will familiarity lessen or broaden its appeal?
Memories come flooding back. This doesn’t feel like déjà vu…. I’ve actually been here before! That overriding feeling of solidity, that battle tank-like build, the feeling of near invincibility. And I’ve only just driven out of the gate.
Just 800m down the road, it has me going ‘wow’ again with its King Kong-like swagger. Frequented by overloaded trucks that bomb up and down the road all day, our shortcut to the highway is full of massive craters and XXL-sized sinkholes. Other cars crawl or tippy-toe around the broken patches, but I find that if I just lift off the throttle and ‘unload’ the suspension, the Compass just sails over everything. The tough-as-nails suspension pummels everything into submission, as the Mercedes-style Frequency Selective Damping makes the shocks go supple. Yes, there is some mild pitter-patter and some of the holes in the road thump through, but the manner in which the Jeep ‘muscles’ over everything is just special. Boy, does this car deliver a strong first impression? And it doesn’t just deliver it – you’re slam-dunked, totally immersed. I can’t wait to take on some of our not-so-nicely-paved coastal roads in this car. What a long-distance tourer this six-speed, four- wheel-drive Jeep is going to make. The Raan of Kutch, Himalaya passes, the Far East . . . yeah, those too.
Our long-termer is also exceedingly comfortable. The Compass may be built on Fiat’s Small Wide 4X4 platform, but the driving position is anything but Latin. While the Italians prefer a driving position akin to a water skier, with arms outstretched and legs bent, the Jeep’s Yankee-spec seat is more Harley than Hayabusa; like sitting on a sofa, arms relaxed. And though the sumptuous white leather seats may be a touch impractical, I just love that they offer so much support to my thighs and shoulders. That feeling of being hewn from a single block of metal carries on inside as well. The dash feels tough enough to dance on, the doors shut with a solid ‘thunk’ and even the door locks ‘clack’ shut like pieces of military hardware. And then there are those incredibly thick A- and B-pillars that also deliver a massive sense of security; American cars have to pass strict rollover crash tests, where the roof and pillars have to take a lot of punishment. The all-metal cue-ball-topped gear knob too feels fantastic to hold, especially when it’s cooled by the air con vents.
Since we’ve got the car, I’ve done quite a lot of commuting in traffic; plenty of stop/start stop/start. And it’s here that the Jeep needs some getting used to. The clutch’s bite point is bit sharp, the action is snappy and once the 2.0 Multijet diesel is past 2,000rpm, throttle responses are so aggressive that driving it smoothly in traffic needs a bit of attention. The diesel engine is also quite loud under load. It has a nice growl at low and medium speeds, and there’s no strain or boom except near 5,000rpm, but this certainly isn’t one of those diesels that have passengers guessing what fuel the engine uses. What also bugs the hell out of me is that noisy fan or blower. I like to have the air con really blowing when I get into a hot car, and that means it feels like there’s a hurricane in the cabin for the first 10 minutes of my drive. Apart from being noisy, this also makes talking on the phone over the Bluetooth a real challenge. It’s a difficult choice – drop the fan speed and feel hot or shout over the din. Not nice.
Niggles apart, what we expect to discover over the coming months is just how much the Compass continues to impress us. Will small issues become big irritants? Will we discover new areas where the Jeep isn’t quite up to class standards? Or will the fundamental strengths of our Car of the Year carry it upwards and onwards? One thing’s for sure, we’ll put the Compass right under the microscope.