The Jeep Wrangler was one of my favourite cars of last year.
It was an unapologetic throwback to the models that made the brand and the sort of car you buy with your heart, not your head.
But to support that niche model in markets like the UK, Jeep needs to sell more head-over-heart stuff - straightforward family fare with tax-friendly engines and 21-century toys. Cars like the Compass.
The Compass is yet another mid-sized SUV from the Stellantis behemoth, offering an Americanised alternative to the Vauxhall Grandland, Peugeot 3008, Citroen C5 Aircross. As such it’s competing in a packed segment where established names such as the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Seat Ateca and Kia Sportage also ply their trade.
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Unlike smaller B-SUVs, this segment is mostly about blending in, so the Compass’s styling is pretty plain, with the usual tall and slightly boxy shape that can trace its roots back to the old Jeep Grand Cherokee. At least the spec of our test car livened things up a little and actually looked really mean, moody and quite cool with a deep blue paint, gloss black trim and a subtle blue background to the badges to highlight its hybrid credentials.
Because, yes, despite Jeep’s famous penchant for V6s and V8s, this smaller model is a plug-in hybrid affair with a tiny 1.3-litre petrol engine.
Despite its tiny capacity, in tandem with the 44kW electric motor, the Jeep produces 237bhp and it feels suitably sprightly. The EV motor makes sure there’s instant response when you need it and the petrol helps pull the car along well, although under hard acceleration it’s clear that this is a small engine working very hard.
In the Compass, the EV motor drives the rear wheels, while the petrol handles the fronts, allowing for four-wheel drive. Perhaps to reflect Jeep’s heritage, you can lock it into 4WD and there’s even a low-ratio transmission lock alongside drive modes for sand, snow and mud - something not offered by any rival.
In operation, the hybrid system is as unremarkable as any rival. Auto mode manages its operation well but there are EV and battery save modes if you prefer to control things yourself. The transition between the modes is pretty smooth, with the shouty engine the most obvious giveaway.
During a week of varied driving and with regular charging, the Compass returned around 60mpg. That’s less than the Ford Kuga but largely similar to our results from other similar-sized PHEVs. Drive it around with a flat battery for any length of time and, like rivals, you’ll see that drop to mid-40s at best.
Interior space is decent, although the generous rear legroom definitely comes at the expense of those up front. What’s not so decent is the cabin quality. Design-wise it’s as bland as a Coldplay album and, like a Coldplay album, the material quality isn’t up to much, with cheap feeling leather and some rattly plastic finishes.
The ‘S’ spec of our test car brought reasonable equipment levels, including adaptive cruise control auto-dipping headlights, dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging and an enhanced interior and exterior trim package. Unfortunately it also brought an 10.25-inch screen with a painfully sluggish operating system and the worst driver assistance tech I’ve experienced in a long time.
The lane assist is oversensitive and inaccurate and can’t be fully turned off - you’re left with the nagging vibration even after you stop it trying to tug you all over the road. Even worse, the forward collision alert is frighteningly paranoid and even in its least sensitive setting starts screeching at you almost the minute anything ahead begins to slow.
Euro NCAP marks down cars if they don’t have such systems but in Jeep’s case it really should be offered extra points to get rid of its ADAS.
Aside from that hateful tech, the Compass is largely unremarkable. Its looks are straight-down-the-line SUV, as is the driving experience. The hybrid setup works as well as most rivals and the ride is decent but it does nothing to stand out. With rivals like the Toyota Rav4/Suzuki Across and new Sportage PHEV impressing with their performance and design, the Compass feels lacking in direction.
Jeep Compass 4Xe PHEV
Price: £40,895 (£43,575 as tested); Engine: 1.3-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol with 44kW electric motor; Power: 237bhp; Torque: n/a; Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive Top speed: 124mph; 0-62mph: 7.3 seconds; Economy: 148.7mpg; CO2 emissions: 44g/km; EV range: 30 miles