All sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are created equal. A few become Jeep. Jeep was born during the Second World War, when American forces fighting in Europe felt the need for a vehicle that could “go anywhere, do anything.” Three companies—American Bantam, Willys-Overland and Ford—collaborated and the result was the Jeep. The vehicles were so successful in navigating war-ravaged Europe that the Allies hailed them as “the saviour of WW-2.” In 1950, Willys obtained registration for Jeep trademark. Since then, the ownership passed from Willys to Kaiser to American Motors to Chrysler. Today, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) owns it. Last year, FCA brought the brand to India, by importing Wrangler Unlimited, Grand Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SRT as completely build units. But high import duties meant these were prohibitively expensive. This year, the company started local manufacturing, the Compass to begin with, at its Ranjangaon plant near Pune.
We drive the Compass—it’ll be launched in August—on the roads, beaches and rainforests of Goa.
Because its design is hugely inspired by bigger brother Grand Cherokee, the smaller Compass looks like an expensive SUV. The company’s signature seven-slat grille clearly defines it as a Jeep. The size of the Compass is roughly equivalent to Hyundai Tucson, but the former looks far more muscular.
There are clever styling cues at unexpected places—moulded into the driver-side plastic below the windshield is a tiny lizard, a snake at the bottom of the rear window, and the iconic seven-slot grille and circular headlights logo inside the cabin.
The quality of materials used is top-class. The top-end variant we drove had leather upholstery. Tiny details make the cabin look good—stylish door locks, mirror adjustment control, even the controls on the steering wheel are designed artfully. The infotainment touchscreen can be connected to your phone via either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Cabin space, both at the front and rear, is good, and seats offer decent support. The boot space can carry luggage of four people.
However, there is no sunroof, not even as an option as of now, and even though it is equipped with electronic parking brake, for adjusting the seats you have to pull a lever!
Twin front airbags are standard and the top-end variants will get six airbags.
Buyers will have the choice of both diesel and petrol. The diesel is the 2.0-litre Multijet II unit that produces a peak power of 171bhp and a torque of 350Nm. The petrol is the 1.4-litre unit that churns out 160bhp of power. Gearbox choices are six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
On the road
We drive the diesel and it’s refined. The engine clatter barely enters the cabin, the clutch is light and the acceleration smooth. While it’s not extremely fast, it never really feels out of power either. On smooth roads, the Compass pretty much drives like a luxury sedan.
Off the road
That’s where the Compass gets into its character. Be it a steep incline or the opposite of it, be it rough roads or the lack of them, the Compass navigates easily. It’s clearly an SUV that puts the ‘sport’ in ‘utility’.
The Compass has a high hip-point seating, high centre of gravity, high ground clearance and is equipped with one of the world’s best four-wheel-drive systems for navigating rough roads or the lack of them. If FCA is able to price it between Rs 17-24 lakh, this made-in-India Jeep can successfully navigate the tough Indian market too.