Driving the Jeep Compass from Mumbai to our off-road venue 19 Degree North in Lonavla was a breeze. This SUV’s impeccable road manners, strong engine and comfortably furnished cabin makes it a great car for travelling long distances. But what about when the going gets tough? If you go by reputation then the Compass should shine there too - it’s a Jeep after all. But when I dug deeper, I realised that the Compass is the most road-biased SUV that Jeep has ever made. It is based on a monocoque platform, sits closer to ground than any other Jeep has ever done and there isn’t any low range gearbox or adjustable ride height gimmicks on offer either. Given the exceptional pricing, obviously I can’t really complain. So will this exciting road car impress me when there is no road in sight? I put the Compass through five rigorous off-road tests to see what is what.
If and when a Jeep Compass owner decides to take it off-road, this test will play a key role. When you go on an unexplored path, space is always limited and the car should have the capability to gain quick momentum to tackle the obstacle ahead. So how does the Compass fare in this respect? Once on the move, I could clearly feel the clever 4WD system working its magic as it clawed into the slushy surface by sending the right amount of power to each wheel depending on traction available. The Compass managed to reach 30kmph in 7.3 seconds. Although good, this number could have been much better had the gearing been ideal. The ratios especially in first and second are a bit too tall (it is ideal on the road). As a result I had to launch it off-the-line at a high RPM which resulted in lot of wheel spinning. I tried to launch it at a lower RPM too, but that resulted in it stalling and getting bogged down.
Stopping as quickly as possible is even more important than gaining speed, especially when there is minimal grip on the slush. This is where tyres and ABS calibration play key roles. In this test, the road-focused Compass suffers because of too much intrusion from the ABS system and the normal road tyres. In fact the initial pedal feel is pretty good, but as soon as the ABS kicked in, the Compass scarily just kept on rolling forward, which isn’t ideal when space is at a premium. The tyres too once mucked up, lacked traction and I wish it had the ability to cut off ABS in off-road mode or altered to aid driving on slippery surfaces.
Driving up the Aamby valley ghat, there was a wide grin plastered on my face as the Compass just zipped through the corners with ease. Although our slalom course was muddy, I expected the Compass to do well as its compact footprint, light-weight body and agility should help it score really well. But to my disappointment, the tall gearing, like in the acceleration test, really limits this Jeeps potential. The problem is, I couldn’t carry the desired speed while tackling the cones as it was threatening to stall when the RPM needle neared idle. Embarrassingly I stalled the car in three out of five attempts and as a consequence I had to carry lot more speed than required, which resulted in time consuming understeer. Still the quick steering and agile nature helped it post a competitive 47.9 the second time around the course.
Judging by its excellent road manners, I expected the Compass to do well in this trial and it didn’t disappoint. The Compass did well even in the deep ruts we put the car through, and Sagar came away smiling with only 40ml of water soaked in his pants. Where it spilled most of the water was when just one side of the car went through a deeper rut, as the Compass’s tall body rocked from side to side. The Jeep Compass really impressed me with its long suspension travel and flat ride.
Off-Road Hill Climb
Looking at the test line-up, I was expecting the Compass to struggle the most in this trial. Approach angle is the limiting factor here as I had to crawl up rather than gain momentum which is absolutely isn’t ideal. What’s more, if I lose momentum and start rolling back, there were high chances of the bumper shearing off its hinges! Thankfully that didn’t happen. On the positive side, the intelligent 4WD system helped me get through tricky situations and the Compass actually did better than what I expected it to do. Even in this test, the tall first gear was its Achilles heel as I had to excessively slip the clutch in order to not lose momentum. If only the Compass had an automatic gearbox, I am sure it would have scored much higher.
Overall, the Jeep Compass delivered what I expected of it. What would make it an accomplished off-roader is shorter gearing and better approach angle. As mentioned before, I would also have liked a torque converter gearbox as this would surely have helped it deliver better in all of the above parameters. So the Compass is respectable when the going gets slippery, but it does have its limitations and it fares better if you stick to mild off-roading.
Pictures by: Kapil Angane
Click here to read Carwale Off-Road Day 2017 introduction
Click here to read about the Spotter's View at the CarWale Off-Road Day 2017
Location courtesy: 19 Degree North
An adventure sports outfit located at Aamby Valley City near Lonavla that offers activities like riding ATVs, paintball shooting, Zorbing, and Jungle Safari among others.