Soft-roader it is not. Let me explain why.
The all-new Jeep Compass isn’t just a soft-roader. I didn’t really think it was to start with, either. It’s built on FCA ‘Small Wide Architecture’, which is essentially based on small and medium SUVs. So, the vehicle doesn’t really read like a ‘traditional’ 4WD: Transverse engine, transaxle, IFS and IRS, unibody and no transfer case.
Great, I thought. Another humdrum soft-roader to add to the stinking pile. But we live in a brave new world: Volkswagen’s Amarok is good off-road without a transfer case, and Nissan’s Patrol doesn’t have a live axle in sight. And this Jeep is a similar story. Sure, nobody’s going to trade in the G60 or flat-fender for a Compass as a rough-and-tumble off-road battler any time soon; but it still has some credibility. Let’s dig into this Compass, and see why it shouldn’t be taken too lightly.
1: It has ‘proper’ 4WD
Think about the kind of drive system most 4WDs have used over the years: Part-time, with a shift-on-the-fly setup to engage ‘proper’ 4WD. This means the 4WD is rear-wheel drive on-road, and pulling a lever (or pressing a button these days) flicks the transfer case into sending drive to the front end. Importantly, it’s a 50/50 (even) torque split.
This Jeep Compass does the same thing, except back-to-front. On road, without any buttons pushed, only the front wheels are driven. The rear end can get drive – but only when the car thinks you need a little more traction. Importantly, you can push the ‘4WD lock’ button, which will give you the same 50/50 torque split that a part-time 4WD gets.
2: It’s got low gearing
It doesn’t have low range, but a 9-speed gearbox gives you a solid 20:1 reduction in first gear. That’s lower than the Amarok’s 17:1, and most utes have something like a 25:1 reduction with an automatic gearbox. Autos do crawl a bit better, through loading up a torque converter to give you a slower speed compared to engine speed.
3: It’s got ground clearance
This is one of the benefits of independent suspension: Rather than having big tubes of steel eating into your ground clearance, your diffs are tucked up within the frame. The Compass Trailhawk has 225mm of ground clearance, which is on par with most 4WD utes these days. On top of that, approach and departure angles are improved; and there’s some seriously stout underbody protection for when you do come across the odd 226mm rock.
4: Off-road modes actually work
We’re driving up a fire trail in the hills behind Hobart in this Compass. It’s not too hard, but we start picking some silly lines in an attempt to foil the Jeep. It doesn’t take much, either… we get crossed-up on a slight climb, and wheels spin and lurch without any forward progress.
But, that’s not the end of the story. We press the ‘4WD low’ button, which effectively locks it into that first gear. And then we scroll to the ‘Rock’ mode, which tightens up the response of the brake-driven traction control mode. Try again, and the Jeep climbs impressively out of the rut. Cool. Other modes are Auto, Sand, Mud and Snow.
No, it’s not a ‘real’ 4WD (whatever that may be). It’s not a good option for a touring 4WD, or for a rock-hopping adrenalin machine. But it is decent off-road, and it does give you an option with off-road capability in a small, city-friendly package.