(Pocket-lint) - With 75 years of all-terrain vehicle production under its belt, Jeep is a car manufacturer that knows a thing or two when it comes to off-road driving. It's also all too aware that the compact SUV market is seeing a huge surge at the moment and wants a piece of the action.
It's with that in mind that the second-generation Jeep Compass was born. The range started life in 2007, but now that compact SUVs such as the Nissan Qashqai and Seat Ateca are becoming more popular, Jeep thought it high time to update the Compass for the more modern user.
Off-road and on-road technologies have come on leaps and bounds in the last decade, so Jeep believes the new Compass is better poised to attack its competition. Having spent time driving one in Portugal, is the new Jeep's, er, compass pointing in the right direction?
Jeep Compass 2017 review: Design
The Compass is unmistakably Jeep, thanks in no small part to the seven-section front grille that basically growls at you when you look at it. On our Trailhawk edition, each section has a matte black surround, while on the Limited models this is chrome instead.
Being a compact SUV, the 2017 Compass certainly isn't as imposing as the Cherokee or Grand Cherokee, but it does still have a large presence on the road. The grille, coupled with the wide-set headlights and trapezoidal wheel arches make it look menacing, which we like.
Those wheel arches are another design that's unique to Jeep vehicles, designed to not only help set Jeep vehicles apart from the competition, but to assist with off-road duties and ground clearance. The shape is mimicked inside on the dashboard around the infotainment screen too.
The roof line slopes off towards the back to give the impression of movement, but fortunately it doesn't mean headroom to the rear of the car is sacrificed, as it can be on some rival models. Speaking to the designers of the Compass, they specifically made it black, to help disguise the fact that it does slope off.
Our test model came in a deep blue colour finish, which looks almost black in the light but shows up really nicely in the sun. You obviously don't have to take blue, as there will be several colours to choose from, which will be confirmed nearer the launch date.
Inside, there are leather seats as standard on the Trailhawk and Limited models, which again are available in a range of colours. Our test car had black ones, which are perforated to blow out cooling air in hotter conditions - so if the temperature drops they'll heat you up instead.
Jeep Compass 2017 review: Infotainment and driving technology
The infotainment system in the Compass Trailhawk has an 8.4-inch screen as standard. Across the rest of the lineup it's 5-inch and 7-inch screens instead.
The main system the Jeep Compass uses is Uconnect - the system that you'll find in other Fiat models, including the Alfa Giulia - which we were also able to experience in the Cherokee Overland we recently drove.
The system in the 2017 Compass is the newer fourth-generation, which has some improvements. Most notably is the speed and responsiveness when navigating around menus. It's incredibly easy to use with clearly laid out menus that we picked up in seconds. The built-in sat nav also now continues to display a minimap of the route when you go into different menus to change things such as audio settings or climate control.
Biggest of all in that the system also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed as standard (on the 7-inch and 8.4-inch systems) - something not available on earlier versions of the UConnect system - which, providing you have a compatible phone and the relevant software installed on it, means you can override the system and use either of these instead.
The sound quality is decent, too. Our Compass had a Beats Audio sound system, that, in true Beats style, delivered lashings of bass on first listen. It transpired that the EQ settings had the bass levels up to +9, so we quickly turned that down, but even at a level zero there was a hefty amount of low-end grunt. The rest of the frequency range was handled well, with vocals doing their best to compete against the bass levels.
The Jeep Compass is loaded with other technology to assist the driver. All models - Sport, Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk - have a full collision warning system as standard. This system constantly monitors the road ahead and if it detects a stationary vehicle, or if you're getting too close, will flash a warning to brake on the driver information screen in the instrument cluster. If you don't react quickly enough, the car will automatically brake itself.
Adaptive cruise control is available as an extra on the lower spec models, but is standard on the Trailhawk. This works in a similar way to the collision warning: it will monitor the car ahead and brake if it gets too close, then automatically accelerate to cruising speed, as set by the driver. Other tech includes lane departure warning, automatic parking assist and blind spot warning.
A Jeep Skills app is also available through the UConnect system. This lets you monitor how much you're pressing the throttle or brake pedals, along with how much power you're sending to the wheels. It's especially useful in proper off-road conditions, such as going up steep inclines or coming down the other side. If you're a newcomer to off-roading then the app's information might not be that useful. But for die-hard off-road fans we imagine it will be invaluable.
The app also records information, but not long into our drive we received a message on the screen telling us we were out of storage space. We either needed to delete some data, or move it to the cloud. Unfortunately, when pressing the close button to get back to the app's main screen and menus, the message kept popping up, so we left it alone and went back to the satellite navigation screen.
Jeep Compass 2017 review: Drive and performance
There will be six engines available for the Compass, three of which will come to the UK: the 1.4-litre Multiair petrol (140bhp), alongside 1.6-litre (140bhp) and 2.0-litre (170bhp) diesel units.
Our Compass Trailhawk was fitted with a 2.0-litre diesel engine producing 170bhp, mated to a 9-speed automatic gearbox. All in all it delivered a similar driving experience to the Cherokee we've previously driven. Which is no bad thing. It's fun and puts a smile on your face when you put your right foot down. However, there's some slight hesitation before it thrusts forward, but when it does kick in, it certainly shifts.
We would say the steering doesn't give the greatest sense of engagement with the road below, but this is because it's electric steering. If you quickly steer the wheel left and right, the car only partially responds. It's a shame there aren't any driving modes to tighten up the steering.
The diesel engine can be quite noisy, especially at lower speeds, but get up to motorway speeds and those noises quickly fade. The Compass does a good job of blocking out most outside noises, with only some tyre noise being noticeable. Open up the dual pane panoramic sunroof, however, and you're wide open to wind and road noise.
Jeep Compass 2017 review: Off-road performance
The Compass Trailhawk is fitted with Jeep's Active Drive Lock 4x4 system, which gives five different terrain modes to choose from: Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud and Rock. In regular driving conditions and in Auto mode, the Compass can automatically send power to just two wheels to help conserve power and fuel, while in other modes it will gauge the use of four wheels as necessary.
For more difficult terrain the Compass also has a 4WD low mode, which provides more torque at low speeds when going up or down steep surfaces; and 4WD lock, which makes sure you're sending power to all four wheels all the time. These won't be of much use on normal roads, they're designed to avoid getting stuck in snow, sand and mud, or to avoid slipping on rock faces.
For our testing going up a steep rock incline, we put the system into into Rock mode, 4WD low and 4WD lock. Going up the hill of rocks and dirt, the Compass had no problems whatsoever. The clearance the car already has, coupled with the intelligence of the technology meant it always had traction.
The system also has a hill descent control, which automatically assesses the conditions and adjusts speed and braking accordingly. In practice, this system works incredibly well. Coming down the other side of our rock crawl it proved an essential; it's almost scary just how well it works. We left the car to its own devices, leaving it to brake and slow down as it deemed necessary - all we had to do was steer.
So is the Jeep Compass on point in its 2017 guise? As an everyday compact SUV - even though it has some great specifications and build quality - we wouldn't say the new Compass is able to compete with the likes of the Nissan Qashqai or Seat Ateca. It feels like less of a road vehicle than that.
However, if off-roading is your thing, and you want one vehicle to take you around town during the week and up and down mountains at the weekend, the Compass should definitely be on your shopping shortlist.
Ultimately, we would have liked the Compass to have been a bit more refined with those everyday comforts, but the combination great build quality and an enhanced easy-to-use infotainment system still make it worthy of consideration.
The Jeep Compass will launch in the UK in late 2017/early 2018. You can register your interest on Jeep's website.