Jeep should be setting off in a new direction soon with the Compass, its most car-like model so far
Compass may be Jeep driver Jeep Compass : It is very Goldilocks when it comes to entering and exiting - it's just right; not too low and not too high. Its exterior styling may seem unconventional at first, but the nice thing is, it should grow on you

The iconic American brand is best known for its rugged appeal and offroad prowess, but because of its intimidating engine sizes, its model line-up hasn't climbed far up the sales charts in Singapore. Until now.

The Compass is a car-based compact sport-utility vehicle with a 2.4-litre engine, a displacement which is relatively small compared with a 3.7-litre Cherokee or a 4.7-litre Commander.

The Compass is actually based on another Chrysler model - the Dodge Caliber. Apart from the two-litre engine of the Dodge model sold here and the clearly different body panels, the Jeep also has an extra 2.5 cm of ground clearance and is 5 cm taller overall.

But despite the height, the Compass is very Goldilocks when it comes to entering and exiting - it's just right; not too low and not too high. The drive is certainly car-like too.

It may not be the sportiest model around corners but it handles competently enough and isn't as softly sprung as most other American cars.

In true Jeep fashion, though, the Compass has active full-time four-wheel-drive. This particular system is new and is called Freedom Drive 1.

Under ordinary conditions, it delivers up to 99 per cent of the power to the front wheels, thus contributing to surprisingly acceptable fuel economy.

In the urban cycle, with regular bursts of heavy acceleration, the Compass returned more than 7km per litre. Not bad for something that weighs in at almost 1.6 tonnes with permanent all-wheel-drive.

For offroad excursions, pull the dinky chromed T-handle below the gear lever and the differential can be electronically locked to tackle any mud and sand that appear more challenging than the gravel in the Raffles Hotel driveway.

Like all Jeep models, cabin space is good and anyone who complains would have to be as big as a bear.

The dashboard design is also typically Jeep - that is, hardly exciting - but the ergonomics are excellent. The audio display and controls are placed high for good visibility and easy reach.

The radio station selection is also highlighted in the instrument binnacle, just below the compass bearing and outside temperature reading.

Driver convenience was definitely part of the design brief, with audio controls located on the back of the steering wheel spokes.

And the armrest can flip up and outwards to act as a cradle for your iPod, which is plugged in with the cable in the centre console.

Even the gear lever is well-positioned. If your elbow is resting on the extendable centre armrest, your hand falls naturally on to the gearstick for easy manual shifting to the left or right.

The six-step continuously variable transmission is also a delight to use because of the quick changes.

The only downside is the look and feel of the gray plastics used. They aren't as cheap-looking as in other Jeep models but the fit and finish are not perfect, like the sharp edges where the panels meet. Then there is the untidy arrangement of the rear centre seatbelt.

But the Compass's main attributes are its price, easy handling and spacious cabin. Its exterior styling may seem unconventional at first, but the nice thing is, it should grow on you.

SPECS

Jeep Compass

Engine: 2,360 cc

Gearbox: 6-step Continuously Variable Transaxle

Max power: 170 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Max torque: - 220 Nm @ 4,500 rpm

0-100 kmh: 10.5 secs

Top speed: 180 kmh

Price: $95,000 (with COE)

Distributor: Chrysler Jeep Automotive of Singapore,

Tel 6479-3333