Saturday 20 January 2018

Compass points the right way

RATING 80/100

Every so often they (I won't mention names) decide to take a pot shot at me. It goes with the territory, you know. I understand the reasoning: smart-ass motoring journalist driving around in big fancy cars, with the country on its knees and all he can talk about is leather upholstery and a 'brilliant' new diesel engine, and such-and-such is good value at €40,000.

One or two use the great put-down: "Where is your social conscience?"

Lord, I could go on and on. I know much of it is teasing and only meant half-heartedly. Some is more than that. I don't mind. I'm big, bold and old enough to handle it these days.

But -- and I would say this, wouldn't I? -- there is a misconception.

Reviewing a car is about not just giving an overall assessment but, from my farmer's son perspective, absolutely focusing on value for money.

That is the ultimate social conscience because people will buy cars at different levels of price. It is within those bands that value and suitability become the prime concerns. And that, in my own old-fashioned way, is what I try to do.

And sometimes it is dead easy.

Like this week. The pros and cons of the review car, the Jeep Compass, can essentially be distilled into two compartments -- one good, one bad.

The first is how good a job they've made of this and the equipment they've loaded in to regenerate interest in a compact, modern dare-I-say-it 'crossover' Jeep.

The second is the biggest pain in the knee since I got a hefty kick from an opponent (I think he was aiming higher) while playing football as a teenager.

Before going any further let me tell you a little about the Compass.

It is a new and more relevant motor to our European taste -- because Chrysler is now part of the Fiat group -- than the previous offering with which they haltered us. It is coming a bit late in the year, and the 'crossover' cycle, to impact mightily but there is no denying it is making the effort.

Frankly, I was surprised at the reaction to it. The front -- in fairness it is striking -- took a lot of the attention as did the fairly spacious inside which, for the most part, had a good smattering of leather upholstery.

Now it is vital to understand that although it carries the Jeep name, the version I had on test just had front-wheel-drive.

The times are changing all right. There is a four-wheel-drive version if you want to go rampaging off-road -- or even on-road given that winter is coming and bearing in mind the slipping and sliding we've had to ensure on frozen, snowy roads over the past two years.

The 2.2-litre engine was not the most refined I've come across this year, but it was effective and efficient.

I don't think it was that thrifty either, though I did drive it hard.

The six-speed gearbox was a big help at cruising speeds and I must say compared favourably with the best on slickness and ease of use.

They have packed in equipment, the sort of stuff many would have as expensive options. That may help alleviate disappointment that this version is not a bit less expensive. It really needed to be to make real impact against established opposition.

They made a fine job of the cabin; it was really comfortable with good rear space even though the long-legged cousin and myself occupied the front two seats.

Now my legs are not as long, or straight as his, but I paid the penalty, while he had acres of knee room. And that is where my major, major complaint comes in. Under the steering wheel, where you need a bit of knee room for using the pedals, lurked the biggest, boldest and most obstructive archipelago I've encountered for some time.

Even with the wheel at its highest rake, this blob of undercarriage meant I could never drive with the ease and comfort I felt was there for the taking if someone had taken just that extra little bit of care.

If you are of more diminutive dimensions and don't have protruding old knees like mine, then you don't have a difficulty. But what if you do? Or if you're wearing high heels? Or whatever. And so much of the good is undermined by this.

However, for those not burdened by awkward frames and knobby knees, this blemish will not overly detract from a more-than-decent offering.

I can't say it puts it up to the others on price, but it certainly does on equipment and deportment.

Of course there will be some concerns about its retail value a few years down the road given the low profile of the marque here for some time.

That's where more established rivals will continue to score.

But -- and I beg forgiveness for an awful pun -- at least the Compass is pointing in the right direction.

Worth having a look at -- and it shouldn't affect your social conscience.

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