Jeep is on a roll and you see more of the Compass than all of the current lot of Fiats on the roads. And going by the long waiting periods for the SUV, it is safe to say that Fiat-Chrysler’s India operations finally have wind in their sails. And they do need it, considering their bread-and-butter, the 1.3-litre Multijet (that goes into Marutis, Fiats and Tatas), will not be around for much longer as it is too expensive to upgrade to 2020’s BS-VI emission norms. But that’s not the focus of this review, nor is the Renegade and other Jeeps that will dramatically expand FCA’s portfolio, volumes and presence in the days to come. What we’re driving is the petrol Compass, the only Compass to get the automatic transmission that we’ve all been clamouring for.
A new engine?
Move over the T-Jet turbo-petrol that powered everything including the Abarths, the Compass gets the new Multiair engine which, unlike the T-Jet, comes equipped with variable valve timing. The four-cylinder, 1368cc turbocharged petrol engine makes 161bhp and 250Nm, acceptable figures for an SUV this size. You also get a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, sans paddleshifters. And this is accompanied by a sizeable weight reduction of 79kg over the 4×4 diesel and a huge price drop of Rs 1.70 lakh. However to enable that price drop, the Compass DDCT comes with only two airbags, even in the top-spec Limited (O) variant, unlike on the diesel, which gets six. You also lose out on the drive mode selector and Jeep’s Active Drive traction control system. Aesthetically though, the petrol variant resembles the diesel with a dual tone roof, bi-xenon headlamp cluster, DRLs and 17-inch wheels.
How good is the Multiair?
Like the T-Jet, the Multiair unit is responsive and spontaneous at all times. Our VBox tests resulted in a 0-100kmph time of 10.23 seconds, which is excellent for an SUV of this size. Turbo lag is minimal and after 2000rpm, the Compass surges ahead with urgency and stays in the power band all the way till 6500rpm. The engine is a refined unit with great NVH levels; so accustomed are we to the clatter of a diesel engine in an SUV that the near silence of a petrol especially at idle is a welcome pleasure. And if you are an audiophile like me, you will not be disappointed as the engine purrs a loud and sporty tune north of 4500rpm.
The issue with this engine-DDCT transmission package though are the throttle responses that are slow and extremely vague. If you are feathering the accelerator, the Compass refuses to move, giving you the impression the gearbox is stuck in neutral. On the other hand, if you floor the throttle, it drops down two gears, leaps into the meat of the power band and surges ahead ferociously. And, like every turbo-petrol Fiat, hard acceleration is accompanied by significant torque steer where the steering wheel squirms in your hand and the front wheels track in to surface irregularities and pulls where it finds more grip.
As for the DDCT gearbox, a twin-clutch gearbox let me remind you, the shifts are surprisingly slow. In terms of tactile feel, some work is also required as when you stick it in manual mode and tap the lever, the shift action feels very vague and rubbery. The Ed remarked that this is the slowest twin-clutch gearbox he has encountered and it is even more pronounced as there are no paddleshifters to get it going in a hurry. We are sure the Multiair engine will be a lot of fun if mated to a manual gearbox, which is available in the base Sport variant that is aggressively priced at Rs 15.16 lakh.
The steering also feels lighter than the 4×4 but that’s probably because there is less weight over the front axle, but is communicative enough just like all other Fiats. The ride quality is velvety and it gets even better when the roads reveal their dirty side. The Compass diesel we tested earlier is an excellent tool for mile munching and similar is the case with the petrol as well.
Easy to live with?
Convenience, especially in urban conditions, is the main reason why people opt for automatic transmissions and we are happy to report that even though it is slow to react the DDCT gearbox makes the Compass a great urban SUV. However turbocharged petrols, across the board, are infamous for their drinking habits and the Compass is no exception. Even with a light foot, we managed to eke out a best figure of 8kmpl in the city while on the highway it barely stretched to 11kmpl. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
On the other hand, the Compass receives full marks when it comes to ergonomics and it even comes with lots of stowage space in the cabin. The two-tone interiors look and feel premium too though white is probably not the best colour for our conditions and the rear does feel cramped and not very conducive to being chauffeur driven. While we are picking faults I will also have to point out that the Apple CarPlay interface is not mirrored fully on the display resulting in small icons that makes playing around with the controls while on the move a difficult task. It also lacks basic features such as auto headlamps and auto wipers and like we mentioned earlier, the petrol also comes with only dual airbags, which is a major let down.
Which one should you buy?
At Rs 19.67 lakh, the fully loaded petrol Limited (O) variant saves you more than Rs 2 lakh over the 4×4 diesel (that only has a manual gearbox). Also, not many will take their Rs 20 lakh SUV for hardcore off-roading, especially in India, so I don’t think there will be too much whining about the petrol not being offered with 4×4. On a positive note, you’re still being offered a properly butch SUV with great road presence, excellent dynamics, great ride and a whole lot of features. And that makes the Compass petrol DDCT an excellent SUV to recommend.