REMEMBER the Compass? No, not the mini-Grand Cherokee that’s in Jeep showrooms today, but the thoroughly miserable wagon it replaced. We don’t blame you if you’ve forgotten about it as it was an eminently forgettable car, but recalling the old Compass and its many foibles is necessary to put the new Compass into perspective. Once you do, it becomes obvious that the 2018 model represents several big leaps forward for the Compass nameplate.
It is the steady march of progress in effect, right? Certainly when judged in isolation, but with its predecessor having being such a backmarker in its segment, has the new Compass been able to catch up to the rest of the SUV gang? To test, we lined up the Compass Limited 2.4-litre petrol – one of the models Jeep expects to provide the bulk of sales volume for the Compass – against one of the SUV segment’s stalwarts, the Mazda CX-5 in Touring petrol trim.
Read next: Jeep Compass Limited review
With the Compass being a ‘tweener model that straddles the gap between Renegade and Cherokee (and technically sits in the small SUV segment), it measures slightly smaller than the mid-sized CX-5. However, put up the Compass Limited and CX-5 Touring – both in petrol AWD config - against each other, and their cabins, powertrains, prices and feature-sets align a lot more closely than you’d think.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
The $41,250 Compass Limited petrol costs $2260 more than the CX-5, but flaunts a fatter standard equipment list that gives it an edge in showroom wow factor. Simply put, there’s no shortage of gadgets that’ll impress a prospective buyer, which gives the Jeep something of a head start.
Among its niceties are heated and power-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, xenon headlamps, a nine-speaker audio with subwoofer, 18-inch alloys, power front seats, front and rear parking sensors, parking assist, dual zone climate control, an 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, a push button starter, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps and a reversing camera.
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However, the safety-minded among you will notice that autonomous emergency braking isn’t standard on the Compass Limited – or any Compass for that matter. That feature only comes as part of a $2450 “Advanced Technology Group” package that bundles forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, active cruise control and a power-operated tailgate.
Meanwhile the $38,590 CX-5 Touring not only has AEB in its standard feature list, but it also comes with rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring. It’s less impressive in terms of in-cabin mod-cons though, with a head-up display the only example where the CX-5 trumps the more expensive Compass. The seats are manually adjusted and unheated, the upholstery is faux leather and suede, and there’s only 7.0 inches of touchscreen.
It’s a game of give-and-take in this round, with the Compass boasting more equipment outright, but being hobbled by a lower level of standard safety features and a higher retail price relative to the slightly larger Mazda. For that reason, it’s a draw.
INTERIOR AND CONNECTIVITY
Quality is not the Compass’ strong suit, and nor is sensible interior design. There’s a peculiar collection of switch block modules at the base of the centre stack that leaves only a thin L-shaped pocket for keys or (thin) wallets, the centre stack is skewed away from the driver and there was a mysterious creaking from the rear cabin plastics that never went away.
Read next: 2018 Mazda CX-5 pricing and features
Hard door card uppers in the back are another lowlight, and though the upholstery is leather, it lacks an appropriately premium feel. The Mazda’s synthetic hide simply feels better.
The front seats are spacious (though a bit flat), while a high door sill makes it a little harder to step into the back of the Compass. Once inside, the rear seats can feel a touch claustrophobic around the head due to intrusion from the panoramic sunroof and the high position of the rear bench. On the flipside, there’s a thoughtful storage bin under the front passenger seat cushion and a 230-volt household power outlet in the back, while the floor is flatter than the Mazda’s and the middle seat is more accommodating of adults as a result. Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment suite is also intuitive and easy to use, and includes a digital radio tuner, navigation and smartphone mirroring as standard.
Meanwhile, the Mazda couldn’t be more different in terms of its presentation. Clean lines, clear instruments and a much wider centre console separate the front seats (and offer better storage options), and the CX-5’s cabin feels far more high-end despite it being cheaper than the Jeep. The Mazda’s infotainment screen is smaller and less feature-rich than the Compass’ (there’s no smartphone mirroring, for example), but it’s controlled from an intuitive rotary dial down low on the centre console, rather than solely through touchscreen inputs.
The Mazda’s front seats are excellent, with a car-like driving position, superbly supportive cushions and a wide range of adjustment. There are no power controls or heating though, unlike the Compass Limited. Rear-seat comfort is similarly excellent for those in the outboard positions, while the centre seat is compromised by a prominent transmission tunnel hump that makes it only good for kids.
Both have rear air vents, rear USB charging ports and map lights, but it’s the Mazda’s boot space that gives it the lead over the Compass as an SUV.
The raw numbers don’t suggest much of an advantage. After all, with the CX-5 sporting 442 litres of seats-up capacity against the Compass’ 438L, there’s just 4.0 litres separating them. However, the CX-5’s boot floor is significantly lower than the Jeep’s, making it easier to load and to reach into. There’s also a proper retractable cargo blind rather than the Compass’ hatchback-like solid cover, as well as boot-mounted release handles for the Mazda’s 40/20/40 split rear seats. That extra layer of convenience, coupled with generally higher levels of comfort and quality, give the Mazda the win for this section.
Winner: Mazda CX-5 Touring
RIDE AND HANDLING
Mazda’s CX-5 has been a consistent high achiever in its segment when it comes to delivering driving joy, which means Jeep’s newcomer will have a tough job matching it. But after driving the pair back to back, it’s surprising just how quickly you realise the Mazda is the more capable steerer of the two.
There’s a ponderous, wooden manner to the Compass’ over-assisted steering that robs you of any information regarding what’s going on at the front wheels, and while it’ll actually hang onto the road reasonably well, pushing it hard relies on you guessing about how much grip you have to work with, rather than using any kind of feedback. Being a Jeep, some of that dynamic glugginess may come down to it being engineered to handle gnarlier roads than what the average SUV owner will ever encounter, but it results in steering and handling that’s far from confidence-inspiring.
The CX-5 feels far sharper, with direct and nicely weighted steering married to a front axle that boasts a far more authoritative grip of the road. It’s firmer than the softly sprung (and admittedly quite comfortable) Compass, but the Mazda’s damping delivers better recovery from bigger bumps that can have the Compass bouncing a few times after initial impact.
Most will find the CX-5 to be more pleasant on the road, but those that routinely venture far from the big smoke and aren’t shy about hitting off-road trails may find more to like about the Compass’ AWD hardware. With multiple terrain modes to enhance traction on slippery surfaces and plenty of wheel articulation to work with, the Jeep’s off-road talent may be a deal-maker for those with outdoorsy preferences.
Winner: Mazda CX-5 Touring
PERFORMANCE AND ECONOMY
This round is even more black and white, and as always, comparing spec sheets only tells part of the story. The CX-5 and Compass initially appear close in terms of power and torque, with the CX-5’s 2.5-litre petrol producing 140kW/251Nm, and the Compass running not too far behind with outputs of 129kW/229Nm from a 2.4-litre. Yes, the Compass has 11kW less power and 22Nm less torque, but with a nine-speed automatic taking power to all four wheels one would expect that it makes better use of the engine’s numbers than the Mazda’s six-speed auto.
Roadtrip: Chasing ghosts in the 2018 Jeep Compass
However, driving both back-to-back reveals the Mazda has significantly more punch than the Compass Limited. The Mazda also burns less fuel than the Compass, with a factory figure of 7.5L/100km on the combined cycle versus the Jeep’s thirsty 9.7L/100km claim, and no doubt helped by the Mazda’s standard engine stop-start feature.
There are other more general driveability qualms with the Compass beyond its wheezy 2.4-litre. It feels sluggish off the line, and the gearing of its nine-speed transmission doesn’t mesh well (pun intended) with the engine’s output. It’s a somewhat unexpected result: the Jeep actually weighs a full 130kg less than the Mazda, yet despite a mass advantage and a nine-speed automatic it still feels well behind its Japanese rival in both performance and economy.
Winner: Mazda CX-5 Touring
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
The Jeep gets off to a good start by offering a five-year warranty and 12,000km servicing intervals – two years and 2000km more than what Mazda offers, respectively – though its 100,000km warranty period is well behind Mazda’s unlimited kilometre term. Still, if you don’t tend to put on massive mileages each year then Jeep’s warranty should last longer.
However, when it comes time to visit the service department the Compass will hit your hip pocket hard. Mazda’s 10,000km/12 month servicing intervals are slightly more frequent than the Compass’ 12,000km/12 month intervals, but the cost per visit is very much in Mazda’s favour.
Scheduled services for the Mazda alternate between $308 and $336, with a $65 brake fluid change and $69 cabin filter change due at the 40,000km mark. That amounts to a total service expense of $1730 over five years – an average of $346 a year.
According to Jeep’s scheduled servicing program, services start at $425 for the petrol-powered Compass and can stretch as high as $695. All up, expect to pay $2594 to keep it running for five years.
Winner: Mazda CX-5 Touring
The Compass definitely deserves recognition for making vast steps forward relative to its predecessor, but unfortunately it’s still not on the same level as the CX-5. It’s a compelling enough buy when you scan the equipment list, but on the road it’s the Mazda that feels more substantial, practical, and powerful.
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Cabin quality, fuel efficiency and driveline calibration are the Compass’ biggest opportunities for improvement, and the areas where it most lags behind its Japanese rival. Shortcomings in these areas take shine off what is otherwise a comfortable and feature-rich wagon that’s perfect for small families. Until it rectifies its issues, however, it’s the CX-5 Touring that walks away with the win.