Compass

First time Jeep launched a vehicle called the Compass, it was a bit rubbish. It was 2006, and the company felt like it could do nothing wrong – so it brought a deeply American vehicle to Britain and figured it would sell, because back then everything sold.

What followed was a financial collapse that ended up with Jeep becoming part of the Fiat empire. And however cynical you might feel about that, the result is that today’s Jeeps are properly global products.

The Renegade was first, and its sales have been astronomical. So much so that having sold 300,000 vehicles in 2009, Jeep shifted 1.4 million last year.

Now, aiming to play the same game, here’s an all-new Compass. It’s halfway in size between the Renegade and bigger Cherokee – and it’s set to give Jeep an extremely serious presence in the compact SUV market when it goes on sale at the end of the year.

If you doubt Jeep’s global credentials, you might be interested to learn that UK Compasses with be built in India. You don’t need to spend much time inside the vehicle to see that it’s distinctly European in character, too.

Jeep says the Compass will be the ‘most capable’ vehicle in its segment. Backing that up is the presence of a Trailhawk model in the range, bringing with it dual-ratio gears – and the ‘Trail Rated’ badge that says Jeep considers this vehicle worthy of its off-road heritage.

As with the existing Renegade and Cherokee, the Trailhawk model will be a niche seller. But all Compasses will have a decent level of off-road ability built in, with 3mm metal underbody guards as standard and a rear suspension setup allowing 20cm of articulation.

So this is going to be more than just another me-too model in an already crowded segment. You could argue that real off-road ability is irrelevant to most buyers here, and by extension that it’s a gimmick, but Jeep clearly believes that its brand means something, even to people who buy soft-roaders. And amen to that.

First and foremost, though, this is a family car. Entry-level models won’t even have four-wheel drive. Obviously we’ll leave those to one side; assuming you want the real thing, your choice will be between a 1.4-litre petrol engine and a pair of 2.0-litre diesels producing 140 and 170bhp. All 4×4 models will get a nine-speed auto box as standard.

There are three main trim levels, with Trailhawk out on its own as a specialist model. All are well equipped, with the range-topping Limited giving you an exceptional kit list including a particularly impressive multimedia system.

We drove a Limited with the 170bhp diesel engine, as well as a similarly powered Trailhawk. The most obvious difference aside from the off-road stuff is that the Limited has a full leather interior; the leather itself is less than entirely plush, but does feel hard-wearing.

There are some hard, scratchy and cheap-feeling plastics around the cabin, too, particularly to the lower dash surfaces and rear door trims. The dash itself is good and stout, however, though the floor console is a bit flappy – give it a couple of years and we’d be listening out for creaks and squeaks from it.

It’s easy to get into a good driving position, however – and even with the front seat set all the way back, a six-footer can still slide comfortably into the back. That’s a very pleasing surprise in a 4×4 of this size – though in the Limited we drove, a full-length sunroof meant headroom in the back was badly lacking. The Trailhawk was just fine in this way, however, though a high waistline and rather eagerly positioned C-post means the view out is nothing to write home about.

So your kids might not be overly enamoured of the Compass. They’ll like this, though: when Jeep’s designers were coming up with a ‘look’ for the vehicle, they took inspiration from sources including none other than Iron Man. ‘Machine with character’ is the phrase they like to use, and you’d be hard pushed to say the Compass lacks it.

It doesn’t lack for cargo carrying skills, either, thanks to rear seats which fold acceptably close to flat. They don’t leave any step to get your stuff over, either, and loading up in the first place is aided by a good, low lip with a hard-wearing plastic covering.

On the move, the Compass is impressively quiet. The diesel engine is quiet at all speeds and the ninespeed box is as smooth as you like, meaning progress in stop-start city traffi c is hassle-free. Our test route included a lot of urban driving, which was completely undramatic – even when the surface got broken up and pot-holed, the suspension dealt with it more effi ciently than we expected, with crashy responses almost completely absent.

We didn’t really get the chance to experience the Compass’ handling, however we can say that its ride and refi nement are genuinely impressive – as is its braking. Off-road, the Limited dealt tidily with rough, unsurfaced tracks – and the Trailhawk demonstrated a strong level of climbing ability, whether over loose stones or bigger, axle-twisting rocks. We found that even in low box, however, it was necessary to use Hill Descent Control to keep on top of its speed on even quite shallow drops – putting the auto box into manual mode and dropping it into fi rst did prevent revs from building up in some situations but, once the vehicle was already descending on HDC, switching it off provoked an immediate lurch forward.

Overall, however, there’s no doubting that with the extra hardware Jeep has given the Compass, it’s going to add something new to the compact SUV market. It may not be the most sophisticated vehicle in its class, but not a lot will be able to match it for standard kit – and Jeep says that its price will be pitched in to the middle of the market.

There’s more to life than just kit, though – which is one of the lessons Jeep learned from the original Compass. This time, the vehicle itself has been designed to appeal to European tastes – showing that of all the lessons they’ve learned, the main one is that the Renegade worked like a charm.

Like it or not, Jeep would be mad not to follow that formula. The Compass does just that – but the need to demonstrate real off-road skill shows that this is a formula that’s unique to Jeep itself. It’s one they’ve got right before – and thus far, everything points to them having done it again.

Kodiaq

Skoda came late to the SUV game. But when it arrived, the Yeti rewrote the rules on how a small 4×4 should be. Now the company aims to do the same thing with the Kodiaq, a larger vehicle whose all-road ability, seven-seat practicality and sensible pricing is aimed directly at the heart of Discovery Sport territory.

Based on the latest technology used throughout the Volkswagen Group, the Kodiaq is designed to be as family-friendly as possible. Not all models have seven seats, just as not all have four-wheel drive, but with a choice of five engines, two gearboxes and four trim levels, it’s unlikely that you’ll fail to find one to suit your taste.

That’s if it’s to your taste at all, of course. The Yeti stood out by virtue of its distinctive styling, but the Kodiaq is more conservative, looking smaller than it really is and even appearing quite car-like from some angles. Apparently the nextgen Yeti will take the same approach when it arrives later this year, which you might say is a bit of a pity.

Far be it from us to talk of trivial stuff, but it did occur during the launch that this is a vehicle whose design is particularly sensitive to the colour you paint it. We drove one in signal red, which definitely deivided opinion; ours would be that unless you want to hide in the scenery, a bright colour helps.

Inside, the Kodiaq feels just like a Skoda should. It’s beautifully put together, of course, and the dash on the SE L spec model we drove was highlighted by a very elegant, very modern touch-screen media system that looked crisp, made logical sense to use and responded promptly to inputs.

This helps make it a pleasing and entirely inoffensive place to sit, as do good, comfortable seats with a commanding view of the road ahead. Behind you, the second row can be slid far enough back to let one six-footer stretch out behind another – naturally, there’ll be a push-me-pull-you sort of compromise to be made if there are people sat in the third row too, but our tester was only a fiveseater so that one’s going to have to wait for another day.

What we were able to do was drop the rear seats, which is dead easy as it’s just a question of pulling a lever and watching as the backs drop to click into place and sit near-flat on the fixed squabs. They left a step in the load floor on the Kodiaq we drove, but once you’ve played about with the seven-seat options and/or the various cargo handling accessories on offer, there’s no reason to fear being stuck with one like that.

Our Kodiaq had the 1.4 TSI engine, in 150bhp form and mated to a manual gearbox. Yes, a 4×4 with a 1.4-litre petrol engine… last time we came across one of those, it was an old-generation Dacia Duster from the early nineties.

Happily, the Kodiaq bears no resemblence to that sad shed of a thing. The engine is brisk and full of torquem the gearbox is a picture of smoothess and the overall standard of handling and, in particular, ride shows none of the harshness that’s blotted Skoda’s copybook in the past. It doesn’t exactly reflect well on how much attention we were paying, but at the end of the launch route we remarked that we had barely noticed what the Kodiaq was like to drive – a sure sign of a car with no vices.

The petrol engine is not to be feared, and if you value serenity you’ll fi nd it quieter than the 2.0 TDI diesel we had a quick spin in afterwards. Both are very acceptable, however.

What the launch route didn’t include was any off-tarmac work worthy of the name (even though we were tantalisingly close to Salisbury Plain, which was a bit frustrating). So that too will have to wait for another day – however with Off-road mode available as part of the Drive Mode Select option on 4×4 models, we fully expect the Kodiaq to be as capable as mechanically similar machines like the new VW Tiguan – which has previously impressed us in genuinely difficult conditions.

As it is, the pictures on these pages make it clear that Skoda is marketing the Kodiaq as a vehicle for people who want to keep going after the road ends. Within reason, we expect it to excel at that – it’s clearly not for hardcore mudplugging, and you wouldn’t want to cane it through clawing thorns, but on the sort of known-quantity rough tracks that make up almost all the off-roading people do in the real world, it has the makings of a true do-anything family holdall.

Land Rover Discovery

There were no surprises when pictures of the Discovery 5 surfaced. Like the Discovery Sport but taller, wider and with familiar traits from previous Discoverys like the stepped roof, the D5 is clearly the top dog in what is now Land Rover’s most rounded model family.

Crucially, however, there’s always the risk that someone will label it, ‘just a rebadged Range Rover’. There’s no denying that this Discovery looks closer to its poshest relations than before, especially at the front. What this Discovery needs to do, though, is drive like a Discovery. There needs to be segregation here compared to the Range Rover. Unlike in the old Discovery 4, you have a choice of engines ranging from the 240hp 2.0-litre Sd4 diesel to the 340hp 3.0-litre Si6 petrol unit.

We tested the one in between, a 258hp 3.0-litre Td6 version, and while that doesn’t have significantly more power than the Sd4 engine, there is around 20% more torque on tap (443lbf.ft against 369lbf.ft). Simply put, the Td6 engine is superb. Essentially the same unit as the old SDV6, it does a fine job of hauling the vehicle up to speed. Having shed 480kg in weight over the old Disco 4, it’s no wonder this new Discovery feels lighter on its feet. Naturally, it’s no featherweight still, so you can’t start thinking you’re in a sports car – but you can at least think heavyweight boxer rather than sumo wrestler.

There’s more good news too as each engine is mated to the brilliant eight-speed ZF gearbox. On the road, the Discovery 5 feels very composed. It still has that Discovery 4 glide, and it’s very easy to settle into. The steering is nicely weighted for a vehicle this size, making it easy to position in town and when entering the sort of bends you’ll find on a typical B-road.

Again, it’s easy to cover ground quickly. Yes, there will be a little body roll in the corners, but it’s minimal and to be expected when you’re pressing on in a vehicle of this stature. Big is one conclusion everyone seems to draw from their initial greeting with the Disco 5.

But no, it doesn’t feel like a Range Rover. There’s more to it than that. It feels multi-purpose. It feels versatile. It feels Discovery.

Admittedly, when you sit in the driver’s seat of the new Disco, the fact that it utilises the same steering wheel and switchgear as the Range Rover can undermine that argument. But having parts from a car that is significantly more expensive is surely a string to the Discovery’s bow.

Being the new kid on the block, the Discovery has other perks too. These include the Intelligent Seat Fold system, which allows you to raise or lower the middle and back rows of seats all at the touch of a button; the stadium seating that means the (very usable) back row gets as good a view of the road ahead as the driver; the on-board wi-fi and hundred different USB slots to help kids keep shtum for weeks. There’s even heated seats for every single row and bum.

Everyone should be safe, too, as you carry the kiddiewinks to school in a vehicle awarded with a full fivestar NCAP safety rating.

Forget the party pieces and on-road manners for a moment, though. Take the Discovery 5 offroad and you understand why Land Rover is so excited about it.

There’s no escaping that you are subject to a far more digitised experience than you had 28 years ago in a Discovery. The latest Terrain Response 2 algorithms, combined with All-Terrain Progress Control, Hill Descent Control and cameras on every panel, mean it can all feel a little disconnected.

However, all these electronic aids mean no terrain is safe from the reach of the Discovery. Even over severe rocks, it brings a level of composure, while traction control settings can adjust automatically to solve the equation the landscape poses ahead. Our impression is that the Discovery 5 will go further than a Disco 1 or 2 could manage, at least in standard spec.

A 900mm wading depth also enables the Discovery to do a good impression of a narrowboat heading down your nearest canal.

Notwithstanding this, the new Discovery looks and moves much better than a boat. The fresh exterior, while not to everyone’s taste, has sharpened it up over its predecessor. Yet it still feels like a Disco 4 – only nimbler.

The problem with the Discovery is the Range Rover. Or more accurately, the Range Rover’s problem is now the Discovery.

The version we drove was a Td6 HSE Luxury: yours for £75,965. That sounds like insane money for a Discovery, but this is a seriously high-spec machine which echoes the Range Rover with some of the touches in its cabin.

The question is that with the Discovery being such an all-rounder, with seven usable seats, brilliant storage space, luxury taken straight from the Range Rover and more capability than you’ve ever seen in a thing with four wheels, why would you spend possibly an extra £25,000 on a Rangey?

The answer is that snob value is a powerful thing. And you can expect the Range Rover to keep on moving upmarket. With what may just be the greatest ever Discovery now on its case, it might have to.

Ssangyong Korando

Once seen as a byword for crumminess, Ssangyong is making huge leaps forward with every new model it brings out. The 2017 Korando is a final facelift for a vehicle that’s been around for half a decade – but even this might surprise you if you still assume the Korean 4×4 specialist is stuck in the last century.

As facelifts go, it’s a mild one. The front-end styling has been revised to bring it into line with more recently introduced members of the Ssangyong family, and there are new designs for the alloys and steering wheel.

Yet the difference between this vehicle and the last Korando we drove (way back in 2011 when it had just arrived in the UK) suggests not a mild tickle-up but a quantum leap forward. There’s been some evolutionary change during that time, not to mention the arrival of a far superior diesel engine, but the improvement is still startling.

In the cabin, the dash plastics have just enough texture to feel pleasing and it doesn’t creak, groan or squirm when you lean on it. The new steering wheel feels good in your hands, and the controls it carries are clear and unfussy.

That goes for the whole of the cabin. Finding the button you want is always easy, as is operating the infotainment system – and so too is getting a comfortable driving position, thanks to a seat with a huge range of adjustment. If you’re used to sliding it as far back as possible in whatever car you drive, first time you get in one of these you might find yourself sitting too far from the wheel.

Stowage is generous, too, with a big glovebox and cubby as well as two useful bins in the centre stack and floor console. It all adds to the feeling of this being a vehicle you can use without having to fuss about anything being awkward.

In the back, you’d have to be sitting behind someone pretty immense not to have enough knee room. Again, it’s easy to get comfortable – and if you’re carrying cargo rather than people, the 60:40 rear seats fold flat with a light and easy one-shot action to create a floor that’s as long as possible and as good as completely flat. There are more recent arrivals on the SUV scene that don’t come close to being as good – especially as the lip at the back is nice and low.

The Korando we tested was the range-topping ELX model, whose already high standard kit list is augmented by leather and heated front and rear seats. For those in the back to get that luxury remains unusual even on a premium vehicle, so it’s an impressive touch – as is the fact that the leather itself feels like leather, not plastic.

Other kit on this model includes a heated steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors with a rearview camera, sat-nav, Bluetooth, a 7” touch screen and 225/55R18 tyres on diamond-cut alloys. Plenty of good stuff for your money, then.

Those big rims do bode ill for ride quality, however. And when you pilot the Korando across the sort of broken surfaces we have to endure all too often in the UK, things do at times verge on the crashy. There’s a certain amount of vibration through the drivetrain, too, so refinement is hardly its strongest point.

Overall, however, for what is ultimately a budget vehicle the Korando drives very acceptably. More than that, in fact, it can be quite enjoyable to hustle through corners – and the 2.2-litre engine has no shortage at all of shove.

Mated to the optional automatic gearbox, a six-speed Aisin unit adding £1125 to the price of the car, the engine is quite vocal but, more than that, very willing to get you moving. It doesn’t take off like a scalded cat when you floor it from the lights, but it builds speed steadily – and we found that for overtaking moves in the 30-45mph band, it’s very effective indeed. Waiting patiently for the national speed limit sign to arrive as we exited a village on the test route, we banged in the throttle and, for a moment, had to check to see that we hadn’t accidentally driven off in someone’s V8 instead.

Not all versions of the Korando have four-wheel drive, but all the versions we’re interested in do. To this end, you can add £1500 to any ‘prices from’ stuff you see about it, though the ELX model tested here comes as standard in 4×4 form.

This helps add peace of mind to a 2000kg towing limit, and while it’s no Rexton off-road the Korando does have a good degree of capability. Obviously, ground clearance will be a limiting factor, and you wouldn’t choose such low-profi le tyres for this kind of work either, but the engine’s torque supply is admirably suited to hauling it up steep hills from tickover, even without the benefit of low box.

Something else it doesn’t have is hill descent control, and even with fi rst gear selected manually on the auto box it was necessary to use cadence braking to avoid a runaway ride. For this reason, we’d say the Korando could be a viable choice if you need something to use regularly on sandy or gravelly terrain, but mud, ruts and slippery hills are less likely to suit it.

Overall, this is a very credible SUV. Without laying it on thick, it ticks almost every basic box, and while it does feel a little last-generation in places it’s certainly not last-century – and for Ssangyong, that really does represent a step forward on the path it’s taking from joke brand through also-run and left-field choice to part of the mainstream. It’s well on the way. Certainly, it’s still a left-field choice, with low prices – and a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty, don’t let’s forget – key to what it offers.

Ssangyong dealers don’t offer the sort of discounts some of its rivals’ do, however. That helps bring some excellent cars closer to the £23,500 on this car’s screen – and when you factor in the likely effect of depreciation, and of the relatively high emissions the 2.2-litre engine produces, it’s less cut and dried.

But as it was with Hyundai and Kia, Ssanygong is moving from a price-based offering to one that leads with its products.The Korando has made up ground during its time – and though this fi nal facelift is a mild one, it helps suggest that when the next model comes along, it will represent another quantum leap forward. For now, it’s a better bet than ever.

It is no secret that Ford is the dominant manufacturer in the UK in terms of small, family cars. They are also one of the top sellers of sub-compacts, compacts, and family vans in Europe. Now the company is investing heavily in trying to build its market share in the crossover and 4×4 arena. They do well enough in the States, but can Ford really compete in Europe?

The European SUV, crossover and 4×4 market clearly belongs to Nissan/Renault and their very popular Qashqai SUV. Other major players include Opel/Vauxhall, Audi, and BMW. All of the major competitors have long established reputations for putting out robust vehicles capable of withstanding considerable punishment. The big problem Ford is up against is not one of matching the quality and pricing of the competition; it is one of perception.

Ford has long been considered a master of the family car. What’s more, they are the preferred nameplate for family cars that are reliable yet affordable. Trying to compete in the higher-priced crossover and 4×4 market could be challenging. For 2016, the company is pushing hard with the Edge, Kuga, and EcoSport. The latter two are in the midst of major facelifts to improve their ‘sex appeal’.

saf2The African safari experience is on many to-do lists, but few people consider the option to drive the vehicle yourself, plan your own route and camp in the wild. Shaw Safaris in Tanzania will hire you a bespoke Land Rover Defender 110 with an itinerary to suit your own pace. It doesn’t get much better.

 

We crept up along the track, inching forward as the Defender 110’s 300Tdi chugged happily away, keen not to disturb or agitate the wild animal basking in the warmth of the Tanzanian sunshine alongside us in the scrubland. A convoy of Toyota Land Cruisers ahead had previously halted when the huge male lion decided to investigate (and have a nibble at) the All Terrains, but moved on once the lion had lost interest in the unpalatable rubberwear. Now it was our turn to enjoy the beauty of this magnificent African beast up close. “Am I safe here?” came a rather nervous voice from the passenger seat as my other half leaned out of the Defender’s window to come almost face to face with the lion, slumped on the ground below just a metre away.

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We have always been very positive about Fiat’s little Panda 4×4; it’s a competent and capable, road-biased, small SUV. With the introduction of the new Panda Cross, that view has now changed…

If you work in a quarry, then you are used to things that are pretty big. All the mechanical equipment used is big, the holes in the ground can certainly get big, and the piles of rock, rubble, sand and general geological detritus can quickly turn into small mountains as work progresses.

The new Jeep Renegade will arrive in the UK in early 2015 and we have been to Italy to drive it. That might seem a little odd for a US vehicle, but the Renegade is actually built in Italy, thanks to the partnership with Fiat. It’s great to report that in Trailhawk form, this is a proper off-roader; while also quiet and comfortable on-road as well.

 

In the first of a series of Survival Guides, Fenton Motorsport explains how to service a diesel powered Nissan Navara. An ideal insight should you be considering a purchase of Nissan’s popular pick-up

Words and photography: Rob Hawkins

SURVIVAL GUIDE: NISSAN NAVARA

“It’s never let me down, but I do service the brakes and change the oil every 10,000 miles and renew the air filter every 6000 miles,” explains Nigel Barker of Fenton Motorsport on the reliability of his 11-year old 2.5-litre diesel powered Nissan Navara.

While routine servicing really is the answer to reliability, Nigel also admits he had to fit a new clutch thrust bearing at 85,000 miles and a propshaft UJ at 96,000, along with tyres that have generally lasted for around 30,000 miles. Rust is starting to emerge on the rear bumper, which he can live with for now along with a peculiar speed sensor related issue that results in a misfire at 1500-1600rpm – it has been fixed for now by detaching the plug connector at the gearbox.

Jeep Cherokee

It was a nervous few minutes early on a Saturday morning as I eased the transfer lever back a notch. The yellow indicator lamp saying ‘part time’ lit up on the dash, but had four-wheel drive actually engaged? I eased the gear lever into reverse, felt it clonk into gear, and the car eased gently backwards. No graunching, clicking, rattling or screeching sounds, just a gentle creep backwards. Then I selected Drive and eased the Cherokee back up the driveway. Then the lever went back another notch; no sign on the dash of a green ‘full time’ indication, but the Jeep drove backwards and forwards again without hesitation. I then yanked the stick all the way back to low range. The ‘part time’ lamp lit up again, and as I eased the Jeep up and down the drive again it did, at least, seem to be in low range.