Jeep's heritage lies in tough-as-nails terrain bashers inspired by the rugged spirit of the Willys MB manufactured during the Second World War. However, clinging resolutely to the past is a sure-fire recipe for failure in today's cutthroat automotive arena, so the brand synonymous with seven-slot grilles has adapted accordingly.
Jeep's first foray into the light-duty compact crossover genre was via the Compass, in 2007, and now we have the all-new replacement set to rival the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan and Ford Escape when it launches here in November.
The latest offering shares key architecture with the existing Renegade, but it's discernibly larger overall and its wheelbase is eight centimetres longer than the former, which means its cabin is vastly more spacious.
Unlike the cutesy Renegade and shark-nosed Cherokee, the Compass sticks with Jeep’s traditional design ethos, looking for all intents and purposes like a Grand Cherokee that’s shrunk in the wash. That said, it’s a good looker, delivering more visual punch than most competitors in its segment.
I get an early taste of the Compass at its European launch in Lisbon – in both hard-core Trailhawk form and luxo-laden Limited spec. The other two trim levels here (lower down in the pecking order) will be Sport and Longitude.
As far as off-roading goes, the Trailhawk-spec Compass trounces the opposition, thanks to 216 millimetres of ground clearance, decent approach and departure angles, plus Jeep's Selec-Terrain full-time four-wheel-drive system (with Auto, Sand Mud and Snow modes, plus Rock on the Trailhawk).
There's a 3mm-thick steel skid plate under the car to protect any of the vital bits from getting bashed during off-road forays. In addition, the Trailhawk gets hill-descent control and Jeep Active Drive Low, which gives you a 20:1 crawl ratio.
My off-road experience in Portugal comprises an excursion across a heavily rutted gravel track, plus a single obstacle designed to showcase the vehicle's wheel-articulation capability (200mm). It isn't death-defying, but proves enough to illustrate that the Trailhawk delivers ample all-terrain ability.
But the surprise is how well the Compass fares on the tarmac, serving up a well-damped ride and grippy, composed handling – aided by a torque-vectoring (by brake) system. On the highway, it cruises quietly and effortlessly in the 120-to-140kph range, and it's tactile and enjoyable on twisty roads.
Cabin ambience is far better than Jeeps of yesteryear, with a clean, uncluttered layout and extensive use of soft-touch materials. The rear seats are spacious, and luggage space is also generous for this segment (770 litres, or 1,693 litres with the rear seats folded down).
There's an array of kit, including Jeep's touch-screen (seven- or 8.4-inch) infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a Beats Premium Audio System with a 506-watt digital amplifier and a vast dual-pane panoramic sunroof.
The safety arsenal features forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection, automated parallel and perpendicular park assist, electronic stability control and six standard airbags.
All in all, the Compass is a capable compact SUV. Just as the Willys was the right chariot for the Second World War, this is the vehicle Jeep needs in its line-up today.