Get ’em while they’re young… Any which way you can, with a pedal car, a video game, a toy model, but get ’em. Carmakers, famously shortsighted (look at any oil or economic crisis), demonstrate amazing business sense when you figure how they vie for market share among the part of the population not yet old enough to drive. If a brand can nab a kid early, you have a customer for life. It isn’t merely for today’s profit line that Ferrari peddles baby bibs and Legos.
Jeep, too, is one car company that’s been very successful in fashioning a universal image of its brand association. Adventure, freedom, and all that, the pillars of a seven-slat grille. Chrysler’s off-road brand does great in every customer loyalty survey. Jeep Wrangler drivers generally wouldn’t put a Na’al inside a Patrol. That kind of affection goes back to those formative years.
A decade ago, however, Jeep fans took a giant slap in the face with the 2007 Compass as the brand chased this crossover mania with a badge-engineered Dodge Caliber. It was a front-wheel drive Jeep, which is like warm ice-cream, an abomination, and it was an insult to every Jeepster from Moab to Maleha road on Friday evenings.
What do the real fans know anyway? Jeep ended up selling a million Compasses to unsuspecting consumers who couldn’t operate google and do a search for another car, any other car. They were mostly new to the brand too, excited first-time crossover buyers and upbeat young couples. Ah, the folly of youth, adventure, freedom,
Jeep opened up its brand to dreamers, instead of just the doers in their lifted Wranglers on 37in Mickey Thompsons. Today you can buy a Jeep made in Italy alongside the Fiat 500. Just like in the commercials where many beautiful people play sports you’ve never heard of (like ultimate skydive frisbee league), the little Renegade is officially trail rated to go up the same dirt road you managed fine in your old Mazda 323.
Not that you’d head back that way, you’re a made man now, you live in the suburbs. You only need a crossover for that commanding view it gives you, of other crossovers. I mean, Jeep says so…
“One hundred per cent of Jeep owners take their cars off road,” says EMEA Jeep boss Dante Dilli at the 2017 Compass launch in Portugal.
“It’s just that most of them do it in their minds,” he adds.
I love the frankness — Jeep is all too well aware that its cars must be able to go off-road even if no one will ever off-road the new Compass. So I’m in the new Compass going round an off-road course in Sintra, where there’s a historic Unesco World Heritage Site palace all decorated in colourful, Arabesque ceramic tiles, perched on top of a hill overlooking the westernmost point in Europe. Ayrton Senna had a house here, and a black NSX. I guess the Unesco folks forgot to put that in the brochure.
On the highway the nine-speed gearbox now present in so many Chrysler products gets smoother with every new model...
The drive serves little purpose, but something has to fuel all those dreamers, something like red Trail Rated badges, real 3mm thick steel-sheet sump guards front and rear, and a knob that selects different terrain driving modes. There are several, including Auto where the 2017 Compass will forever slumber, on the school run and in the mall car park surrounded by millions of other dreamers with selective all-wheel drive and a copy of UAE Explorer in the seatback pouch from the one time they went up Jebel Jais.
Which is a shame — this Compass is in fact the most capable crossover off the hard stuff compared to all its rivals, with 8.5in of ground clearance and favourable break over and departure angles and a crawl mode and hill descent control, but to make it so needlessly viable off-road, engineers simply had to have made compromises elsewhere. All of car design is a thousand little compromises.
And so the new Compass is heavy, at 1,648kg in this Trailhawk trim, heavier than the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Compass Dilli says they’re targeting, heavier even than the bigger Honda CR-V. And so in top-spec Limited trim on 19in wheels, the ride is harsh, hollow over bumps, and too many vibrations creep up through the steering wheel. The back end feels like it rides on a solid axle. But you know, never give up on your dreams. These compromises are clearly worth it to those buyers who, armed with all that off-roading kit, prefer to be safe in the knowledge, and slightly uncomfortable in the driver’s seat.
Otherwise the Compass is a very competitive crossover in a patterned class of cars, with a nice interior and a soft-padded dash, with a choice of 5.0, 7.0 or 8.4in touchscreens, and excellent room in the back. On the practicality front the rear bench splits with a neat centre armrest that folds to give access to the cargo area. The boot itself has a false floor, that you can drop to reveal a 16cm deeper area in total. The seats fold, and despite Jeep’s insistence they don’t actually fold flat. On the highway the nine-speed gearbox now present in so many Chrysler products gets smoother with every new model, and up and down twisty tarmac sections of the test drive around the Sintra hills, the Compass handles way better than you’d expect from a Jeep.
Jeep should do what the Germans have now turned into a national pastime: lie, and just make up any big number at random.
You’ll have a choice between front-wheel drive six-speed models and all-wheel drive Compasses and Dilli says the vast majority of buyers will go for the more expensive option. In an industry that’s down in the region, Jeep is actually up year on year, by a per cent or two.
Jeep didn’t have a petrol engined Compass for me to drive, so I tried a diesel. The car will come to the UAE in time for November’s Dubai motor show, and our market will get Chrysler’s Tigershark 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine as the sole offering. It’s not a great motorr from past experience. Jeep isn’t bringing its modern new 1.4-litre turbocharged four-pot or 2.0-litre, even though they’re actually the top-spec choices overseas, while the 2.4-litre powers the base-spec models. I get no clear answer as to why, except the common response citing fickle Middle Eastern buyers who just want the biggest chromed figure on the tailgate they can get.
Jeep should do what the Germans have now turned into a national pastime: lie, and just make up any big number at random. If a Merc-AMG C 43 is a 3.0-litre and a BMW 330i is a 2.0-litre and an Audi A4 40 TFSI is a 2.0-litre, then Jeep can call their 1.4-litre model the 2017 Compass 8000. The 2.0-litre turbo can be the Compass Infinity plus one.
This crucial car for Jeep will be manufactured in four plants around the world, with Jeep’s Indian plant accounting for right-hand drive manufacture. From 350,000 units a year, thanks solely to crossovers Jeep has grown sales to 1.4 million vehicles annually in recent years and the company can’t slow down now. Jeep says the EMEA compact crossover market will soon be worth 2.7 million cars a year. Most of them will be Toyotas, Hyundais and Nissans. For those who’d rather be anywhere else but stuck here in traffic on Shaikh Zayed Road in the morning, there is the Compass, and the Selec-Terrain knob sure feels nice in the hand. Maybe one day you’ll even get to put it in ‘Sand’.
We can dream.