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Jeep Compass
Jeep Compass
Competitive Compact SUV Priced To Go

Ugly Wrangler’s Off-road Ability Threatens Defender Hegemony
Chrysler’s Stylish Vehicles Boosted By Falling Dollar
But Prices In U.S. Make Ours Look Almost Criminally Expensive
**** out of 5

Jeep Compass
Jeep Compass
Jeep Compass
Jeep Compass
Wrangler Jeep
Wrangler Jeep


“the Wrangler just powered out of the water and up the bank as though it was being pulled by a tow-rope”

“If you don’t have any embarrass genes, you might like the Wrangler”

Chrysler and its Jeep and Dodge subsidiaries are struggling for survival in the U.S. because their bloated, gas guzzling products can’t compete with the lithe and slimmer competition.  But paradoxically, sales are going from strength to strength in Europe as some of its smaller, stylish and valuecentric products hit the spot here.

The Dodge Caliber, launched last year, is an eye-catcher which becomes more appealing when buyers in the VW Golf/Nissan Qashqai segment realise the U.S. upstart has more features and costs thousands of pounds/euros less.

OK, so Dodge quality is not quite as formidable as VW or Nissan, but if you are effectively saving between about £3,000 (€4,400) to £5,000 (€7,300) on your new car, who really cares if a piece of cabin plastic is slightly agricultural? When you can buy a new car for under £15,000 (€22,000) and an automatic gearbox is thrown in for free, or air conditioning and leather seats are standard, then you have to take it seriously.

Chrysler, through its Jeep subsidiary is at it again with two new products, the Jeep Compass and the Jeep Wrangler.

The Compass is a compact SUV, based on the Caliber, which will be a formidable competitor as prices of similar, leading products like the Toyota RAV4, Land Rover Freelander, and Honda CR-V soar way past £20,000. Compass prices start at £17,990 with masses of standard kit.

Price-gouged Europeans
Jeep has also improved its rugged Wrangler range, and again with prices starting at £17,995, it looks stinking cheap compared to the almost ridiculous prices sought by its main competitor, the Land Rover Defender.

These prices seem incredibly competitive to us exploited and price-gouged Europeans.  You may be wondering how Chrysler could possibly make cars this cheap. Is the U.S. firm simply dumping these products on our markets at below cost to perhaps undermine the competitiveness of native car manufacturers? The short answer is that by American standards these European prices are expensive. Jeep Compass prices on the forecourt on mainstreet U.S.A. start at £8,000 (€11,700). Wranglers start at £9,500 (€14,000).  Yes, I know that these prices are before tax, and probably don’t include many “extras”, but this is a more than 100 per cent difference. And I know that the falling dollar on foreign exchange markets is giving American importers a free lunch. But Chrysler Jeep Dodge can offer prices eye-wateringly lower than the competition, and still be looking at massive profit margins. So if you’re looking for any guilty parties, point your finger at the cosy relationships between the car makers in Europe, not to mention incompetent governments here which make life difficult for business by strangling them in red-tape and taxing them till the pips squeak.

Crossover
The Jeep Compass is a Ford Focus footprint sized “crossover” (looks like an SUV drives like a car) with a choice of either a VW sourced 2.0 litre diesel engine or a 2.4 litre petrol motor, and has more curvy looks than the squared off, traditional Jeep look. The Compass has four-wheel drive which only switches on when the going gets tough, independent suspension, plenty of space for 5, and much flexibility for carrying your stuff.

Jeep is looking to jump on the booming SUV bandwagon, which keeps accelerating despite a media full of stories about how evil these vehicles are.

“The Jeep Compass is designed to reach younger and female customers who may not have previously considered the brand but value the distinctive Jeep look and see four-wheel drive as a must-have on their daily drive. Customers are increasingly interested in family hatchbacks with four-wheel drive systems as they offer better handling and enhanced safety on the road,” said Peter Lambert, Managing Director of Chrysler Group U.K.

The Compass performs well on the road, with the punchy diesel providing more than adequate performance. The six-speed manual gearbox does a good job. There will be a CVT automatic available with the 2.4 litre petrol engine. There’s plenty of room inside, but the plastic surrounding the glove-box is truly awful and flimsy. This gives a bad impression and is crying out for replacement. But the Compass has an impressive list of standard equipment, including leather seats, air conditioning, remote key-less entry, 18 inch wheels, fog lamps and the complete alphabet soup of computerised safety aids.

Pretentious, junior Hummer
The new Wrangler range meanwhile still retains the DNA of the original Willys Jeeps, which were first built in 1941 and provided rugged, simple transport for troops then, and now. But the four-door version now on sale looks, in my opinion, simply horrible, with an embarrassing, over-styled body which looks like a pretentious, junior Hummer. When you consider the main competition is the Land Rover Defender you have to stop and take notice because Wrangler prices are so keen. And this thing does perform off-road. Jeep’s road test route in Scotland ended with a lunch stop about 5 miles from the road route. I drove the Wrangler along a track until it was cut in half by a quite formidable little river. The signs made clear that the river was there to be crossed and in I plunged, but quickly stopped as the water was much deeper than I’d expected, threatening to seep through the bottom of the doors.

My first attempt to scale the opposite bank failed, but after selecting lower gear ratios, the Wrangler just powered out of the water and up the bank as though it was being pulled by a tow-rope, when in fact it was being propelled along with regular road tyres. Impressive.

Woolly, jittery
On normal roads the Wrangler’s steering was woolly and the ride jittery, and despite the huge 2.8 litre diesel engine it seemed underpowered. The auto box was jerky and unsophisticated.  The manual gear box was stiff and hard to use.

But if you need a serious, working machine that is borne to conquer off road, and you are fed up with paying silly, almost insulting Land Rover prices, and you don’t have any embarrass genes, you might like the Wrangler.

Chrysler has now been decoupled from its German master Daimler, but this doesn’t seem likely to mean any lessening of its campaign to raise sales in Europe. The current target is to double sales to 400,000 by 2012. Russian and eastern European markets are becoming more important, and they probably value utility more than ephemeral brand values, so expect the success story to go on. Only a surprise change in direction of the dollar will scupper this plan. 


Neil Winton – May 20, 2007

Jeep Compass 2.0 CRD Limited
Engine:
2.0 litre diesel
Power:
138 bhp @ 4,000 rpm
Gearbox:
6-speed manual
Drive:
all-wheels
Acceleration:
0-62 mph - 100 km/h – 11.0 seconds
Top Speed:
117 mph-188 km/h
Fuel Consumption:
claimed combined 43.5 mpg-6.5 l/kms
CO2 Emissions:
177 g/km
Length:
4,405 mm
Width:
1,810
Height:
1,630
Weight: 1,540 kg
Suspension:
independent McPherson/multi-link independent
Warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles
Price:
£17,995-€26,300 – on sale in Europe now
Competition:
Toyota Rav4, Nissan X-Trail, Honda CR-V, Land Rover Freelander, BMW X3, Peugeot 4007, Citroen C-Crosser, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander
Would I buy one?
Maybe
Rating:
**** out of 5
For:
rugged, cheap, capable, handsome
Against:
occasional quality lapses

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