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Competitive Compact SUV Priced To Go
Ugly Wrangler’s Off-road Ability Threatens Defender Hegemony
“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.
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.
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
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.
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
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