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A New Direction For Jeep: The '07 Compass

Although the word “icon” gets bandied about in the auto industry as though practically every brand is one, the truth of the matter is that the icons are few and far between and one of them is Jeep.

Although the word “icon” gets bandied about in the auto industry as though practically every brand is one, the truth of the matter is that the icons are few and far between and one of them is Jeep. It’s as simple as that. But what is not simple is the situation that Jeep management found the brand in as there are a multitude of so-called “crossover” vehicles—those that look like SUVs but ride on a car platform—taking on an increasing number of sales, particularly the smaller models, such as the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Honda CRV, and the like. Although its overall sales are up (476,532 units in ’05, up 12% from ’04), they see that the market for compact SUVs—a.k.a., the aforementioned crossovers—is big—368,000 units sold in the U.S. in ’05—and getting bigger—they’re projecting it to be about 600,000 by 2010 and more than 814,000 by 2016.

So what’s an icon to do? Innovate and respond. And this response, initially, is taking the form of the ’07 Jeep Compass, a compact SUV that, yes, is a crossover vehicle, inasmuch as it shares its underpinnings with the Dodge Caliber (Caliber: Locked and Loaded), which is the first of three products that will be based on that platform, with the third being the Jeep Patriot, which will debut in the closing portion of ’06. One interesting aspect of the Compass is that although it is not “Trail Rated” (see The What & How Of Being The '05 Jeep Grand Cherokee for an explanation of that), it is unmistakably a Jeep. Don Renkert, designer in the Jeep Studio, says that one of the biggest challenges that the team faced in creating the shape of the Compass was to not simply retain the forms that have been come to be known as “Jeep”—the seven-slotted grille, the trapezoidal fender forms (around the 17 in. standard wheels)—but to provide a greater sense of style and modernity than is the historic case. He cites such characteristics as the raked windshield and swept A-pillars, providing a sense of speed and aero (the profiles were engineered in the Chrysler Group’s $37.5 million aero/acoustic test facility in Auburn Hills, so it is go, not show, as it to be expected in a Jeep); the B- and C-pillars are blacked out and there are black belt moldings and roof-rail moldings so it appears as though there is one giant sheet of glass from the A- to D-pillars. Black is also the color of the door handles; the handles for the rear doors are vertically mounted on the C-pillar so that the character line that’s part of the rear quarter bulge (making the vehicle appear planted via these shoulders) isn’t broken up by the handle. At the rear of the vehicle there is a spoiler—functional—that also is used to house the CHMSL and backlight washer nozzle. The Compass looks like a Jeep. And sort of like a Caliber from the plan view.

Kinda Capable. As mentioned, the Compass is not a vehicle that is going to get someone across the Rubicon. But that’s not the point. Essentially, this is a vehicle that is more Ann Taylor than Eddie Bauer. The demographic target consists of people in their early 20s to early 40s, with a median household income of $60,000, and with a preponderance being female. The base model, the Sport model, starts at $15,985. But while it may not have the sort of wherewithal to crawl over rocks and through crevasses, it is available with the “Freedom Drive 1” 4-x-4 system that provides full-time active four-wheel-drive. The key element of the system is an electronically controlled coupling that’s attached to the rear differential; it transmits torque to the rear wheels through a two-stage clutch system. This uses electromagnetic actuation: that operates a low-torque clutch which, in turn, is amplified via a cam-and-ball mechanism, which then applies the main clutch; the amount of torque is predicated on such things as vehicle speed, turning radius, and wheel slip. The system operates only when needed (i.e., depending on sensed conditions via the ESP, ABS, and brake traction control systems), although there is a lock mode that can be engaged by the driver; this sends the maximum amount of torque (60%) to the rear wheels. (Speaking of power transmission: both the Sport and Limited models of the Compass come equipped with the 2.4-liter, 174-hp, 16-valve I4 engine—the so-called “World Engine”—produced at the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance plant in Dundee, Michigan. The vehicles are also available with a five-speed Magna Driveline manual transmission or a Jatco CVT, with the Limited version offering the CVT with AutoStick functionality.) There is trail-running designed into the vehicle in that approach, breakover, and departure angles (depending on tire sizes they’re a maximum 20.6°, 21°, and 32.2°respectively) are taken into account, as is ground clearance (up to 8.4 in.).

Making It. The Compass is not only the platform mate of the Caliber, but it is also manufactured with it at the Belvidere Assembly Plant. Once again, this is a case of clear functional thinking. As Frank Ewasyshyn, executive vice president-Manufacturing, Chrysler Group, observes, “Thanks to Belvidere’s ability to build multiple models off of one assembly line, we expect Compass production to cost only 15% of the initial investment we made in the plant to build Dodge Caliber.” The company spent $419 million at the plant, which is where the Jeep Patriot will be built, as well (three vehicles, one plant, with the mix predicated on market demand), and which also has the capability of test building a fourth model.

Here’s something that the Jeep Compass and its platform mates have led to: Chrysler will be running the plant three shifts. How often is that the case nowadays?