2017 Jeep Compass: For the Four Corners of the Earth

The compact SUV segment is gaining traction in the global market, so Jeep, the brand known for vehicles with incredible tractive capabilities, has designed and engineered a new vehicle for that segment, the all-new Compass.

Mike Manley, head of Jeep Brand and Ram Brand, FCA-Global, says that back in 2010—and remember, this was a time when the economy was crawling its way out of the Great Recession and Chrysler had gotten a new owner in the form of Fiat (and initially, in 2009, the United Auto Workers and the U.S. and Canadian governments)—they said that they would be refreshing the Jeep lineup. Which, of course, caused some eyes to roll.

“This is the last of them,” he says with pride underscored with what has to be a touch of relief. He’s talking about the 2017 Jeep Compass, an all-new compact SUV.

The Compass was originally introduced in 2006 as a 2007 model year vehicle. At the time, Chrysler was part of DaimlerChrysler. And when the Compass was released, so was the Jeep Patriot, with both vehicles riding on the same platform (GS).

The 2007 Compass was stylish where the 2007 Patriot was boxy. The story is that the then-German management was split when they saw the still-being-developed Jeep in the studio: rather than choosing one style over the other, the decision was made to do both.

Mark Allen, head of Design for Jeep, says that there are—and were when the Compass and Patriot were being originally conceived—two design poles for the brand. One is the Grand Cherokee. The other is the Wrangler.

So the Compass was inspired by the Grand Cherokee and the Patriot was an heir of the Wrangler.

Since then, there have been changes to the lineup, the overhauling that Manley refers to. For example, they’ve added the Jeep Renegade, which is Wrangler-inspired, as well as the Jeep Cherokee, which is more in the vein of the Grand Cherokee, although its form language isn’t one that lines up chapter and verse with the Grand Cherokee.

The question was which direction the Compass should take. There were a couple of key factors that were considered.

One was that there would no longer be a fraternal twin: there would be no new Patriot. This means that one vehicle would have to carry the load of two, in some regards.

Another important factor is that the new Compass would be a global vehicle. Whereas the original Compass (and Patriot) was built in the Belvidere Assembly Plant in Illinois, the new 2017 Compass is being built in four plants around the world: Brazil, China, India and Toluca, Mexico (with Toluca being the source of the vehicles for the NAFTA market).

Allen and his team opted for an appearance that closely resembles the Grand Cherokee.

When asked about some of the key design features of the Compass, Allen ticks off a number:
  • Strong character in the stance
  • Premium appearance in a small package
  • Shark-fin shape on the D-pillar
  • Tight proportions
  • A bright chrome molding around the DLO

And, yes, there are the traditional Jeep cues, such as the trapezoidal wheel arches (slightly flared in this deployment), a clamshell hood and the seven-slot grille (here done with each of the chrome elements set on a gloss-black field).

Architecturally, there are the Jeep-based requirements, as in attention to ground clearance, and approach, breakover and departure angles. (In the case of the Trailhawk 4x4 the figures are impressive: ground clearance, 8.5 inches; approach angle, 30.3 degrees; breakover angle, 24.4 degrees; departure angle, 33.6 degrees.

And, yes, there are some “Easter eggs,” hidden-in-plain-sight whimsical elements that have become something of a cryptic signature of Jeep.

While not exactly an Easter egg, Jeff Hammoud, chief of Design for Jeep Interiors, cites the shape of the outboard HVAC vents on the top of the instrument panel: it has a shark-fin shape that echoes that of the D-pillar. And because the Compass is a member of the family, there is a character line running across the top of the IP that connects it with both the Grand Cherokee and the Cherokee.

In keeping with the enthusiast approach that is characteristic of Jeeps, the interior colors that are used in the vehicle are inspired by sports. There is a “Sandstorm” interior that is based on sand surfing. There is what’s called the “Urbex” interior, which is big on black (cloth or leather) and anodized gunmetal finishes: Urbex is about urban exploration. “Alpine,” of course, is inspired by skiing, and it uses “Ski Grey” and black contrasting materials.

Because Jeep is all about the outside, there is an available dual-pane sunroof that covers both rows of seats.

Art Anderson, the Engineering vehicle line executive for the Compass, says that the vehicle is based on the company’s small-wide 4x4 platform, which also underpins the Jeep Renegade. But the Compass is bigger than the Renegade, as it has a 103.8-inch wheelbase vs. a 101.2-inch wheelbase and a length of 173 inches compared with 166.6 inches. Anderson explains that this lengthening of the platform is accomplished using trim dies, which modify the underlying stampings to meet the requirements for each of the vehicles.

One of the things that Anderson is proud of is the overall efficiency of the vehicle. In the U.S. market, the Compass is offered with one engine and three transmissions. The engine is a 2.4-liter Tigershark I4 engine with MultiAir2 electrohydraulic, fully variable valve-actuation. It produces 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. It can be mated with a 9HP48 nine-speed automatic, a C635 six-speed manual or an AT6 Aisin six-speed automatic.

A Compass with a 4x2 setup and six-speed manual achieves 23/32/26 mpg (city/highway/combined). Anderson points out that here is a compact SUV that’s capable of getting 32 mpg highway. He says that this is achieved through attention to detail in the engineering. The vehicle consists of about 65 percent high-strength steel, including hot-stamped ultra-high-strength material (in the A-pillars, for example). To help provide strength and rigidity, there is extensive use of structural adhesives. This is built to be efficient. And capable (e.g., there is, for example, up to 8.2 inches of rear wheel articulation for off-road adventures).

Manley says that 2016 was a record year around the world for the Jeep brand. Some 1.4-million vehicles were sold. Of that number, more than a million were sold in NAFTA, which had a 5 percent year-over-year increase. However, in the Asia-Pacific region, while the number of Jeeps sold wasn’t near that of NAFTA, the year-over-year increase was on the order of 70 percent, which goes to underscore the dynamic of that market.

Specific to Compass he cites numbers for the compact SUV segment. He says that last year some 6.3-million units were sold in that segment. Of them, about 4-million were sold in the Asia-Pacific region, 1.2-million in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) regions, and 890,000 in NAFTA. Manley says that the segment is expected to grow 20 percent between now and 2020.

So, there’s Compass. Although the vehicle in the U.S. market is being launched with a single engine and three transmissions, on a global basis there are 17 powertrain combinations. The Jeep will be available in over 100 countries.

You wonder why there are four plants making the Compass. The demand for compact SUVs across the globe surely answers that question.