Jeep Compass Concept
Affordable two-door may point to Jeep's future
Sports car maker Porsche is about to introduce its first SUV, so why should it be so hard to believe that Jeep might possibly introduce a rally car-inspired sports vehicle? After all, Chrysler Groups execs have suggested they would add a fourth model to the Jeep line up, and this niche is being heavily probed by competitors.
Unveiled at the 2002 Detroit auto show, the Compass looks like Jeep's design team was inspired by equal parts Audi Steppenwolf and some of AMC's mid-1960's concept vehicles (check out the C-pillar treatment). The concept points in the direction for an affordable, entry-level Jeep, intended to expand the brand to non-traditional buyers who are interested in the Jeep mystique, but aren't necessarily romanced by the Wrangler's inherent compromises. The Jeep Compass, when viewed in the context of last year's well-received Willys and Willys2 concepts, seems to indicate that the Chrysler Group is laying the groundwork for just such a vehicle.
The Compass' under $20,000 target price would place it in the same cost category as the Wrangler, but it wouldn't compete directly due to some fundamental and even philosophical differences. The Compass is based on Liberty hardware, employing its 210-horsepower V-6, smooth-riding yet capable independent front suspension system, and multi-link rear suspension. Because it would not need the Wrangler's extreme off-road capabilities, the Compass uses a lighter-duty, all-wheel-drive system that forgoes an expensive two-speed transfer case. Overall, the Compass is an extremely compact package and it fits into a neat slot actually combining the wheelbase of a Liberty with an overall length just slightly more than a Wrangler.
The 3.7-liter V-6 promises a benchmark 0-60 sprint in 9 seconds, a quarter-mile time of 17 seconds, and a top speed of 110 miles per hour, all superior to a current Wrangler equipped with the venerable 4.0-liter straight six. Contributing to the performance-ready look are 20x8.5-inch wheels shod with special 235/55R20 Goodyear tires. Overall, the Compass promises to be the first sporting two-door model since the demise of the Jeepster Commando in 1973, again pursuing the elusive idea of a Jeep sports car, last hinted at with the 1998 Jeepster concept.
On the inside, functionality is the rule. It was a design mandate that all the controls had to have a purposeful, tactile feel. This includes the headlight switch, turn signal, tilt column, tunnel-mounted parking brake, all the door-mounted switches, side-view mirror controls, and door handles. In the area of technology, the Compass sports lightweight, thin back seats. Low on frills, it offers future owners an appealing platform for accessorization and personalization -- a popular Jeeper pastime that has kept the aftermarket thriving for years.
Basing the Compass on the now-proven Liberty platform means development times and costs can be minimized, giving the two-door model a chance at production despite corporate belt-tightening. Even under the best of conditions, if the Compass could move to market with the same speed as the PT Cruiser, it would realistically be 24 to 30 months before the Compass could see the floor of your local Jeep showroom, meaning the Spring of 2004 as an early 2005 model.
Based on our pre-show review, the Compass appears to be even more production-ready than the well-received 1998 Jeepster. Your reaction at the Detroit, Chicago, and New York Auto Shows, along with your response to stories like this, will go a long way in convincing Mr. Zetsche and DaimlerChrysler's executives if the Concept is the right direction for a fourth Jeep model.