Take a fresh bearing
THE crowded compact SUV market is about to get even more congested.
As sales of SUVs are on track to overtake passenger cars in Australia next year, Jeep is poised to launch its most concerted effort yet in the booming segment with a new generation Compass.
The scaled-down version of the Grand Cherokee is designed to be Jeep’s rival to the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and the like.
It will sit above the tiny-tot Jeep Renegade in the revamped line-up but don’t expect a super-sharp price despite the model being built in India, where labour costs are a fraction of those in North America, the source of the current model.
The second-generation Compass is likely to kick off with a price above $30,000 when it goes on sale in local showrooms in late 2017.
Expect a choice of fourcylinder petrol or diesel power, although the exact engine lineup is yet to be confirmed.
A 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a ninespeed auto is expected to be the starting point in the range.
Despite its tough looks, the iconic seven-slot grille is in fact just for show.
It is blanked off for better aerodynamic efficiency; instead the new Compass gets its cooling air from vents in the lower part of the fascia.
The front bumpers on cityslicker versions of the new Compass are so low they would barely manage to clear a kerb (the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-5 have greater “approach angles” in 4WD parlance) but the Trailhawk models have classleading off-road ability thanks to taller suspension, bigger tyres and cutaway bumpers.
Should you truly want to get off the beaten track, the new Compass is also available with switchable 4WD hardware, heavy-duty front and rear differentials and a super-low range gear ratio for steep climbs and descents.
How many buyers take up this option remains to be seen. Jeep believes it’s important that at least some models in the range can live up to the “go anywhere” hype.
As with most new models arriving in showrooms, the Compass will be available with a suite of technology such as automatic emergency braking, radar cruise control, lane- keeping assistance, sensor key and electronic park brake.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connection will be part of the touchscreen (seven-inch or 8.4-inch, depending on the model grade).
Luxury models will come with a power tailgate and dualpane sunroof, a relative novelty in the compact SUV class.
If the growth in compact SUV sales is a guide, the Compass could overtake the Grand Cherokee and quickly become Jeep’s best-selling model.
Despite a record new-car market with a large swing to SUVs, Jeep sales have dropped by more than 50 per cent this year — and from a peak of 30,000 in 2014 to a little more than 10,000 so far in 2016.
The company says currencydriven price rises have been the main cause of the sales slowdown.
But Jeep says it plans to turn around sales in Australia as it trims prices — and as more new models come on stream.
It is also considering increasing its factory warranty coverage in Australia from three years to five years — a tactic introduced more than a decade ago by Korean maker Hyundai to give buyers peace of mind and since followed by others.
Newly appointed Jeep Australia president and CEO Steve Zanlunghi says the company is “looking at all the different opportunities that we have to build the brand. We are looking at warranty, customer perception (and) cost of ownership.”