If you’ve paid any attention to my sparse autowriting since 2013, you might’ve noticed that I’ve found myself chronicling my journey to kill every last brand bias-born ignorant assumption within my perspective for clarity’s sake. It required Juke NISMO and Xterra wheeltime for me to understand the strengths of my favorite adolescent target, Nissan, and just one night out with the CrossCabriolet to see its shortcomings. Eight years in proximity to CR-V ownership in tandem with an active academic effort to look at South Korea’s then-upcoming place in the industry empirically let down the mystical aura in which Honda once dwelled for me throughout my later childhood. Driving the EcoBoost Mustang in Portland last year was a brutally epiphanous smack in the face as I began to realize just how confused this country’s relationship with historic brand identities (and how they should be represented in the present) has become. How can marques like “Mustang” and “Jeep” possibly mean anything after both the engineering and consumer expectations have changed so drastically? For all the marketing, PR, and editorial talent employed by the remaining car giants, one wonders how many people on the car company meal ticket live moment to excruciating moment in full-body mortal terror.
I haven’t written a car review in years, but I thought I should take the opportunity to confront what I hope to be my last toxic brand bias. To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no clue how or why the desire for objective automotive purity remains within my soul, or why I’ve treasured it so. I must also confess that my compulsion to spend much time on the subject of this particular product is less intense than the sort I generally hope to carry along when embarking upon this sort of thing. Of course, I am always open to and wanting for even the most brazen criticism, so you should always feel free to blame me personally. Otherwise, please point the way to the last automotive media monastery. Ultimately, my life depends on my continued belief in the journey, regardless of whether or not the destination actually exists.
Believe it or not, I once had an awfully agricultural driving experience with a restored civilian Willy’s from the early 1950s, which couldn’t have contrasted more against the past three weeks I’ve spent with the 2019 Jeep Compass, which has — perhaps above all else — an absolutely horrendous name. It’s a cheap joke, but I can’t imagine it ever falling flat: that cold, round, steel, entirely unassisted steering wheel has been replaced with a heated leather unit connected to an electromechanical rack that leaves embarrassingly little required effort from its operator. I can’t be bothered with a confirmation, but I suspect the lot of it was sourced from Fiat, which would make any old Jeep customer from the Grand Cherokee’s golden era fall immediately ill — if you could actually manage to convince them you weren’t joking, that is. This model year apparently starts at $21,095 (I say we try to find one of those,) but my “Limited”-specced example would manage to set you back a mid-boggling $33,045 with its decently-composed CarPlay-equipped infotainment system wearing an appropriately-obnoxious hexagonally-themed user interface, heated leather seats, steering wheel, and door mirrors, keyless entry, and a few more checked checkmarks which aren’t particularly relevant or interesting. Considering, I must (perhaps unfairly) insert some conclusive commentary already: this vehicle is fucking overpriced. Pre-research, I was briefly impressed by the rumor that my car was priced almost $8,000 less, which would almost make it a bargain, but — God be with them — there really are Americans out there spending more than $30,000 on these every day.
To be honest, I’m growing very tired of driving Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that come from the factory completely let down by their drivetrains. It’s been over five years since new automatic-equipped Dodge Darts so thoroughly disappointed even the least-discerning owners with its driving behavior thanks to the transmission’s horrendously-fudged mapping. The Compass’ 9-speed ZF gearboxf looks great on paper — for some thirty years, the Friedrichshafen name has been the badge of the industry’s most dynamically capable available pairings with any given luxury power plant — but the reality of Jeep’s execution is despicably discouraging. No, it’s not as entirely-comprising as the Dart’s, but it’s certainly bad enough to warrant recommending checking out the “4x4 Manual” trim if you insist on Compass ownership, which should at least enable more hands-on drivers to make the best of the model’s inescapably inadequate 180 horsepower 2.4 Liter four. It’s not hopeless, by any means, but its ~3,500 lb. burden requires a significant amount of work in normal driving from whoever is making gearchange decisions — whether they ultimately be human or misprogrammed computer. Staying with traffic on a typical United States highway will require them often — attacking fairly moderate inclines in such a setting at a cruise controlled 76mph had my example downshifting three whole gears to tackle in a manner noticeable enough to breach the unconscious threshold of even the least mechanically-empathetic operator.
More than most other categories, the Compass’ place among the newborn “Compact Sport Utility” segment should be examined with thorough critique. When I brought it up with a good friend of mine (whom I shall mention again very shortly,) he introduced me to the term “Mall Crawler,” which I’ve desperately needed to describe a specific compartment of local car culture for several years now.
Jeep, Nissan, and Subaru have entered into this no man’s land of budget-friendly crossovers that straddle the unclaimed dimensionality between subcompact and compact crossovers with the Jeep Compass, Nissan Rogue Sport, and Subaru Crosstrek. Bonus: All three are new to the market this year.
Yes, those who are seriously considering a pick from this segment should consider this MotorTrend comparison of the Compass, Rogue Sport, and Crosstrek and Car & Driver’s review of the 2018 model year to be required reading. I haven’t driven either of the other two competing products, though — for what it’s worth — my sister and brother-in-law bought the latter in 2017 and have nothing but good things to say, which confirms Christian Seabaugh’s first place endorsement of Subaru’s entry. To him, the “Trailhawk”-trimmed Compass “feels like an old-school body-on-frame SUV,” which is a considerable compliment, and I’d at least partially concur in the Limited’s case. It’s important to consider that my Compass was proudly equipped with what Jeep calls “4WD,” which is a proclamation I personally hadn’t seen branded on any non-pickup automotive products in a long time. (Then again, I’m almost positive I saw such a badge on the back of a fourth-generation CR-V the other day, which seems auspicious, at best.) When I took the opportunity to pilot the confusingly-pseudoplush Compass about a handful of forlorn county gravel roads, it was much more competent than I expected. In fact, I’m not sure I could name a modern, road-going vehicle from my own experience — including a vast assortment of pickups — which was any less perturbed by loose limestone. After manually depressing the “4wd Lock” control, it was simply unstickable in the most precarious corner entries my local routes could muster, even when “fording” a foot or two-deep crick.
I have made a lot of public assumptions about Jeep People, but I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know a real one — my good friend Jackson, a software engineer who’s owned a 1995 “YJ” Wrangler, the Fiat 500L-based Renegade and now a 2014 Wrangler — the last “real” Jeep. His extensive wisdom is much appreciated and heavily-condensed in the microinterview below. To explore further, titillating topics like the “Jeep Funk,” I highly encourage the curious reader to consult him personally. His perspective on the company and its patriotic history is certainly more substantial than my own.
What does the Jeep brand mean to you in 2018?
It is a legacy, heritage brand that carries with it the American fighting spirit can-do attitude. It’s a statement of pride to drive one of these vehicles. This is what I love about Jeep: they’re always the last ones to comply with any automotive regulation. They were the last to implement seatbelts. Airbags! My 1995 YJ didn’t have airbags! When you drive a Jeep, you’re driving a piece of history… a piece of American History! You’re driving Americana.
Which of your three Jeeps do/did you have the most intense feelings for?
The YJ. It was the full embodiment of what Jeep is: 5-speed manual, 4-cylinder — a 2.4L or something like that. Fat tires that overloaded the engine. It wasn’t a vehicle to traverse the country in. If I wanted to take it off-road, I could. It was really great in snow as well.
Should the Compass exist?
It takes courage to attach oneself so passionately to any brand and true nobility to retain a critical perspective upon it. I promise this particular attachment is much less nationalistic than it may sound in the context (Nazis don’t drive Jeeps — they’re literally still putting around in Kubelwagens.) Jackson is the polar opposite of the Jeep Bro stereotype I’ve abused throughout my commentating years. He’s a sincere, self-made young man who believes in the core utilitarian philosophy of the Jeep brand, and — perhaps most importantly — he’s very self-aware of his relationship with its cult culture, but I fear the loyalty and emotional investment of genuine Jeep Men like him shall only be at greater and greater risk as the industry’s globalization continues to accelerate. From my perspective, the more relevant question going forward is whether or not the rest of us should mourn, and I’d bet it’ll continue to deliver more informed discourse in the coming years.