Jeeps climbed high with Marchionne

Sergio Marchionne

Reviewing the 2018 Jeep Compass this week is opportunity to mention the death of Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles who died unexpectedly July 25. Marchionne took charge of Fiat and Chrysler nine years ago when the latter was struggling to survive.

Focusing on Jeeps, Dodge Ram pickups and SRT performance models, he soon rebuilt the stature for No. 3 of the U.S.’s Big Three and made them a formidable competitor for the other automakers.

The greatest achievement for the bold Italian-born leader was with the Jeep Division.

Jeep leads all makes in sales of SUVs in the U.S. Through June, Jeep has sold 133,492 Wranglers, 113,719 Cherokees, 109,313 Grand Cherokees, 87,510 Compasses and 50,439 Renegades. Jeep’s 6-month totals of 495,022 is a 22 percent increase over the 406,291 at the same point a year ago.

Still, with sales of almost a half-million in the first half of the year, Jeep doesn’t have all areas of the market covered. It lacks a three-row SUV, since halting production of the Commander in 2010.

Rumors are that Jeep will unveil a three-row SUV within the next couple of years. Whether to create it or not will now be a decision for Mike Manley, who has succeeded Marchionne as CEO of Fiat Chrysler, and who has headed the Jeep Division of FCA for the past seven years.

Gloss black roof is distinctive for new Jeep Compass. (Bud Wells photo)

As for the Compass, Jeep planners two years ago combined it and another fairly lackluster model, the like-sized Patriot, into a restyled, high-tech-equipped compact 4X4 under the Compass moniker. The new one is enjoying one of the sharpest sales gains in the industry right now.

By slapping the Compass’ shifter into manual mode, pushing the accelerator lower and keeping the revs higher, its 2.4-liter engine and 9-speed automatic transmission offer improved performance, and do it smoothly, quietly and mostly satisfactorily.

I’ve been driving the Compass Limited 4X4; its 2.4 4-cylinder develops 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque, is offroad-capable with locking differential and a dial on the center console to contend with snow, sand and mud, in addition to the normal all-wheel drive.

A gloss black two-tone roof added a distinctive touch to the silver metallic exterior finish on the Compass, which resembles the Cherokee with its grille and the Grand Cherokee with its four-door structure. To mention roof with Jeep always reminds me of the ill-fated SkySlider roof offered on the Jeep Liberty some years back. That feature was beset with operational failures.

The current roof, so good-looking, also contains dual-pane panorama sunroof. Among other features of the Limited model are LaneSense and forward-collision warning, leather-covered seats (heated in front), heated steering wheel, automatic high-beam control, rain-sensitive wipers and power liftgate.

A large UConnect infotainment screen accommodates GPS navigation and audio with SiriusXM/Bluetooth and capability for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

My overall fuel-mileage average with the Compass was 24.4; it carries a 30 miles-per-gallon highway estimate. It rides on Continental ProContact 225/55R18 tires.

Cargo space behind the rear seats in the two-row, five-passenger SUV is 27.2 cubic feet, which expands to almost 60 feet with the rear seats folded.

The well-equipped Limited model carried sticker price of $34,860. The Sport, least-expensive Compass 4X4, begins at around $23,000. Other models are Latitude, Altitude and Trackhawk. They’re assembled in Toluca, Mexico.