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Just another day in the Texas boonies with Jeep engineers and the new 2017 Compass Trailhawk.

Road-efficient mud machine

Replacing the decade-old Jeep Compass is the new-for-2017 Jeep Compass, FCA’s (and Jeep’s) first truly global vehicle program. Styled to resemble a slightly scaled-down Grand Cherokee, the new C-segment SUV is being produced in four plants (Mexico, China, India and Brazil) and offered in 17 powertrain combinations including diesels and 6-speed manual gearboxes. The U.S. gets the manual ‘box but not the diesel.

The new Compass is based on a stretched version of FCA’s so-called “small-wide 4×4” vehicle architecture that also underpins the Jeep Renegade. That platform is designed primarily as front-wheel-drive and accommodates nicely the axle-disconnect all-wheel-drive system supplied by GKN (see sidebar). As a “4.4-meter” car designed to fit European and other global parking spaces, the Jeep’s overall length is 173 in (4394 mm), riding on a 103.8 in (2636 mm) wheelbase.

Power for U.S. models is the 2.4-L Multiair four also used in Renegade that’s SAE rated at 180 hp (134 kW) and 175 lb·ft (237 N·m). Front-drive variants offer either the 6-speed manual transmission or optional 6-speed automatic transaxle that’s sourced from Hyundai. 4×4 models get the ZF-designed 9-speed automatic.

There are four trim level, Sport, Latitude, Limited, and the off-road-focused Trailhawk. AE spent a day on Texas Hill Country roads in a 4x4 Latitude, the volume model. While FCA’s calibrators did a fine job making the Compass’s new stop-start system unobtrusive in operation, the 9-speed is calibrated to hold its higher ratios rather than kick down and force the engine out of its fuel-consumption ‘happy zone.’ This creates disappointing throttle tip-in. Otherwise Compass’s strut-type suspension with self-adjusting dampers gives it a nice taut feel on the road, with Continental-supplied electronic stability control. The dynamic experience is hampered only by slightly vague steering feel. Off-road, the Trailhawk with 8.5 in (216 mm) of ground clearance is a rock-crawlin’ mud machine, bringing more capability here (for the roughly 10% of customers who want it) than most or all of its competitors.

Efficient structure

The interior provides plenty of leg and headroom for the 6-ft-3-in-tall author and overall the cabin has 27.2 ft3 of utility with the seats deployed and 59.8 ft3 with them folded down. Highlight of the cabin is FCA’s latest UConnect infotainment module with larger 8.1-in screen.

One of Jeep’s main selling points for this vehicle is its impressive fuel economy 22 city/30 mpg highway with the 9-speed 4x4 models. According to veteran FCA engineer and vehicle line exec Art Anderson, credit for those numbers goes to a combination of features including the ‘smart’ AWD system that delivers refined road manners with 20:1-ratio rock-crawling capability; newly-adopted (dual battery) stop-start system that’s not offered on Renegade; and a mass-efficient body structure composed of 65% high-strength steel alloys (see Materials illustration).

The hood panels are aluminum for weight savings as wells as an enabler to meet European pedestrian protection regulations.

Building a single global team

Asked about the program’s biggest challenge was, he responded with: “It’s truly global! Setting up the business practices and the ‘rules’ to manage development, the functional objectives, the money and the 10 million customer-equivalent development miles while preparing to launch in four plants on three continents (with diesel engine supply from a fourth, Europe) was what sets Compass apart from any previous program,” he noted. It is remarkable to consider that no Fiat program in that marque’s more than 100-year history, and no Jeep in that brand’s 75 years, even came close to the world-ranging scope of the 2017 Compass.

Many time zones separated the regional engineering teams. “We had a lot of 6-am meetings and a lot of 6 to 10-pm meetings,” Anderson explained. “We used Telepresence, which is a video phone call; we’ve had up to 7 offices from all around the globe connected on a single video discussion. And email remains reliable and effective for asking questions and getting answers across time zones.”

While the Renegade program was “industrialized” across multiple regions, Compass was run as a single global team with industrializations in the four regions. Simply managing the logistics of shipping components and systems was daunting at first until FCA experts invented some new processes including “IRF”, interregional flow, to move and keep track of material. “We’ve learned a lot about maintaining flow and keeping the supply chain running,” Anderson said.

Change Control was another learning. The global team would meet on ‘live’ calls to discuss whether to agree to make a bill-of-material change or not. Typically these involved a specific feature request by a region; China’s take rate on sunroofs is 90%, for example. “We did a good job in blending guidelines, rules and flexibility,” Anderson said, echoing his praise of the entire global engineering team and FCA’s suppliers in pulling it all off without a hitch—and speaking of hitches, note that Compass’s towing capacity is rated at 2000 lb (907 kg).

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