The Compass, built at a Fiat Chrysler plant in Mexico, is one of the best-built and best-equipped Jeeps ever, Warren Brown says. (FCA US LLC)
Columnist

President Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and places like Toluca — officially Toluca de Lerdo, a city of about 500,000 souls, 40 miles west-southwest of Mexico City.

Yet a bit of Toluca is getting into the United States anyway — one Jeep Compass at a time.

The irony demonstrates the complexity of the global industry. The automobile industry is global, not given to being restricted by a wall.

The Jeep Compass is manufactured under the auspices of Italy’s Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which took over the bankrupt Chrysler Corp. Had Fiat not subsumed Chrysler, the venerable Jeep might not be sold in the United States or anywhere else, or manufactured in the United States or anywhere else.

Today, there are Jeep plants in Toledo; Melfi, Italy; and Toluca de Lerdo, home of FCA’s Toluca assembly plant, which once was operated by Chrysler.

Sticking with the Jeep Compass, the subject of this week’s review, there is another historical story.

Jeep, the brand, was owned by American Motors, which bought it from the old Kaiser Jeep. American Motors fell on hard times and was taken over by Lee A. Iacocca’s Chrysler.

Iacocca, a marketing whiz and scion of immigrants, thought he could boost Chrysler’s coffers by expanding Jeep’s brands. He did — giving us the Compass, Patriot and Renegade Jeeps and generally improving all things Jeep.

The Jeep strengthened Chrysler’s bottom line enough to make Chrysler a takeover target. There emerged a corporate “merger of equals” in the late 1990s, an unhappy and unequal marriage between America’s Chrysler and Germany’s Daimler-Benz AG. It didn’t last. Chrysler went from bad to worse. But Jeeps kept selling.

Italy’s struggling Fiat needed strong trucks and those popular Jeeps to make a better impression on the world stage. It knew a good deal when it saw one. It bought Chrysler for the monetary equivalent of a handshake — and improved Chrysler’s truck and Jeep offerings.

All of which brings us to the 2017-2018 Jeep Compass Limited all-wheel-drive model driven for this column. The folks at the Toluca assembly plant can be proud of this one. Their Compass is one of the best-built and best-equipped Jeeps ever. The United States and other nations will buy enough of them to keep the plant running a long time.

For some tastes, the Compass with Limited trim is a tad over the top. But that kind of thing is bound to happen with a product designed and engineered to snatch a thin slice of the market. The Compass goes after the “high middle” of Jeep buyers — above those who want the smaller size and cost of the Jeep Renegade and below those willing to pay more money for models such as the Jeep Cherokee.

All 2017-2018 Compass models come with 2.4-liter in-line, gasoline four-cylinder engines (180 horsepower, 175 pound-feet of torque). Acceleration and handling will please most drivers, although a V-6 would be preferable for folks who want more oomph.

The Compass Limited trim definitely is equipped nicely — Selec-Terrain system (snow, mud, gravel, paved roads); rearview camera; remote start and other items.

It is a well-done and enjoyable piece of work. Congratulations, Toluca.

Nuts & Bolts
2017-2018 Jeep Compass Limited

Bottom line: The Jeep Compass, especially the front-wheel-drive model, is for people who want the Jeep brand without the Jeep cost. For those who want a bit more “Jeep-ness,” such as off-road rough stuff, get the all-wheel-drive Compass with Trailhawk or Limited trim.

Ride, acceleration and handling: On paved roads, in front-wheel-drive, it will please most drivers. It is a confident companion in all-wheel-drive on moderate off-road jaunts.

Head-turning quotient: The Compass looks good inside and out. It has substantially better fit and finish than previous models.

Body style/layout: The Jeep Compass is a midsize SUV available in front-wheel-drive with an all-wheel-drive option. There are four trim levels — Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk.

Engines/Transmissions: All Jeep Compass models come with one engine: a 2.4-liter, gasoline four-cylinder, with 16 valves with variable valve timing (180 horsepower, 175 pound-feet of torque). A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the Sport model. The Limited and Trailhawk can get a six- or nine-speed automatic.

Capacities: Seating is for five people. Cargo capacity is 27 cubic feet with rear seats up and 60 cubic feet with rear seats down. The fuel tank holds 13.5 gallons of gasoline. Regular grade is fine.

Mileage: My youngest daughter, Kafi Drexel, and I averaged 26 miles per gallon in real-world travel.

Prices: The 2017-2018 Jeep Compass Limited all-wheel-drive starts at $28,995. The price as driven is $35,555, including $5,465 in options (advanced electronic safety items, panoramic glass roof, onboard navigation and other items) and a $1,095 factory-to-dealer shipment charge.