Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The 2013 Jeep Compass Goes West

For all you crazy kids out there, “gone west” is an old expression denoting someone’s disappearance -- or death. Fair to assume it arose back when there was a real western frontier to escape into rather than the scrub behind some BJ’s Wholesale loading dock. Frederick Jackson Turner liked the saying -- and Kerouac bandied it about -- but lately it's gone west itself. Still, old expressions don't really die, they just show up in old movies. Thus, "went west" joins such cinematic chestnuts as Natty Bumppo's recalling the time “since Hector was a pup” in The Last of the Mohicans, and some beatnik’s bongo-backed adviso to “split the scene” in the demimonde thriller, Stakeout on Dope Street.

Into the setting sun: The 2013 Compass
Just delivered for review, the 2013 Jeep Compass in the drive nears the moment when it too must split the scene. Not that it has a clue. Judging from the Grand-Cherokee-style grin on its fascia, the crossover happily awaits being put through its paces by yet another ink-and-Motor-Honey stained wretch while unaware it's about to get the chop. Although as of this writing it's still early in 2013, the 2014 Compass is soon to appear in showrooms. That leaves our test car nearly past it. Worse still, it's been reported that the Compass line might be discontinued next year -- a prospect making our tester's unsuspecting grin all the harder to bear. But – harrumph – emotional displays won’t do. Everyone knows that Jeep – which had its baptismal under fire at places like Corregidor and Monte Casino – has reigned as the alpha male vehicle ever since Hector was a pup.

Or nearly so, anyway.

Thelma and Louise go off-road
With the 2001 advent of its Liberty model as a replacement for the Cherokee, Jeep started garnering criticism for bringing “girlie” versions of its born-in-battle brand to market. Then, after 2007's car-based and non-trail-rated Patriots and Compasses came along, Jeep began to be seen as riding the on-ramp to the cultural feminization turnpike – where tolls are taken in testicularity.

These experiments in soccer-mom marketing haven't gone well. The Liberty, which was to make the 2000 Cherokee last of that noble line’s Mohicans, will soon find the Cherokee on the warpath to replace it. And despite the tea-party resonance of its name, watch for the Patriot to ultimately go the way of Occupy Wall Street. Last, the Compass may now be looking at only another year of production -- although some take the changes made to its 2014 model as indications that Chrysler intends to keep it around awhile longer.

Still, there’s that 2013 Compass under the sycamore. Badged at the trim-level of a mid-range Latitude, the $26,500 test car comes with the 2.4-liter four standard on all four-wheel-drive Compasses, and the continuously-variable transmission that now harmonizes their relationship, but won't be offered on 2014 models. Additional features include standard multi-stage airbags, full power accessories, electronic stability control, air-conditioning and heated front seats; while all-terrain tires, Uconnect devices and a SiriusXM Satellite radio constitute some optional equipment.

Despite efforts to provide the 2013 Compass with a traditional Jeep's air, we found the two-box nothing much to look at. Worse, the committee-design inherent in its hulking, squared-off wheel wells and upswept D-pillars made the thing look like it's been getting by on testosterone shots. With that in mind, it might be a good thing that the Honda CR-Vs, Toyota RAV4s and Subaru Foresters making up the Compass' competition sport elements of the bizarre Japanese aesthetic a couple of us privately term "nipizoidal."

There -- I've published it. 

Mount Fuji
The Old Avenger Pilot agreed. “Doesn’t much look like a Jeep,” he huffed while clambering into the four-by's passenger seat. As suggested by his worthy sobriquet, the OAP formed his idea of Jeeps early on. During the Pacific War, he flew torpedo bombers everywhere from under the Golden Gate to over Mount Fuji, so he's not just old school -- but old navy into the bargain. Using his combat-honed navigating skills, we determined to distract the (figuratively) west-bound Compass by orienting it eastward: first to the Eastern Shore, and from there beyond the town of Easton to Tilghman Island, where one of the last of the Chesapeake’s working skipjacks can be found.

Interior, 2013 Compass
The OAP and I set out comfortably ensconced in bolstered cloth seats that faced the Compass' simple and easily-read dash. Rear-seat passengers, on the other hand, tended to experience a sense of confinement coupled with the choppy ride afforded by the Jeep’s 104-inch wheelbase. Further back, cargo room was modest by compact SUV standards.

Despite the lack of power and refinement reported to be inherent in the Compass’ 172-horsepower engine, we got down to and over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge’s roller coaster hump without anything untoward in the way of vehicular clamor and wheeze. While the Compass is based on the oft-maligned Dodge Caliber platform, it benefits from the latter's car-borne composure. Thus, our journey past the sprawl plaguing this part of the peninsula was nicely addressed by the Jeep's staunch -- if otherwise unremarkable -- braking, handling and response. 

Still sun-struck under graying skies, bright fields of Canada geese accompanied our travels, their grasses aglow against the dark stands of loblolly pine marking their borders. It was amid these that the power-sapping effect of Compass’ continuously-variable tranny were felt. Yet more brawn-drain occurred as a result of the crossover’s light-duty 4WD, which is best suited to the mildly adverse conditions of places like these where the landscape’s too gentrified to condescend to bust an axle. It must be pointed out that the Jeep offers buyers an optional off-road package that includes a low-range mode for the CVT, hill ascent/descent assist and a host of other all-terrain equipment. 

Our route took us past broad farms picturesquely appointed with matchbox houses. The Old Avenger Pilot was full of local lore: the town of St. Michael's "fooled" the British in 1813; that's the Choptank on the right, the bay on the left; there's the slip where we'd put in the Pink Lady back when we had her; they used to raise that drawbridge to quell "the coloreds" during race riots; there are Sitka deer in these woods. 

On a finger of land between Choptank and bay, Tilghman's sky and fields grew sere -- the former swept by eagles as they scanned the latter for prey. While quaint, the island had a ghostly feel -- as if remote in time as well as distance; and its locals, descendants of those who'd fooled the Brits two centuries before, somehow found the arrival of a Jeep Compass into their midst unworthy of another turnout. Thus, quiet reigned as the OAP and I visited the skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark bobbing in the afternoon chop. One of her kind’s last Mohicans, she too will soon retire -- only with her storied name and heritage intact.



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