Guessing which vehicles will take home the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards is easier some years than others, but most industry experts had 2020’s crop of winners chosen…
Guessing which vehicles will take home the annual North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year awards is easier some years than others, but most industry experts had 2020’s crop of winners chosen long before this week’s announcement.
The actual name of the award is the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) despite now having three categories covering passenger cars, a sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
Just 50 automotive journalists make up the NACTOY jury, from print, online, radio and broadcast media in both the United States and Canada, with the finalists presented in the fall and eventual winners awarded each year at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, although this year’s presentation was changed to a separate event at Detroit’s TCF Center (formerly known as Cobo Hall/Cobo Center) due to the 2020 NAIAS moving its dates forward to June 7-20 this year. The NACTOY awards were first presented in 1994, with the Utility Vehicle category added in 2017.
Of note, nomination requirements include completely new vehicles, total redesigns, or significant refreshes. In other words, the nominated vehicle needs to be something most consumers would consider new to the market or substantially different from a model’s predecessor. Also important, the finalists earned their top-three placement by judging their segment leadership, innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for money.
The selection process started in June last year, with the vehicle eligibility determined after three rounds of voting. NACTOY used the independent accounting firm Deloitte LLP to tally the votes and kept them secret until the envelopes were unsealed on stage by the organization’s President, Lauren Fix, Vice President, Chris Paukert, and Secretary-Treasurer, Kirk Bell.
The finalists in the “Car” category included the Chevrolet Corvette, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Supra, with the final winner being the new seventh-generation mid-engine Corvette, a total game changer for the model and sports car category. Interestingly, it’s been six years since a sports car won the passenger car category, so kudos to Chevy for creating something so spectacular it couldn’t be ignored, while Toyota and Hyundai should also be commended for their excellent entries.
“A mid-engine Corvette was a huge risk for Chevy’s muscle-car icon. They nailed it. Stunning styling, interior, and performance for one-third of the cost of comparable European exotics,” said Henry Payne, auto critic for The Detroit News.
The “Utility Vehicle” finalists included the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Lincoln Aviator, with most industry insiders believing one of the two South Korean entries (which are basically the same vehicle under the skin, a la Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia) would take home the prize, and lo and behold the Kia Telluride earned top marks.
“The Telluride’s interior layout and design would meet luxury SUV standards, while its refined drivetrain, confident driving dynamics and advanced technology maintain the premium experience,” said Karl Brauer, Executive Publisher at Cox Automotive. “Traditional SUV brands take note: there’s a new star player on the field.”
“What’s not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors? If you want massive cargo-hauling capability or the ability to tow 10,000 pounds, buy something else,” said longtime automotive journalist John Voelcker. “The eagerly awaited Gladiator is a one-of-a-kind truck, every bit the Jeep its Wrangler sibling is … but with a pickup bed. How could you possibly get more American than that?”
Of note, NACTOY is an independent, non-profit organization, with elected officers and funding by dues-paying journalist members.
Find out more about the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Jeep Gladiator at CarCostCanada, where you can get trim, package and individual option pricing, plus rebate info and even dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. While the Corvette is not yet available, you can get up to $1,000 in additional incentives on the new Telluride, and factory leasing and financing rates from 4.09 percent for the new Gladiator. Make sure to check CarCostCanada for more.
You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but Jeep completely overhauled its Wrangler two years ago for the 2018 model year. The 2019 model shown here was carried forward mostly unchanged, which is par for…
You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but Jeep completely overhauled its Wrangler two years ago for the 2018 model year. The 2019 model shown here was carried forward mostly unchanged, which is par for the course with redesigned models, while it’ll mostly do likewise for the upcoming 2020 model year. I’ll cover the key changes in this review, plus give you my road and trail driving impressions, and on that last note you’ll want to peruse the gallery above for one of the most comprehensive photo sessions I’ve ever published.
Some Jeep fans are as old and storied as this iconic model, and while I wasn’t around in the early ‘40s to witness the famed Willys MB (plus the Bantam BRC 40 and Ford GP examples) in action during WWII and subsequent wars, I went 4x4ing in one as a child with my dad at the wheel and can never forget the experience. Also forever etched in my memory is a blue-decaled black 5.0-litre (304 cu-in) V8-powered CJ5 Renegade that I spent one fabulous summer with, complete with loud headers, even louder aftermarket Alpine stereo speakers hanging from the roll bar, and its soft top permanently removed. Suffice to say I’ve become a fan of this now legendary SUV, so I pay attention to all the little changes undertaken with each new model year.
If you’re new to the Wrangler, and such would be understandable being that the quintessential off-roader lures in new fans with each passing year, you may not have noticed its complete ground-up redesign noted a moment ago, but diehard Jeep advocates can easily point out all of the updates. Visual changes from the 2007–2017 JK body style to the new 2018–present JL include a bolder, broader front grille, new available LED reflector headlamps, an off-road ATV-inspired front bumper (that looks much like the front bumper on the 2016 Wrangler 75th Anniversary Edition I reviewed back in the day) with available LED fog lamps, a more shapely hood (albeit not filled with the Anniversary Edition’s cool power dome and black vents or the Rubicon’s similarly vented hood design), redesigned front fenders with integrated wraparound turn signals/markers, heavily sculpted front body panels with side vents (these making up for the more conservative hood), new integrated side steps, new rear fender flares, new more creatively shaped wraparound taillights with available LED technology, a new tailgate, and a new rear bumper (that’s not as sweet looking as the one on the aforementioned 75th Anniversary Edition, but more shapely than the hunk of metal and plastic used for the previous Sahara).
While you might need to put the new JL next to the old JK to see the subtler differences, such as the updated tailgate, we can surmise that most every panel is new thanks to both regular wheelbase two-door and long-wheelbase four-door models being longer than their predecessors. Specifically, the 2019 Unlimited you’re looking at is 89 mm (3.5 inches) longer than the JK version overall, with a 61-mm (2.4-inch) longer wheelbase. All in all, the new Wrangler manages to look classic and contemporary at the same time, and most importantly it looks mighty good, so job well done to the Jeep design team.
Inside, it’s a much more refined SUV, with doors that slam shut with a thud, and soft touch materials used above the waste-line for the most part. The dash top and instrument panel even get some contrast-stitched leatherette that looks pretty rich, this matching the leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, the leatherette shifter boot and armrests, and the leather surfaced seats. The switchgear is impressive throughout the cabin, particularly the rugged looking audio volume and dual-zone automatic HVAC knobs on the centre stack, while the general quality of most materials and the way everything fits together has improved.
As wholly complete as all of these changes sound, the Wrangler’s primary instrument cluster may have received the interior’s most comprehensive rethink, and while it might have been easier and less expensive to simply substitute its predecessor’s nearly two-dimensionally flat four-gauge layout with an even flatter fully digital display, and thus take the new Wrangler to new levels of modernity in similar fashion to how Mercedes transformed its similarly classic G-wagon from antiquated bushwhacker to digital overlord with its most recent redesign, Jeep created a complex combination of individually hooded primary dials surrounding a massive colour multi-information display (MID).
First factoring in that I’m the type of person who simultaneously wears a Seiko SKX007 on my left wrist and the smaller of the two Samsung Gear S3 smart watches on my right, Schwarzkopf style, in order to garner the best of both analogue and digital worlds (not that the SKX is the best, but the GS SBGA031 is too large and a Rolex Sub too pricey), I really like the new Wrangler gauge cluster’s attractive analogue design and appreciate the depth of functions found in the MID, not to mention the cool background graphics that sometimes show an image of the classic WWII GP mentioned earlier, while the tachometer and speedometer dials looks fabulous in their bright orange on black and white motif. I know that fully digital displays are all the rage right now, just like smart watches, but I believe we’ll eventually be paying more for an upgrade to analogue gauges in some high-end models, just like those of us with a weakness for horology are being asked to pay outrageous sums for high-quality mechanical watches. On that note, Jeep’s new primary instrument cluster balances analogue and digital very well.
Those familiar with Chrysler group products (and by that I mean Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep vehicles that have often shared similar infotainment touchscreens) will already be well versed in the Wrangler’s infotainment touchscreen, which hasn’t changed all that much in function, despite growing in size and modified in shape. The previous 6.5-inch version was more rectangular and laid out horizontally, and featured a row of four buttons down each side, plus a volume/power knob to the left and USB/aux ports (under a pop-off cover) to the right, whereas the new 8.0-inch touchscreen is larger and squarer, with the only quick-access analogue switchgear found in a cluster of dials and buttons just below, mostly for controlling the aforementioned HVAC system. The rightmost dial is for scrolling/browsing and selecting infotainment content, but I found it easier to simply use the touchscreen for such functions, only using the row of external controls for the heated seats and steering wheel (although these could be found within the touchscreen as well), adjusting interior temperatures (ditto), and audio volume.
The larger display provides a much-improved reverse camera with dynamic guidelines, the ability to hook up Android Auto (or Apple CarPlay) to use Google Assistant or any number of other functions, plus all the other features most infotainment systems do so well these days, such as highly accurate route guidance/navigation via a nicely laid out digital mapping system, phone setup and control, audio band and station selection, including satellite and wireless device streaming, plus plenty of apps that come preloaded or more which can be downloaded. The screen’s resolution is good, but I wouldn’t call it high-definition like most premium brands and some new mainstream SUVs, such as Chevy’s new Blazer, now provide, but let’s not get me started on that missed opportunity (albeit relative sales hit) to bring something to market capable of going head-to-head with the Wrangler and upcoming Ford Bronco.
That Blazer in mind, the Wrangler’s ride quality has improved so dramatically that it’s become a high point, something I would’ve never previously expected from this model. Don’t get me wrong, as the JK that I tested during its initial 2005 Lake Tahoe/Rubicon Trail international launch program made massive ride and handling strides over the 1997–2006 TJ, while that comparatively rudimentary appliance was revolutionary when stacked up against the 1987–1995 YJ, and so on down the myriad line of CJs, but this new JL is so much better than any of its predecessors that I’d actually consider owning one again, something I wouldn’t have said about the JK. The fact is, I’m getting older and wouldn’t be willing to get beat up by my daily ride. This new Wrangler is an entirely new level of comfort over its predecessors, and its suspension compliancy is matched by thoroughly improved handling sees this long-wheelbase Unlimited tracking better at high speed and easier to manoeuvre in the city and around parking lots. All round, it’s a much better SUV to live with day to day.
This includes better rear seats with more sculpted outboard positions, plus increased legroom due to its longer wheelbase. This second row is still capable of fitting three abreast, but it’s better if just left to two thanks to a unique folding centre armrest that houses two big rubber cupholders and a personal device holder within the headrest portion, plus a wide padded area for forearms behind.
All said this big armrest was a missed opportunity for a centre pass-through that would have made the cargo compartment much more accommodating for long loads like skis when rear passengers are aboard. The way its 60/40-split rear seatbacks are laid out causes the need to lower the narrowest section when fitting skis, poles and/or snowboards inside, and force one of your rear occupants into the middle position. It’s doable, but not ideal, which can also be said for the swinging rear door that’s still hinged on the wrong side for North American (and most global) markets.
Due to the need to hang a full-size spare on its backside, the side-swinging door is an awkward setup at best, especially when realizing the simple act of flipping up the rear window for quick access requires the door to be opened first, but the top hatch comes as part of the removable roof and is therefore necessary, and the need to potentially walk out into traffic when loading gear into the cargo compartment from curbside pays respect to tradition, Jeep having always hinged its rear door on the passenger’s side. I’ve complained many times and Jeep isn’t about to change, so I merely point it out to Wrangler newcomers as a possible problem.
On the positive, the long-wheelbase Unlimited model’s dedicated cargo space is up by 18 litres (0.6 cubic feet) to 898 litres (31.7 cu ft), while 70 litres (2.5 cu ft) have been added to its maximum capacity, now capable of swallowing up 2,050 litres (72.4 cu ft) of gear when both seatbacks lowered. This said they don’t lay as flat, but are easier to fold down and no longer gobble up rolling fruits, vegetables or sports equipment. The previous rear seats automatically popped their headrests upward and left their mechanicals exposed when folded, whereas the new ones leave the headrests in place and cover the frames and hinges with a folding carpeted panel. Such refinements are nothing new for the majority of crossover SUVs, but it’s a major breakthrough for the Wrangler that’s long stuffed in rear seats as more of an afterthought, the first Unlimited being a 250-mm (10-inch) extended two-door 2004½ TJ (LJ) with a fairly rudimentary rear bench seat. The thicker rear seat cushions cause a slight bump halfway into the load floor, but it’s a compromise most (especially rear seat passengers) should be happy to accept.
The 2019 Wrangler’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, eight-speed automatic transmission and part-time four-wheel drive system is a no-compromise combination, however, unless I were to try and compare it to my old CJ5’s V8, and even then I’m guessing its exhaust note would be the only clear winner in a drag race. The modern engine’s tailpipes emit a sonorous tone too, albeit much more refined than the monster truck mayhem bellowing from past memory, the smooth operating six producing 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque for quick acceleration, while the eight-speed auto’s shifts are quick yet never jarring.
Of note, a six-speed manual is standard, with the eight-speed auto adding $1,595 to the 2019 Wrangler Unlimited Sport S’ $40,745 (plus freight and fees) base price, with this Unlimited Sahara starting at $44,745 and the top-line Unlimited Rubicon getting a $47,745 retail price (a base two-door Wrangler S can be had for $33,695). You can also pay $2,590 for a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with electric assist that comes standard with the eight-speed auto, this more fuel-efficient alternative providing a bit less thrust at 270 horsepower, but more twist at 295 lb-ft of torque. I have yet to test this new engine so can’t comment, but have driven the six-speed manual and, while a very good gearbox, prefer life in this class of vehicle with an automatic, especially one as refined and quick-shifting as this eight-speed (check out all 2018, 2019 and 2020 Jeep Wrangler prices, including trims, packages and individual options, plus manufacturer rebates and dealer invoice pricing at CarCostCanada, where you can now save up to $3,500 in additional incentives on a 2020, or $4,000 on a 2019).
The autobox gives the 3.6 better economy too, with a rating of 12.9 L/100km in the city, 10.2 on the highway and 11.7 combined compared to 13.8 city, 10.1 highway and 12.2 combined for the manual, while the four-cylinder option leads the pack with a claimed rating of 10.9, 10.0 and 10.5 respectively. As for the upcoming 2020 model year, Jeep will soon answer my many requests by providing its 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel as part of its Wrangler lineup. The engine makes 260 horsepower and a substantial 442 pound-feet of torque, while fuel economy should even be thriftier than the current 2.0-litre turbo’s results. The only complaints will come from 4×4 purists, because the diesel will only be available with this long-wheelbase Unlimited model, the more off-road capable regular-wheelbase Wrangler to remain gasoline-powered only.
Saving the best for last, the Wrangler is the quintessential 4×4, with few rivals even trying to measure up. In fact, pickup trucks aside, the Wrangler is the only serious compact off-roader available from a mainstream volume brand, and will remain so until the Bronco arrives. Chevy and GMC stopped building their small pickup-based Blazer and Jimmy in 2005, but that little SUV never quite matched up to the Wrangler’s 4×4 capability, while Toyota’s FJ Cruiser said sayonara from our market in 2014. Likewise, Nissan’s Xterra was gone from our shores in 2015, leaving the venerable Wrangler to scoop up those 4×4 buyers it didn’t already have.
Of course, I took my Wrangler Unlimited Sahara tester to a local off-road playground I utilize regularly, and it performed flawlessly. All the mud and standing water was a cakewalk for this capable ute, reminding me that the even more robust Rubicon is probably overkill for most peoples’ needs (although it looks awesome). Once on dirt I slid the secondary low gear lever into its 4H (four-high) Part Time position, the first 4H position meant more for slippery pavement or gravel, which allowed me to cruise over the less challenging trails.
When mucking through thick mud and deep water I engaged 4L (four-low), at which point its secondary set of gears provided all the crawling traction needed to safely, securely pull me out of most any situation. I’ve tested the JK over much more harrowing terrain, the aforementioned Rubicon Trail being one of many off-road encounters, and it always proved a reliable companion. I can only imagine how much more enjoyable Cadillac Hill would be with the new model’s improved suspension, but alas this will need to wait for a future drive, hopefully powered by the upcoming turbo-diesel.
No doubt that future Wrangler will be the best ever created, but it’ll need to be very special to beat this current model. If you haven’t driven a Wrangler in a long time, possible due to memories of harsh suspensions and hostile surroundings, I highly recommend some time well spent in this new model. Even if you tested the old JK a year or two ago and found it a bit too rough around its edges, don’t let that experience discourage you from giving the new JL a chance.
Lastly, here’s some sound business reasoning for choosing a Wrangler over any other vehicle currently available. According to ALG, the world’s best-known 4×4 has the highest residual value in Canada’s entire automotive sector, with the four-door Unlimited only losing 30-percent of its value over three years, and the two-door version’s value dropping by just 31.5-percent over the same period. On top of this, the Wrangler won the Canadian Black Book’s 2019 Best Retained Value Awards in the Compact SUV category for the 9th year in a row, while this year it achieved a new retained value record of 91 percent (Jeep also achieved the best retained value position with the Renegade in the Sub-Compact Crossover category).
This means the Wrangler doesn’t only have to be about what you want, but can also justifiably represent what you need. In other words, the Jeep Wrangler is quite possibly the most intelligent automotive choice available today.
When I first heard Jeep was about to can the Patriot and keep the Compass I was a bit put off. It’s not like I particularly loved the Patriot, but it was a helluvalot more appealing than the first-generation…
When I first heard Jeep was about to can the Patriot and keep the Compass I was a bit put off. It’s not like I particularly loved the Patriot, but it was a helluvalot more appealing than the first-generation Compass, at least to my eyes, plus it offered some mild capability off-road. Despite my silent petition Jeep followed through on this rumour and the Patriot was discontinued in 2017, but fortunately Jeep gave the Compass a completely new life that same year for the 2018 model, transforming it from a slightly better looking version of the initial ugly duckling, into something really quite fetching.
Believe it or not, the first-gen Compass ran for 10 years, from 2006 to 2016, with only one significant facelift in 2011. That’s when Jeep turned it from a Liberty wannabe to a mini Grand Cherokee, at least from the front, while the totally new second-generation Compass pulls even more cues from the since-updated and much more handsome Grand Cherokee, resulting in a really smart looking compact crossover SUV front to back. On that note I can’t go without mentioning rear end styling similarities to the all-new Volvo XC40, but to be fair to Jeep this shapely domestic came on the scene a full year before the new entry-level Sino-Swede, so maybe it was Jeep that influenced Volvo.
It wouldn’t be the first time Jeep made an impression on a luxury brand. Anyone who thinks the Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen (G-Class) merely landed on the scene in ‘79 without any homage paid to Jeep’s iconic CJ/Wrangler (plus Land Rover’s Series I/II/III/Defender and Toyota’s Land Cruiser J40/70) is dreaming, and let me tell you that this Compass not only offers premium styling, but does a pretty good job of aping a compact luxury utility as well.
You’d need to step up from this second-rung North example to Trailhawk, Limited or High Altitude trim in order to feel truly pampered, although this just-over-base model is still very nicely finished inside. It gets a soft-touch dash that wraps all the way around the instrument panel and under the infotainment head unit before stretching across each front door upper. The door inserts are made from supple padded leatherette, similar to the armrests that also get nice cream and copper dual-tone contrast stitching to match the leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, shifter boot, and seat upholstery.
Those seats are bolstered in leatherette with attractive hexagonal-patterned black cloth inserts, and are very comfortable thanks to good inherent design as well as four-way powered lumbar support. Yes, four-way lumbar; a feature many premium brands don’t offer until moving up through their options lists.
The Compass switchgear is all high in quality too, with the standard dual-zone automatic HVAC system’s main dials rimmed in chrome and rubber, while Jeep provides a separate climate control interface within the centre touchscreen that lets you swipe up and down to easily set the temperature, not to mention adjust temperatures of the two-way front seat heaters and ultra-hot heatable steering wheel.
The infotainment system does much more, with really diverse entertainment choices from the usual radio selections to HD and satellite radio plus Bluetooth streaming audio, as well as navigation with accurate route guidance and really detailed mapping, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a nice big reverse camera with active guidelines, and more.
Some additional $29,645 North model features include 17-inch alloy wheels on 225/60 all-seasons, auto on/off headlamps, cornering fog lights, body-colour side mirror housings and door handles, bright daylight opening mouldings, black roof rails, deep-tint sunscreen glass, proximity-sensing keyless access, LED ambient interior lighting, and illuminated vanity mirrors, while the $26,150 base Sport model just below features an electromechanical parking brake, pushbutton ignition, heated and power-adjustable side mirrors, tilt and telescopic steering, cruise control, six-speaker audio, a media hub with an aux input and USB connectivity/charging port, a second-row USB charger, a 115-volt household-style power outlet, two 12-volt chargers, powered windows, a forward folding front passenger seat, a capless fuel filler, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, a block heater, and more.
The aforementioned eight-way powered driver’s seat is optional, as are the heated front seats and steering wheel, and the 1.4-inch larger 8.4-inch infotainment system with navigation, while my tester also had a really impressive, fully featured, high-resolution 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster display, a windshield wiper de-icer, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, remote engine start, a nice set of all-weather floor mats, a full-size temporary spare tire, a Class III tow package, and more.
You can also replace the standard quad-halogen headlamps with a set of bi-xenon HID headlamps featuring LED signatures and LED taillights, add a set of 18-inch alloys on 225/55 all-seasons, upgrade the audio system with Alpine speakers, add a dual-pane panoramic sunroof and powered liftgate, and finally improve convenience and safety with a host of advanced driver assist systems such as adaptive cruise control with stop and go, automatic high beams, forward collision warning with active braking, advanced brake assist, and lane departure warning with lane keep assist, and that’s just with North trim.
Jeep also offers the Compass in $30,940 Altitude trim, which adds glossy black 18-inch alloys, additional gloss-black exterior trim including a black roof, automatic headlights, upgraded upholstery, dual exhaust tips and other changes, while $31,640 Upland trim adds the 17-inch off-road alloy wheels, a modified front fascia, a front skid plate, and tow hooks from the aforementioned Trailhawk model, plus some other styling changes.
Full $34,145 Trailhawk trim includes an off-road package with a unique uprated suspension setup, plus off-road tires wrapping around those just-noted 17-inch alloys, while it also adds underbody skid plates, hill descent control, the previously mentioned 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster display, the 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, and rain-sensing wipers, as well as ambient-lit cupholders and leather upholstery.
Limited trim, at $36,145, builds on the more crossover-like Altitude model, by making the previously noted remote engine start, windshield wiper de-icer, heated front seats, and heated steering wheel standard equipment, plus adding a 12-way power driver’s seat, while the topmost $38,340 High Altitude trim includes the HID headlights, LED taillights and navigation system standard, while adding 19-inch rims and rubber, plus perforated leather upholstery (check CarCostCanada for 2020 Jeep Compass pricing, including trims, packages and options, plus make sure to learn about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).
No matter the trim the Compass is roomy for what is effectively a subcompact SUV, with plenty of space up front, loads of driver’s seat adjustability, and excellent telescopic steering column reach resulting in an ideal driving position, plus there’s more headroom than you’ll likely ever need. After setting my driver’s seat up for my rather long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame, causing me to power it further rearward than most people my height need to, I still had about six inches ahead of my knees when seated directly behind in the second row, plus four inches over my head, and another four next to my hips and shoulders, while Jeep provides a nice wide armrest at centre. The outboard seats are comfortable with good lower back support, and the previously noted rear seat amenities, which also included good air circulation via vents on the backside of the front console, helped to make for a relaxing atmosphere.
The cargo compartment gets the usual carpeting on the floor and seatbacks, four chromed tie-down hooks, and the usual standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks to expand it from an accommodating 770 litres (27.2 cubic feet) to a generous 1,693 litres (39.8 cu ft). These numbers show this new Compass to be 127 litres (4.5 cu ft) larger than old first-generation version with the seats upright, and 82 litres (2.9 cu ft) smaller when they’re folded flat, a nominal difference likely due to the previous model having more space behind the driver’s side rear wheel well, but usable space is about the same.
Comfortably positioned back up front in the driver’s seat, there are no Eco or Sport modes to get the most mileage or performance from the standard 2.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir four-cylinder engine, or its three drivetrains. The engine makes a healthy 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque, good for the subcompact SUV class, while fuel economy depends on whether suited up with the base front-wheel drive, six-speed manual gearbox combination (10.4 L/100km city, 7.3 highway and 9.0 combined), front-wheel drive with the six-speed auto (10.6 city, 7.6 highway and 9.3 combined), which also comes with auto stop/start that automatically shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, or the four-wheel drive, nine-speed auto combo (10.8 city, 7.8 highway and 9.5 combined) that comes with idle stop/start too. Only Sport trim offers the manual, with Sport, North and Altitude trims providing the option of front-wheel drive with the six-speed auto, while all trims can be had with the 4WD, nine-speed configuration, which is standard on Upland models and above.
My Compass tester was great fun to drive, much thanks to steering wheel-mounted paddles. It was quick at takeoff, the little turbo-four delivering plenty of torque for a good smack in the backside during takeoff and no shortage of energy to speedily eclipse highway cruising limits. High-speed stability and fast-paced handling are good too, while the Compass’ ride quality is hardly upset by road imperfections. The Compass’ suspension is fully independent, and interestingly it incorporates rear struts in place of this compact SUV segment’s usual trailing arm or multi-link setup in order to provide more travel to improve off-road capability.
And yes, the Compass is fairly decent off-road. Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system is standard, which provides Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud modes, the latter one extremely useful when getting it dirty at a local off-road haunt. Certainly the Trailhawk’s lifted suspension and beefier tires would’ve made it even more confidence inspiring, but I was able to crawl over some reasonably difficult medium-duty terrain, wade through a few big mud puddles, and bring it back in one piece.
The Compass’ Achilles heel is its advanced nine-speed transmission, which while smooth and refined in its higher ratios, plus includes a sporty rev-matching feature, was often plagued with jerky starts from standstill, seemingly caused by a slight hesitation upon pressing the gas pedal that resulted in an uncomfortable slap in the back affect and distinct clunk on takeoff. Worse, this is the only vehicle to ever stall on me when in idle stop/start mode. While waiting at a light with the engine automatically turned off, the light went green, so I took my foot off the brake and, when nothing happened, feathered the throttle in order to get things going. Instead, the engine tried to start up and then died, stalling in Drive. After figuring out what had happened, returning my foot to the brake, shifting the transmission back into Park, pushing the start button, shifting it back into Drive, and then waiting for a very long time (as if the transmission was slipping) before it clunked into gear and started going again, I wasn’t at all amused. After all, there was a line of (fortunately patient) traffic behind me, looking at this poor sod that obviously didn’t know how to drive.
As I’ve since learned, Jeep’s ZF-sourced nine-speed transmission has caused problems for the brand in this Compass and other vehicles (particularly the Cherokee) going back years, and the description of my specific problem doesn’t come close to describing all of the issues that might potentially go wrong. This particular problem still appears to be happening with some customers, as noted by multiple complainants on the U.S. NHTSA website.
It’s such a shame to leave things on a sour note, because I really like this SUV in most every other respect. It looks great, has an impressive interior that’s packed full of features, is priced reasonably well, provides loads of practicality, and is fun to drive (when it’s not stalling and the transmission isn’t clunking). I could recommend it in front-wheel drive trims, but I’d want to test a couple of other examples with the all-wheel drivetrain and nine-speed automatic before recommending anything higher up the food chain.
Have you noticed? Jeep has been harmonizing the look of its new lineup. It started with the elimination of the more traditionally styled Patriot and adoption of Grand Cherokee styling for the thoroughly…
Have you noticed? Jeep has been harmonizing the look of its new lineup. It started with the elimination of the more traditionally styled Patriot and adoption of Grand Cherokee styling for the thoroughly redesigned Compass, and continues with the more recently refreshed 2019 Cherokee.
The fifth-generation Cherokee has always divided opinions, mostly due to its high-mounted headlamps and aerodynamically rounded seven-slot grille, so the new 2019 model, which is already starting to arrive in Canadian dealerships as we say goodbye to this outgoing model, repositions those headlamps downward for a more conventional look that should appease naysayers. I won’t spend any time discussing the new model, as there are still plenty of 2018 Cherokees left for savvy SUV buyers to negotiate great deals on, hence my review of this stunning all-black example before us.
The Cherokee trim level you’re looking at is dubbed High Altitude 4×4, but Jeep could’ve just as easily swapped the word altitude for attitude. I can only speak for myself, but I think it looks fabulous, all of its bold blackness contrasting beautifully against white/orange and white/red lighting elements plus silver brake calipers. Truth be told, I’m not usually a black-on-black kind of person, preferring some shade of white or a tastefully bright colour, but I can’t deny the attraction, this Cherokee works.
One of the great things about buying a Jeep is the brand’s incredible array of available colours, trim levels and special editions, making it so even the most eccentric of customers can find something that suits their unique personality. Conservative types will probably want to stick with the $27,945 base Cherokee Sport, $31,645 mid-range North, $35,145 premium-level Limited, or downright luxurious $40,645 Overland, while those hoping to pull eyeballs their way can purchase a less lofty $29,840 Altitude model, this $35,940 High Altitude, the $36,145 off-road focused Trailhawk, and finally the fancier $39,140 Trailhawk Leather Plus.
Being a Jeep, Trail Rated 4×4 skills are mandatory, at least in upper trims. As it is, the Trailhawk models come standard with the brand’s Active Drive II all-terrain system, upgraded with Active Drive Lock, or rather a locking rear differential, whereas all other trims get standard front-wheel drive and the option of a lighter duty Active Drive I 4×4 system that only engages the rear wheels when necessary, or the more capable Active Drive II system without the locking rear diff.
Jeep also provides choices in powertrains, including a 16-valve, DOHC 2.4-litre four-cylinder good for 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque, and a 24-valve, DOHC 3.2-litre V6 making 271 horsepower and 239 lb-ft of torque, with both joined up to a highly advanced nine-speed automatic transmission.
As you can imagine the Cherokee’s fuel economy varies considerably depending on engine and drivetrain, with the most efficient four-cylinder, FWD models achieving a claimed 11.0 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.6 combined, and the most potent V6-powered, 4WD-endowed versions good for an estimated 12.9 city, 9.9 highway and 11.6 combined.
My Cherokee High Altitude 4×4 tester falls into the latter camp, as it shipped with the $2,845 V6 and Active Drive II all-terrain traction upgrade, boosting its price of entry to $40,985 before freight, fees and options. The move upmarket meant that an off-road suspension now supported road-ready 225/60 Continental ProContact all-seasons on 18-inch alloys, these not as go-anywhere-capable as the Firestone Destination A/Ts found on a previous Trailhawk tested a couple of years ago, but despite its very real 4×4 prowess the High Altitude model is probably more of a city slicker anyway.
For instance, the Trailhawk’s alloys measure 17 inches due to their all-terrain tires needing taller sidewalls for better off-road capability, while along with its aforementioned Active Drive Lock system it gets a unique Selec-Terrain traction management system featuring a rock crawling mode. The High Altitude gets Selec-Terrain without Rock mode, its dial-selectable settings including Auto, Sport, Snow, and Sand/Mud, which no doubt would be good enough to get it back from the cottage after a torrential spring downfall or up to the ski hill mid-winter, let alone out from behind a piled up snowplow-supplied embankment.
While all of this brawny ruggedness sounds exciting, what makes both of these 4WD-equipped Cherokees especially appealing is their overall refinement. This likely can be said of FWD versions as well, although Jeep has never supplied me with one of those for testing so I’ll have to take their word for it. As it is, all Cherokees I’ve tested, starting with a 2014 Limited V6 4×4, which was followed up by a 2015 Trailhawk V6 4×4, a 2016 North V6 4×4, and finally this 2018 High Altitude V6 4×4, have come as close to premium-level pampering as mainstream volume makers get. I’m not talking Range Rover territory, but certainly nearing Land Rover in soft touch synthetic surfacing and features. The higher end Jeeps were especially well finished for this compact SUV class, with padded stitched leatherette dash tops and stitched leather armrests, premium perforated leather seats, tasteful satin-silver (or in this High Altitude model’s case, satin-copper/pewter) inlays, chromed details, etcetera.
The Cherokee has been a leader in electronic interfaces since inception too, with my tester featuring a large 7.0-inch feature-filled colour multi-information display between its highly legible white/red on black primary gauges, and a much more sizeable 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen on the centre stack, this boasting very accurate navigation guidance and wonderfully detailed mapping, plus easy to use phone connectivity with Bluetooth audio streaming, a panel for controlling the dual-zone auto HVAC system despite having all the climate control hardware housed on a separate interface below the screen, an individual display for the heated (and cooled, if upgraded) seats and heatable steering wheel, plus more. You can leave your connected phone in a rubberized bin at the base of the centre stack and charge it via a USB port, while that same group of inputs includes the usual aux plug and 12-volt charger, plus an SD card slot.
The High Altitude actually comes with a total of three 12-volt power outlets and three USB ports, plus a three-prong 115-volt household-style power outlet in back, while standard features not yet mentioned that are specific to this trim include bi-xenon HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, fog lamps, LED taillights, power-folding heated side mirrors with courtesy lamps and integrated turn signals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, ambient LED interior lighting, illuminated front cupholders, a storage bin on top of the dash, a universal garage door opener, voice activation, satellite radio, soft Nappa leather upholstery, a 12-way power driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar adjustment (the Lexus NX only gives you two-way lumbar), heated front seats, a rear seat centre armrest with integrated cupholders, a cargo management system, a cargo cover and net, plus much more.
My tester also featured a wonderful dual-pane panoramic sunroof overhead, capable of being opened for fresh air or completely covered by a power-retractable shade, this a $1,595 standalone extra, while other standalone options included $700 for navigation, and $450 for nine amplified speakers including a sub, which provided decent sound quality.
My loaner’s packages included $1,295 for a Luxury group featuring two-way memory for the driver’s seat, side mirrors and radio, plus ventilated front seats, a powered liftgate, and more; a $995 Technology group featuring automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability, advanced brake assist, forward collision warning with active auto braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, semi-autonomous parallel and perpendicular parking assist, rain-sensing wipers, and more; while choosing the Technology group necessitates the $895 SafetyTec group that includes blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection and rear parking sensors with auto reverse braking; and lastly a $495 Trailer Tow group that added a 3.517 final drive ratio, heavy-duty engine cooling, a Class III hitch receiver, 4- and 7-pin wiring harness, an auxiliary transmission oil cooler, and a full-size spare tire. That’s $9,270 in options, upping the suggested retail price of my tester to $47,410 before freight and fees.
Certainly that’s luxury brand territory for a compact SUV, but add similar features to a premium-badged sport ute and you’ll be thousands higher and probably won’t enjoy the same straight-line performance or off-road ability. There’s something decidedly upscale about a smooth, powerful V6. The throaty growl and purposeful gurgle emanating from up front ahead of the firewall and out back via the exhaust is worth the price of entry, not to mention the slightly higher ongoing running costs.
The V6-powered Cherokee moves off the line with gusto, and the nine-speed automatic shifts smoothly and reasonably quick. It mixes the comfort of those aforementioned leather seats, which are nicely sculpted for excellent lower back support, with more sports car-like flair than the usual SUV fare. Truly, the Cherokee is a more performance-oriented SUV than the majority of its peers.
Case in point, I had Toyota’s full-load RAV4 Platinum at my beck and call during the same week, and while it’s a very nice SUV with plenty of features it was nowhere near as fun to drive as this Cherokee. I’m sure to some reading right now that sounds odd, because the Cherokee is the only SUV in its class with 4×4 credentials, so one would justifiably think that its taller ride height and greater capability over rocks, gravel, sand, and what-have-you would make it less capable on a curving stretch of pavement, but strangely this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the Cherokee feels like the performance SUV, and the RAV4 a comparative laggard.
Certainly the RAV is comfortable, although a lack of telescopic reach from the steering wheel made the Toyota’s driving position less agreeable to my long-legged, short-torso frame than the Cherokee’s setup. Likewise the RAV4 offered up a good ride, albeit no better than the Cherokee. Toyota defenders might fight back with a nod to the RAV4 for styling, but honestly these two are probably equal in this respect. I’ll give expected reliability to Toyota.
This said the Cherokee’s auto reverse braking system can cut in a bit too aggressively at times, but if you go slowly enough when backing up past an obstacle it won’t automatically lock up. If you can call that a complaint, that’s it for negatives.
Even the Cherokee’s rear seat roominess is good, with about four to five inches remaining ahead of my knees when the driver’s seat was positioned for my five-foot-eight medium-build body, plus another three to four inches above my head and five or six next to my shoulders and hips. More impressive, the rear passenger compartment is almost as nicely finished as the front, with soft-touch door uppers that actually extend halfway down the door. The RAV4, and most of its peers, doesn’t even have soft touch door uppers in back.
Likewise, the Cherokee’s rear liftgate powers open to a nicely finished cargo area. There’s no carpeting up the sidewalls like SUVs in the pricier premium class offer, but Jeep mounts chromed tie-down hooks at each corner and finishes the cargo floor with high-grade carpets that extend onto the backsides of the rear seats. The floor lifts up to expose the previously noted optional full-size spare tire, and that removable panel is very sturdy.
When the 60/40-split seatbacks were folded flat via easily reachable clasps on the tops those seatbacks, expanding cargo space from 696 or 824 litres (24.6 or 29.1 cubic feet) depending on where the rear seats are positioned, to 1,554 litres (54.9 cubic feet), floor extensions fell into place to cover the gap where small items like wayward groceries (i.e. rolling apples and oranges) might otherwise fall. You can hang your grocery bags on cute little Jeep-branded hooks too, these clamped onto a useful organizer hoop attached to the left cargo wall. Also impressive, the aforementioned cargo cover retracts from within a very sturdy metal cross-member, and can be easily removed, while adding yet more functionality to this already impressively capable SUV, Jeep lets you drop the front seatback forward to stow really long cargo from front to back.
If you haven’t yet figured out my overall opinion of the Jeep Cherokee, imagine a big grin between two thumbs up. I’ve always liked it, I still like it, and I’m looking forward to experiencing all the improvements made to the upcoming 2019 version. That said there’s no reason to wait or pay more for the newer model, as this 2018 Cherokee is as modern and up-to-date as most compact SUV buyers will want and need, while delivering great performance both on and off the road, decent fuel economy, a smooth comfortable ride, surprising refinement, excellent electronics, and arguably attractive styling, especially in my tester’s all-black attire.
If black isn’t your thing there are loads of other colours available, plus all those trim and powertrain options noted earlier, not to mention features left out of this review, so find the Cherokee that suits you best. Choices amongst 2018 models will be more limited, but getting a better deal might make compromising worth it. Either way I think you’ll be well served with a Jeep Cherokee.
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The Trailhawk follows the latest SUV trend of blackening most everything that was previously chrome, plus it goes one step beyond by almost completely covering the hood with a matte black decal. Other unique details include black "GRAND CHEROKEE" block lettering overtop a red shadowing effect on each front door, plus two red tow hooks set into the black mesh and dark grey centre fascia vent, red "Trail Rated" badges on each front fender, unique machine-finished twinned five-spoke 18-inch alloys with matte black painted pockets, a tiny portion of each detailed out with a little red WWII Willys silhouette, as well as matte grey taillight trim, the same matte grey used for the red shadowed "Jeep" logos front and rear, and finally a big red winged Trailhawk badge (that kind of reminds me of the original Ford Thunderbird emblem) on the bottom-right corner of Read Full Story