Compass, Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and the new Wrangler – together they represent the single-largest new product push by Jeep in New Zealand.
EXPECT to see Jeep not only regain ground lost over this year and last but achieve territorial gain in 2018.
One of the new brands to have not seen a sales surge during the current car sales boom, the American marque is now nonetheless in a highly bullish mood because it is readying to embark on a product release wave that is unprecedented for it in New Zealand.
“We are very excited about what is happening for our brand, we believe we are in for a fantastic 2018 and we have very high expectations,” commented David Smitherman, who as chief executive of distributor Ateco New Zealand is the man who charts Jeep’s direction here.
A glam event at a Melbourne film studio last night provided a first look of the big guns it is about to fire.
Apart from two fresh generations of its Compass and Wrangler, the local operation is also set to at last release a vehicle that seems destined to achieve immediate legend status by virtue of being the world’s fastest large sports utility - the Trailhawk version of the Grand Cherokee, which in packing a 522kW mega V8 slams down 0-100kmh in just 3.5 seconds.
Smitherman cannot yet pinpoint the exact launch schedule for any of these products – for now it is suggesting February-March for Compass, April-ish for Trailhawk and a last quarter introduction for Wrangler.
At the moment, too, it has only nailed down the pricing and specification for Compass.
The car that Smitherman says will within the next 12 months become the top-selling Jeep – a status presently held by the Grand Cherokee (which is also about to be updated, with an active safety enhancement) – starts out at $39,990 in its base front-drive Longitude format, with the more richly specified and four-wheel-drive equipped Limited and Trailhawk coming in for $49,990 and $54,990 respectively.
Those are the full RRPs: At launch, Jeep will seek to stir up the car’s presence in the medium sports utility/crossover sector – which is already brimming with more product than any other SUV category and is achieving the strongest sales results within the dirt-tuned classes – with special pricing. So, for an undisclosed period, the Longitude and Limited will be offered for $3000 less than the full stickers while the Trailhawk will leave $10 change from $50k.
All trim levels are different and but the drivetrain opportunity is much less complex for NZ than in some other places, insofar that the diminished interest in diesel in this sector has determined Ateco to largely focus on the 2.4-litre Tigershark aspirated petrol engine borrowed from the Renegade Trailhawk.
This develops 129kW/230Nm, sent to the front wheels on a Longitude via a six-speed automatic and to all four wheels of the other deriviatives with a nine-speed automatic.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in the Limited and Trailhawk, voice command and Bluetooth connectivity, a 3.5 inch instrument cluster display, reversing camera, seven airbags, leather-wrapped steering wheel, electric park brake, electric driver lumbar adjustment, LED ambient interior lighting, automatic adaptive headlights, tinted privacy glass, foglights, roof rails, rain-sensing wipers, bright side window surrounds, forward-folding passenger seat and passenger in-seat cushion storage.
Along with the addition of 4x4, the Limited adds Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction feature, with the choice of auto, sand, mud and snow modes for optimal grip on different terrains. It also gains front and rear parking sensors, parallel and perpendicular park assist, nine-speaker Beats audio system, 18-inch alloy wheels, bi-Xenon headlights, LED tail-lights, leather upholstery with heated front seats, sat-nav, 7.0-inch instrument cluster display, eight-way driver/four-way passenger adjustable seats and dual-zone climate control.
In traditional Jeep fashion, the range-topping Trailhawk holds comfortably as the most off-road-focused member of the Compass family, with the addition of the Active Drive Low 4x4 system with a 20:1 crawl ratio, and the addition of rock mode to the Selec-Terrain system. It also includes hill descent control, off-road suspension and a raised ride height.
Standard features include a unique front and rear fascia for improved approach and departure angles, black anti-glare hood decal, red recovery hooks, four underbody skid plates, full-size spare wheel and all-weather floor mats.
The Compass also beefs up considerably with active and passive safety aides, though the effort to add the full remit of gear – which includes blind spot and lane changing and automated emergency braking – bypasses the entry car.
Smitherman says this Compass, the first Jeep to come here from India (a new addition and one of four plants making the car) will be a strong performer, not least in Trailhawk form – Jeep reckons that derivative is going to prove itself as the most accomplished true off-roader in a class where the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Volkswagen are considered such important rivals they were barometers during the American car’s development.
Smitherman was loath to say what his sales target is, but points out that the medium SUV sector is to set to account for 25,000 sales this year.
“This vehicle, with the pricing that we have, gives us confidence of achieving a great result. Compass is a great-looking vehicle – in design terms it is now described as being the ‘baby’ Grand Cherokee, which has been our best-selling vehicle until now and is the most awarded SUV on the planet.”
Trackhawk has already started to make huge impression: There have been significant advance orders for the model, which packs a force-fed 6.2 litre Hellcat V8 from the Dodge Challenger and Charger sedans. (Ateco cannot import these because they are purely produced in left-hand-drive and thus fall into the category of low volume specials – to start a supply line would be too hard because each cars require an individual permit).
But having Trackhawk alone is well good enough for Smitherman: “We already have a queue of Kiwis for that vehicle … it’s going to give Jeep credibility. We have had a lot of success in our market with SRT and Trackhawk is going to build on that. We have some events planned specifically for it. It’s going to be a lot of fun for us.”
The car on show to media was a right-hand drive edition, one of the first built, rushed across the Pacific for display. Smitherman cannot say how many examples are allocated to NZ but acknowledges whatever the count, it very likely won’t be enough.
“We have vehicles on the water as we speak, which is fantastic, and we have bookings out to July.”
Ateco is still considering which versions of the completely redesigned, lighter and quieter JL series Wrangler will suit NZ – ironically, the two on display were from a selection of pre-production cars that have just been in NZ for pre-sale development and promotional purposes.
Talk that the new hero V6 turbo-diesel and a manual gearbox option are being restricted to North America was dismissed by Smitherman. He says it’s just too soon to discuss that sort of detail, though he acknowledged that diesel retains greater importance for large, off-road-tuned models such as this. The model also has a 2.2-litre four-cylinder oiler.
This EcoDiesel is a third-generation V6 related to the engine powering other Jeeps such as the Grand Cherokee 194kW of power and 599Nm of torque.
The other new engine that is not yet a certainty is the new 200kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, also said to be slated for the North American market.
The show cars were packing an engine that does seem a sure starter, this being the modified version of the 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6, which in North American guise produces 209kW at 6400rpm and 353Nm at 4800rpm.
The Wrangler continues with the two- and four-door wagon bodies as per the outgoing range launched more than a decade ago, but will also ultimately show in a trackdeck utility version, the Scrambler, but maybe not until mid 2019.
As well as bringing in metal from Stateside, the local distributor also shipping across two high-up specialists in the Compass development programme, senior exterior designer Chris Piscitelli – who was the model’s lead designer – and chief engineer Audrey Moore, who oversaw the structural side.
They both said that, with Jeep’s owner Fiat-Chrysler determining that this model would have a particularly global remit, careful consideration of different regional worldwide considerations became all the more important. The result, says Moore, is a vehicle that has become more universally appealing.
She added: “This was the first truly global Jeep that we’ve designed – built in four different countries around the world. Making sure that we had a Jeep that satisfied the customers around the world, trying to incorporate into the vehicle all of the things that every customer needs was the first time for Jeep really was a challenge.”
She said the team travelled widely, though for a change not to Australia, “but we did go to New Zealand.” The Snow Farm cold weather testing area near Queenstown provided the right conditions for some specific cold weather work. Mountains in the area were also perfect for some extreme off-roading.