Playing catch-up sucks - because you almost never do. The Jeep Compass, for instance. Launched in 2007, it was originally intended to be nothing more than a Jeep alternative to metrosexual FWD/AWD compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. This, it was hoped, would draw in buyers who liked the aura of the Jeep nameplate, but not necessarily the on-road crudities that came with the rock-crawling capabilities of an actual Jeep.
Well, not so much. Traditional light-duty crossover buyers didn't embrace Jeep's new light-duty crossover - in part because it didn't offer anything different, except for the Jeepish looks.
So for the past several years, Jeep has been trying to invest the Compass with more Jeep-like function - including (in 2011) Trail-Rated capability in the form of a specially set-up CVT transmission that replicates the low-speed gear reduction of a true 4x4's two-speed transfer case. That - plus more ground clearance than models like CR-V and RAV4 gave the Compass some credibility as a member of the Jeep family of four-by-fours.
And for the first time, something meaningfully different than the dozen-plus other small crossovers on the market.
Unfortunately for Jeep, it hasn't panned out. Even though the 2011-to-current Compass is capable, it still hasn't sold very well. So it's no big surprise that an entirely new model - sourced from Fiat, Chrysler (and so Jeep's) new owner - will debut for the 2014 model year.
Word is it will be nothing like the current model, looks-wise or otherwise. It's possible the new model will be powered by a version of the current Fiat 500's 1.4 liter "MultiAir" engine, mated to a new nine-speed ZF-sourced automatic.
Sounds good. But what about the current Compass? Is the last of the line worth five minutes of your time?
WHAT IT IS
The Compass is a compact-sized crossover SUV similar in general layout to others in this segment, but available with more off-road capability. It's offered in three trims - Sport, Latitude and Limited - and with either FWD (standard) or one of two AWD systems - which Jeep gamely markets as "4x4."
Prices start at $19,495 for a base Sport model with 2.0 liter engine. A top-of-the-line Limited with the Freedom Drive II "4x4" system stickers for $26,395.