It would seem that a new model destined for the small SUV segment - where vehicles rarely see a dirt road let alone any serious off-road action - doesn’t really need to be a capable weapon in the bush, but the chief designer of the Jeep Compass disagrees.
“We have to respect the capability of what it is expected to do and what it has to do within the design,” Vince Galante said at the launch of the all-new 2017 Jeep Cherokee.
“Every Jeep looks like it is part of the wider family, but they are all different in terms of their key design. I don’t think even Land Rover has the personality spread that we have across the Jeep range.”
CarAdvice asked Galante whether a history borne out on punishing dirt tracks and rocky mountains is a hindrance to the design of a new model that might look significantly different if off-road capability wasn’t a primary concern from the outset.
“Lower, longer, wider, which most designers love, isn’t inherently Jeep, so yes as designers we’d like not to be beholden to the vehicle having to be capable off-road,” Galante said. “That’s the Jeep brand though. That’s why we test drive them in extreme off-road conditions. As designers we need to get a sense for why certain things need to be the way they are and then our challenge is to make that look as good as we possibly can.
"Without going off-road and understanding how important factors like viability and approach, ramp over and departure angles are, we’d never be able to embrace them as designers.”
Surely it would be easier to design a vehicle without having to defer to decades of heritage, though?
“We feel the heritage is a big responsibility because the beans is so special,” Galante said. “Those requirements can actually make the design job more interesting.”
In a design sense, there’s no margin for error, either, given the rabid competition in the small SUV segment - both in Australia and globally.
“We intentionally wanted to do something adventurous and different with the Renegade and the same with the Cherokee to appeal to a different buyer and younger people,” Galante said. “The Compass though is the most popular segment in the world and we know it would have to appeal to a vast range of people," Galante said.
"It had to be simple, more conservative. We always start with multiple ideas, some of them crazy, and then kind of reel it back.”
One thing seemingly can’t change though - Jeep’s legendary off-road ability. Thankfully for the brand, it is borne out in the very off-road capable Compass Trailhawk, which showed it’s chops at the recent global launch in San Antonio.