Saturday, May 2, 2009

Panda: More of a Jeep than the Compass

With Fiat taking control of Chrysler there is a lot of talk over which Fiat and Alfa Romeo models will make the jump stateside to likely be sold as Chryslers and Dodges, but there's also talk of one model making the jump as a Jeep: The Fiat Panda 4x4. The very mention of the name "Jeep Panda" is causing Jeep purists to roll their eyes, but after giving a closer look to both the current Jeep lineup and the Panda, I start to wonder why.

The current Jeep lineup features an SUV (which I won't call a Jeep) called the Compass. The Compass is the entry-level automobile for the Jeep brand, but it hardly deserves it's Jeep badge. The Compass is the first (and hopefully last) "Jeep" to not have a trail rating. Yes, despite Jeep's long, proud history of off-roading and comfort someone at Chrysler decided it would be a good idea to build an uncomfortable piece of crap without a trail rating...decisions like this caused the mess Chrysler finds itself in today.

While the Panda may not be American, or the most comfortable thing in the world (it's rather spartan inside) it does have the soul of a Jeep. The Panda is used by Alpine police forces to navigate the rough terrain they face on a daily basis. It's no Wrangler, but it beats the crap out of the Compass.

The Panda sells for rougly $14,900...very affordable and rougly $3,000-$10,000 less than the Compass. The Panda also gets 43 MPG compared to 24 for the Compass. Both seat five, and the Panda can readily venture off of paved roads.

The introduction of the Panda would not mean the end of the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee, and maybe not even the Liberty (which to me will always be called the Cherokee). The Panda would slot in as Jeep's entry-level offering and would only serve to strengthen the brand, not dilute it.

Most Jeep purists fondly remember the Comanche, a tough pickup truck that you could drive through a wall and it would keep going. The Comanche serves as a relic of a Jeep before it was Chyslerized. The Panda isn't the Comanche, but it could become a symbol of the moment when Jeep became Jeep again.

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