Flying across country from Los Angeles to Detroit only to turn around and fly home again the next day may not sound like fun, but if there was ever a good reason to do it, the FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) 2016 full-line preview is it. Once a year FCA gathers all its vehicle brands at its Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan, and invites virtually every journalist in the country to spend a day in a giant adult playground. From sports cars to trucks to EVs to off-roaders, anything and everything is available to drive on the track, on the street (inside the compound), and off road.
It’s the Mecca of automotive events, and we love attending because we can drive as much as we want. We can interview executives, see what’s new from Mopar, and run amok on the autocross course. FCA gets it. It understands we want seat time in everything from the Charger Pursuit sedan to the Ram ProMaster City van.
And although we admit we’ve already driven about 80 percent of the lineup, we hadn’t driven the vehicles on the track or an autocross. When we do real-world evaluations on public roads, we refrain from being stupid. If you want to drive fast with reckless abandon, do it on a closed course. We learned this a long time ago. The FCA full-line preview event allows journalists to push the vehicles to their full capabilities without endangering lives.
Our usual plan of attack is to rush to the autocross course, but this time we knew we’d be departing later in the afternoon than other journalists, so we pushed that to the end with the hopes that the course would be uncrowded so we could do multiple laps without having to surrender the vehicle to a throng of impatient next-in-liners. This time, we studiously reviewed the offerings, calculated the popularity-to-drive-time ratios, prioritized our wish lists, and developed an in-depth strategy to get it all done. Of course, we didn’t follow any of that. We did a LeMans start, and ran for the closest vehicle just to get into something. Okay, I lied again. What we really did is wander over to the awesome display of historic Jeeps, alongside new Jeep models with Mopar modifications.
Of all the FCA brands, Jeep’s history might be the most diverse. It’s always stood for capability and freedom, from being able to handle any off-road situation, to being the principal transportation for the U.S. Army for years. Eight decades of the past combined to create the Jeep brand today, and with eight models ranging from the capable and affordable Renegade to the outrageous SRT Grand Cherokee, there truly is something for everyone.
Jeep fanatics are proud of their vehicles’ ability to tackle any terrain. And like anyone who accomplishes daring feats, they want the world to know. Jeep gets this, and has created badges to sell to Jeepsters if they make it through some of the toughest terrains, such as the Poison Spider, Pritchett Canyon and Steel Bender trails in Moab, Utah. Jeeps are also marked with badges that tell the owners how they are rated: Safari, Sure and Trail ratings are just an example of what Jeep does to cater to its owner base. And a loyal owner base it is. For 2014, Jeep brand set its third consecutive all-time global sales record of over one million vehicles. Impressive.
Jeep Compass Latitude High Altitude 4×4
Take a Jeep — any Jeep — off road, and you’ll be a convert as well. We jumped in the 2016 Jeep Compass Latitude High Altitude 4×4, loaded up the seats, and headed for Lyman Trail, the off-road section of the proving grounds. All off-road trails around the world are rated with numbers: 1 is easy, 10 is extremely difficult. We followed the preset course designed to best show off the Jeep’s talents, and we experienced trail areas that probably averaged around 4 or 5. The Compass easily climbed rocks, forded deep water, made quick work of fallen trees, and braked itself down steep downhills. Excellent approach, breakover, and departure angles make this Trail Rated Jeep a winner off road. It features a quiet cabin and good performance on-road, also, with the 2.4-liter 172-horsepower I4 engine. For a base price of $25,595, it would be hard to beat for a new Jeep enthusiast.