Reborn Jeep Cherokee Takes a Radical Design Turn

Optimistic plans for a well-equipped new ute.

by on Mar.27, 2013

The Jeep Cherokee may revive an old new, but there's nothing old about its distinctive design.

Making its formal debut at the New York Auto Show, the Jeep Cherokee replaces the maker’s old Liberty model – and brings back a nameplate that decades ago helped touch off America’s love affair with sport-utility vehicles.

The name may be retro, though the design is anything but.  The new Jeep Cherokee may maintain the maker’s familiar, 7-slot grille but it has virtually nothing in common with the old, chunky Cherokee, never mind the Liberty.

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The most distinctive design detail is the new ute’s face, with its unusual, creased grilled and split headlamps. The main lamps sit just above the bumper and in contrast to traditional automotive styling, smaller slit daytime running lights frame the hood.

“It could be a bit controversial,” admits Ralph Gilles, the head of design at Chrysler LLC, who is nonetheless convinced buyers will fall in love with the distinctive shape of the new crossover.

Though it adopts a car-based crossover "architecture," the new Jeep Cherokee can be equipped with some serious off-road hardware.

And, yes, rather than returning to a classic, body-on-frame SUV design, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee opted for a lighter, nimbler, car-based architecture that should have plenty of advantages in today’s market where buyers are generally more interested in on-road manners and mileage than off-road capabilities they’ll seldom put to the test.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee is based on the same Compact U.S. Wide, or CUS-wide, platform first seen underpinning the Dodge Dart. It’s a widened version of the small car architecture originally developed by Fiat for Europe and in use on such models as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. That means that the new Jeep Cherokee will feature a multi-link independent rear suspension and a McPherson strut front.

On the mileage front, Chrysler claims it is “vastly” improved over the old Liberty, at up to 31 mpg on the highway, about a 45% increase. Credit the 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir inline-four base engine paired with a new 9-speed automatic transmission developed by Germany’s ZF, an industry first in this application. The Tigershark pushes  184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.

Jeep claims that with the Tigershark I-4 the new Cherokee will deliver up to 45% better mileage than the old Jeep Liberty.

The new Jeep Cherokee also will be offered with Chrysler’s new 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6. It pumps out 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque.

This is a Jeep, of course, and even with the fundamental changes in platform, the maker claims the new Cherokee can be equipped to take on some serious trails. It will be offered with three different four-wheel-drive systems, including one for serious off-roaders featuring a two-speed power transfer unit with low range and a locking rear differential.

Those familiar with the old Jeep Cherokee or more recent Liberty will likely recall them as fairly basic transportation. The new Cherokee has something different in mind, with the use of much higher-grade interior finishes and useful touches such as soft-touch door-mounted and center armrests and more premium cloth seats. Nappa leather is also available, with power adjustable, heated and ventilated seats. The 60/40 split-fold second row also slides to maximize cargo or legroom.

The center console features a 7-inch reconfigurable LED instrument cluster and an 8.4-inch color touchscreen is available for the Uconnect infotainment system.

The interior of the new Jeep Cherokee is a big step up from the spartan Liberty's cabin.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee also gets an array of high-tech safety features including the first auto-park system for Chrysler – which is capable of handling both parallel and perpendicular parking spots. There are 10 standard airbags and electronic roll mitigation. Other options include a back-up camera, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise and forward collision warning.

Jeep has yet to reveal the price of the new Cherokee, which will reach showrooms in time for the 2014 model-year. That could have a strong influence on the new ute’s success. But the real question is how potential buyers will respond to the distinctive – some might say quirky – styling.

For its part, the maker is nothing but optimistic. It is tooling up its assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio to give it a capacity to roll out as many as 250,000 of the new Jeep Cherokees annually. That would position the new entry as one of the segment’s best-sellers.

Jeep is certainly drawing them in with the larger and more expensive Grand Cherokee, a sport-ute so hot the maker has just added a third shift at its plant in Detroit.

We’ll likely find out later this year whether the upbeat forecast for the newest member of the Jeep family is on target.

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