Jeeps brings back Cherokee with radical design

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DETROIT — The Jeep Cherokee is back, with a surprising design that could win some new buyers but lose some old fans.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee has a sleek, pointed version of its classic seven-slot grille. The "trail ready" Trailhawk model is shown at the New York International Auto Show.  RICHARD DREW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
RICHARD DREW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee has a sleek, pointed version of its classic seven-slot grille. The "trail ready" Trailhawk model is shown at the New York International Auto Show.

The 2014 Cherokee mid­-
size SUV made its debut Wednesday at the New York International Auto Show. It replaces the Liberty, which replaced the original Cherokee several years ago, and joins Grand Cherokee in the lineup.

The Cherokee ditches Jeep’s traditional boxy look for a more aerodynamic style. It replaces the brand’s signature round headlights with sharply angled slits. The interior is plush and full of luxury options such as automatic parallel parking.

Even Jeep’s seven-slot grille didn’t go untouched – it’s much smaller and creased in the middle to fold over the nose.

All this isn’t sitting well with some Jeep fans, who say the 72-year-old brand is straying too far from its rugged, utilitarian roots. They bemoan the new styling and softer ride.

Chrysler Group, Jeep’s parent, acknowledges the design is polarizing. But Jeep needs to win back suburbanites who have spent a decade defecting to carlike, fuel-efficient competitors such as Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox and Toyota RAV4. Cherokee goes on sale this fall.

Jeep President and CEO Mike Manley said the Cherokee is a capable off-road vehicle that also performs well on pavement.

“It’s true to Jeep, but now will have all the attributes that those customers that may have bought an import brand, for example, or a different vehicle, have been looking for,” he said.

Automakers are under pressure to meet increasing fuel economy requirements. That explains the aerodynamic style and new nine-speed transmission.

The all-wheel-drive Liberty gets 22 mpg on the highway, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, making it one of the worst performers among midsize SUVs. The Cherokee will get up to 31 mpg on the highway.

Finally, Jeep needs the SUV to appeal to customers around the world, not just adventurous types. The Cherokee will be built in Toledo, Ohio, but exported to more than 150 countries, including China.

“We wanted a design that is fluid and efficient yet still rugged and looks at home on the trail or at the theater,” said Mark Allen, Jeep’s design chief.

The Cherokee first went on sale in 1974, when Jeep was owned by American Motors Corp. In 1984, AMC released a new Cherokee that was smaller and lighter than the original, essentially inventing the SUV.

The new model shares a car underbody with Fiat SpA, instead of a platform designed for off-roading. Still, a Trailhawk edition of the Cherokee carries Jeep’s “trail rated” badge, which means it can handle a series of challenging off-road conditions, including fording water.

Dave Sullivan, an analyst for the consulting firm AutoPacific, says the higher-priced, fully loaded versions of the Cherokee should be very capable, but he thinks the drastic redesign will cost Jeep some loyalists.

Jeep, like Toyota, has been successful partly because its design changes are usually subtle, Sullivan says. The two-door Jeep Wrangler, for instance, has changed little since it went on sale in 1987, but it’s by far the best-selling small SUV in the U.S.

“This is not an edgy brand. It should not be about spending money on outrageous design,” he said. “It’s all about the off-road design and capability.”

IN OTHER NEWS

Also at the New York International Auto Show:

• Chevrolet said it is reviving the Z/28 as a lighter, high-performance version of the Camaro. The Z/28, which debuted in 1967 and was last sold in 2002, is about 100 pounds lighter. It has Corvette’s 427-cubic-inch V-8 with 500-plus horsepower. It has a one-speaker radio, stiffer seats and manual transmission only. Air conditioning is optional.

• A new version of the Kia Soul urban SUV is bigger and has more room, its suspension is tuned for better handling and to less noise, and its engines have more power at low speeds for city driving.

• Toyota’s Highlander SUV is getting quieter and more stylish, less boxy-looking with richer materials inside, and it now can fit an eighth passenger

• Buick is freshening its Regal midsize and LaCrosse large luxury sedans to appeal to younger buyers.

• Cadillac has made the CTS lighter to accelerate and handle better to com­pete with BMW. It weighs 200 pounds less than the BMW 528i and 250 pounds less than the current CTS.

• BMW, meanwhile, unveiled a diesel model of its best-selling 3-Series, which will get 40 mpg. It also has a bigger 3-Series Gran Turismo, with more room for folks and cargo.

• The updated Honda Odyssey minivan has HondaVAC, a hand-held vacuum cleaner integrated into the cargo area to round up stray Cheerios.

– Associated Press


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