Itís a real
Jeep, but the eagerly awaited, but delayed 2014 Jeep Cherokee is
more than that.
This is the
first validation of Chryslerís theory that an architecture Fiat
developed for compact European cars can be adapted to create rugged
SUVs, midsize vehicles and crossovers for American buyers.
I spent a
recent afternoon driving the Cherokee on a daunting off-road course
at Chrysler Proving Grounds and through picturesque southeast
Michigan farm country.
Itís a real
Jeep, with the off-road ability the brandís devotees demand. The
Cherokee fords deep water, sneers at glutinous mud pits and scales
treacherous slopes. A legitimate off-roader, it can literally leave
ostensible competitors like the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape,
Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 in its tracks.
has serious off-road capability that will take owners into the
wilderness where faux SUVs fear to tread. The new Cherokee is
potentially a breakthrough for the brand because it also offers high
miles per gallon and modern styling to cash in on booming sales of
small and midsize crossover utility vehicles.
recent focus on its delayed shipment as engineers fine-tuned
Cherokeeís drivetrain, it was easy to lose track of the big
Chrysler-Fiat have what it takes to develop first-rate midsize
companyís Italian and American management understand what makes
Jeep, the most American of SUVs, special?
My day driving
several Cherokees with Chrysler executives and engineers suggests
the answer to both questions is "yes."
None of the
competing compact crossovers could have negotiated the Lyman Trail,
a tortuous off-road course at the companyís Chelsea proving
Trailhawk I drove there had a 56:1 crawl ratio, nine-speed automatic
transmission, locking differential and a 3.2-liter V-6 engine for
off-road durability competitors canít match.
Jeep will also
offer front-wheel-drive and four-cylinder Cherokees for owners who
like the look, height and ride of an SUV, but donít need serious
is the first of several midsize vehicles that will use Chrysler-Fiatís
CUSW architecture. CUSW is a significantly modified version of the
underpinnings of Fiatís compact cars in Europe. It also is the
foundation of Dodge Dart, but that compact sedan didnít test
Chrysler-Fiatís ability to stretch CUSWís size and capability
like the Cherokee does.
for the Chrysler 200 sedan will probably be the next CUSW vehicle.
It should debut early next year.
expects to sell Cherokees in 120 countries, starting with European
sales in the first quarter of 2014.
add a diesel engine and manual transmission for Cherokees outside
North America. I wouldnít be surprised if we get the diesel in a
year or two, but donít hold your breath for a manual. Chrysler
spent a lot of time and effort working with supplier ZF on the
nine-speed automatic. Itís the Cherokeeís mainstay.
styling combines traditional Jeep elements ó a seven-slot grille,
trapezoidal wheel openings ó with a sleek and aerodynamic shape.
The look has been controversial; particularly the unusual front
design that features LED running lights near the top of the front
fenders, projector headlights near the bumper and fog lights close
to the ground.
unique arrangement that makes the Cherokee instantly recognizable,
even at night. If it works as well as the Cherokeeís off-road
systems do, Jeep loyalists may forget they ever questioned the
design, or anything else about the new Cherokee.