New Cherokee updated before launch
While the Grand Cherokee flagship has maintained its presence at the top of the Jeep totem pole, the original Cherokee nameplate has been missing since the demise of the boxy little four-litre, six-cylinder station wagon some years ago - a model which at least one IOL Motoring staffer is convinced was the last Jeep (other than the Wrangler, of course) that was worthy of the name.
But now there's a new Cherokee, as different from the mini-Wagoneer of the 1990s as it could possibly be and still have a seven-barred grille.
So different, in fact, that early, leaked pictures caused a veritable firestorm of negative comment and, we strongly suspect, led to minor styling changes between the first official photoset and the Cherokees that crawled sheepishly on to the Jeep stand at the New York auto show on Wednesday.
But more of that later; first the nuts and bolts.
It's no secret that the new Cherokee is actually a Fiat, built on the Group's Compact US Wide platform, which it also shares with the new Dodge Dart.
The CUS-wide architecture is comprised of common, modular and interchangeable components that allow for changes in wheelbase, front track, rear track, front overhang, length and width across vehicle lines.
In the case of the new Cherokee, 65 percent of the body shell is made of high-strength alloy steel for strength and stiffness, while keeping the weight of the structure down to a tight target.
The standard engine for the new Cherokee is also Fiat-sourced - the 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, 16-valve MultiAir 2, rated at 137kW and 232Nm.
The MultiAir electro-hydraulic, fully variable valve-lift set-up uses a column of oil in place of the traditional mechanical link between the camshaft and intake valves for very precise control of valve opening and (more importantly) closing, reducing engine pumping losses and increasing volumetric efficiency.
And that, as we all know, means lower fuel consumption and emissions - in this case, an estimated 9.8 litres per 100km on the open road.
For those who still believe that there is no substitute for cubic inches, however, there is also the new, all-American, 3.2-litre Pentastar V6, derived from Chrysler's very successful 3.6-litre engine of the same name.
The 3.2-litre version is rated at 200kW and 325Nm, and bestows on the new Cherokee an impressive towing ability of 2045kg.
But whichever engine you choose, it will come with Chrysler's 948TE nine-speed automatic transmission, which they claim is the first nine-speeder in a mid-sized SUV.
It will also have all-independent suspension with Macpherson front struts and a multi-link rear set-up, and a Fiat-sourced electronic power steering system that contributes to the Cherokee's tight tunring circle of 10.9 metres in two-wheel drive variants (yes Cyril, you read right: two-wheel drive), 11.6 metres in all-wheel drive models and 11.9 metres in the Trailhawk off-road model.
The Jeep Cherokee is also the first mid-sized with rear-axle disconnect, which saves fuel by seamlessly switching between two and four-wheel drive as required drive, without any input from the driver.
DUE IN SOUTH AFRICA EARLY IN 2014
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee will be available in the US from the third quarter of 2013 (and in South Africa from early in 2014) in four variants - Sport, Latitude, Limited and the rugged, 'trail rated' Trailhawk.
Customers will also be able to choose from three new all-wheel drive systems, all with the Selec-Terrain traction control system, which allows the driver to choose from five on and off-road settings: Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock.
The system electronically coordinates 12 systems for enhanced control on any terrain, including drivetrain control, electronic brake control, electronic stability control, the transmission controller, powertrain controller, hill hold and hill descent systems.
Available on Sport, Latitude and Limited models, Active Drive I has a single power transfer unit, that's fully automatic and delivers seamless operation in and out of four-wheel drive at any speed, as required. The system also automatically corrects yaw, understeer and oversteer.
Also available on the three 'street' models, Active Drive II includes a two-speed power transfer unit with torque management and low range. Low range provides a 2.92:1 gear reduction, for extra climbing ability and outstanding crawl ratios for severe off-road conditions, while 4-Low mode locks the front and rear drive shafts for low-speed power or towing.
Cherokees with Active Drive II also have an extra 25mm of ride height.
Active Drive Lock is standard on the Trailhawk, and includes all the features of Jeep Active Drive II, as well as a locking rear differential.
The shape of the new Cherokee was intended to have 'global appeal' - i.e. as a world car; sadly however, the designers appear to have fallen between two stools, ending up with rounded and flowing lines that move completely away from the capable, workmanlike shapes of the original Willys Jeep but also lack any trace of the purposeful, slightly sporty sleekness of recent SUV's such as the Range Rover Evoque.
The best we can say about the 'street' variants is that they look unfinished, while the design of the Trailhawk off-roader (particularly the front treatment) is fragmented and incoherent - yet still manages to look a lot better than the plainer Jane versions.
A lot of the criticism that greeted the first official pictures of the new Cherokee was focused on the front lights.
NOT A DESIRABLE CONNECTION
Apparently the slit-eyed top clusters, containing the indicators and daylight running lights, are supposed to look like headlights, while the actual projector beams (on either side of the grille) and the foglights (in the lower valance) are so similar in size that the whole set-up takes on a triple-decker appearance eerily reminiscent of the Fiat Multipla - renowned as the ugliest thing ever to turn a wheel and not a desirable connection.
Since then, however, the lenses of the projector beams in some (but not all) of the pictures in the official photoset seem to have been digitally darkened to visually tie the bonnet and bumper together, while the Trailhawk that starred in the New York auto show presentation was fitted with smoked lenses, as used on a number of Kawasaki motorcycles in the 1990s, which are not present in the earlier photoset images.
Does it look better?
IOL Motoring staffers agree that camouflaging the projector beams is an improvement, but that there is only so much you can do with a basically ill-proportioned shape.
By the way, the heavier black bumpers front and rear on the Trailhawk are not just for looks; they also give it significantly better approach and departure angles than the standard models.
One more word on design: the 2014 Cherokee is available with a choice of open-air options - a panoramic sunroof or a full-length folding fabric roof a la Fiat 500. Is Marchionne really trying to supersize the Topolino?
The interior is also intended, say Chrysler, to look more 'world car' than all-American, with a driver-oriented cockpit made up of fluid shapes, easy-to-use technology, well thought-out storage and high-quality materials - especially wherever the driver or passenger touches the car, such as the door uppers and armrests, the centre armrest and the upper instrument panel.
The seats are trimmed in either premium fabric or nappa leather and are available with power adjustment and memory, heating and ventilation. The 60/40 split second-row seats also adjust fore and aft for increased passenger comfort and cargo flexibility.
A 90mm grayscale or 180mm full-colour reconfigurable instrument cluster gives the driver information and vehicle feedback in the format they prefer while keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
The instrument cluster displays the basic information but also allows the driver to add information they want, similar to an iPhone. The driver can select from a multitude of information that can be displayed in the centre of the gauge cluster including turn-by-turn navigation, speed, real-time fuel economy, safety warnings, the optional adaptive cruise control, audio information and Jeep-specific features including Selec-Terrain.
The extra-cost ParkSense parking system, a first for Chrysler, uses ultrasonic parking sensors on the bumper to find and guide the driver into an available parking space. The parking guidance system controls the steering angle automatically, the driver controls the gear position, brakes and accelerator.
Parallel parking is possible on either side of the car; during perpendicular parking, the vehicle is backed into the space. The system is displayed in the centre of the gauge cluster and operated with buttons on the steering wheel and shifter. The graphic walks the driver through the steps necessary to use the parking system.
An optional 215mm touchscreen multimedia command centre - or the standard 125mm ouchscreen - in the centre stack allows the driver to control the audio, climate, heated/ventilated seats from the touchscreen, satellite controls on the centre stack below the touchscreen or with voice commands.
A universal rack is mounted on the side in the rear cargo area and provides for hooks and a removable grocery bag. Other optional accessories compatible with the system include an off-road accessory kit for Trailhawk models containing a tow rope, gloves and more, while a cargo bin, cargo mat, foldable cooler and first aid/emergency kit that mount securely to the rack are also available.
A MIND OF ITS OWN
Adaptive cruise control-plus, a first for Chrysler, will bring the Cherokee to a complete stop without driver intervention in certain conditions. Radar and video sensors identify the locations of vehicles traveling ahead of the cars and ensure they are separated by a gap set by the driver.
If the gap is suddenly narrowed, the system will slam on the brakes to stop the car, even if the driver never touches the brake pedal. To start off again, the driver presses a button on the steering wheel or taps the accelerator pedal.
Even when the system is switched off, it will detect a fast-closing obstacle ahead and pre-fill the brakes to prepare for an emergency stop. If the driver doesn't react, it will go to audible and visual warnings, tap the brakes for 1.5 seconds to wake up the driver and even bring in the brake assist system if the driver still isn't braking hard enough.
Lane departure warning-plus - another first for Chrysler - uses a camera-based sensor to check the car's position on the road. If the car begins to drift out of its lane without an indicator signal, it will light up a warning icon on the dashboard and subtly uses the power steering to nudge the driver back towards the centre of the lane.