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New York show: Jeep explains polarising Cherokee

Face of the future: Jeep has transformed the Cherokee from a boxy four-wheel drive into a sleek and modern SUV.

Jeep’s management insist radical Cherokee design necessary for model's survival

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Jeep logo1 Apr 2013

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

JEEP has defended the new Cherokee’s controversial front-end styling, calling it progressive, long-lasting and crucial to luring buyers away from rival compact SUVs that were eroding away market share.

Speaking at the New York motor show last week, chief designer Mark Allen revealed that Fiat and Chrysler management under leader Sergio Marchionne insisted on nothing less than visual boldness.

“Trust me,” he said. “We offered up to our management – and you've got to give them full credit – ‘mild to wild’ for this exterior look, and they all picked wild.

“The mood was to move aggressively with this vehicle.

“If you look at the face of the vehicle, there is no corner on it. Splitting the lights, and moving the lights around there, allowed us to really rake back the front of the vehicle.

“It’s got to stand on its own, it’s got to be modern. It’s got to go on a while.” Significantly larger than the preceding Patriot and Compass, but smaller than the old Cherokee (which was sold as the Liberty everywhere but Australia due to Subaru’s hold on the name), the newcomer finally falls in line with the compact SUV norm.

It does so by employing a monocoque body instead of a separate ladder-frame chassis, transverse engine installation and front-wheel drive for at least part of the time – the largest Jeep in history to do so.

Using the (US) best-selling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 as the benchmarks, Mr Allen acknowledged that Jeep is finally in with a chance to succeed where it has previously failed.

“We were out of the market with the old Liberty,” he admitted.

“That just wasn’t competitive with the set that’s out there right now. Management didn’t just want us to ease into that segment. They wanted everybody to know that we are here.”

Taking about two and a half years to complete, Jeep’s design studio in North America was given the freedom to be expressive with their proposals.

“It just came out of the pen,” is how Mr Allen described the process.

“Everybody just kept gravitating towards this (look). It was just the most modern thing we had up on the board.

“We did not want a box. A box looks very inefficient. This vehicle is very efficient, and we wanted to communicate that with the shape.”

Mr Allen believes that even the more cutting-edge elements still possess enough traditional Jeep styling cues to connect with past models, including the squared-off wheel arches and seven-bar grille motifs.

“The front grille is very wind splitting and the windscreen is very swept back,” he said.

“(But) it’s got a lot of what’s in the Grand Cherokee – a lot of muscular-type sheetmetal lines.

“I get a lot of questions about ‘why is the grille bent back like that?’ Well, if you do look back, there actually is a lot of Jeep in this thing.

“The first Cherokee – the full-sized one – had a kink in the grille. But it wasn’t as pronounced. The XJ (’84 Cherokee), the TJ (’96 Wrangler), the WJ (’99 Grand Cherokee), they all had a kink. Here we’ve amplified it a lot more.”

Mr Allen also wants to remind people that Jeep has had controversial designs in the not-too-distant past.

“If you think about the beloved XJ Cherokee, that was radically different from the vehicle that it replaced,” he said.

“They weren’t looking back when they were doing that vehicle back then. I don’t know what the reviews were back in 1984, but to go from a full-sized body-in-frame monstrosity down to this little thing, that was pretty radical too.” Another Jeep insider added that lacklustre Patriot sales – released in 2007 to look like a modernised XJ Cherokee – further drove management to be more daring with the KL Cherokee.

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