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Polarising Cherokee not indicative of other future Jeeps

In the grille: The Jeep Cherokee’s nose design has not been to everybody’s taste, but the company said such a departure would create a lasting impression.

Jeep shook things up with the Cherokee, but might play it safer down the track

Jeep logo26 Sep 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

JEEP says the polarising design of its new Cherokee SUV was just the tonic to attract younger buyers, but admits future designs might be a little safer.

These designs include the B-segment small SUV destined to share its Fiat-derived CUSW platform with the new Cherokee and Dodge Dart sedan, which was quietly confirmed in a Chrysler Initial Public Offering (IPO) filing released this week.

GoAuto understands this vehicle will be around 4200mm long – about the same as a Nissan Dualis – making it about 200mm shorter than the current-generation Compass and Patriot compact SUV twins, and 600mm shorter than the new Cherokee.

It is understood spy images taken this week of the baby Jeep, showing decidedly Fiat 500L styling with the seven-bar Jeep grille, may not be indicative of the final design.

When the baby Jeep and its related Fiat 500 X crossovers are launched globally in 2014, Fiat-Chrysler will be well-placed to capitalise on the worldwide boom in pocket-sized, high-riding hatchbacks.

Speaking with GoAuto in Los Angeles this week, Cherokee lead designer Greg Howell said Jeep worked to include some family resemblance in its models, but also emphasised key areas of differentiation.

And while the Cherokee’s rather wild – and love/hate – looks have been partly attributed to a desire to skew toward a younger demographic, the equally youth-targeted baby Jeep is not expected to follow quite this same school of thought.

“It’s in the eye of the beholder, but I would say probably less so,” said Mr Howell, when we asked him if the now-confirmed small SUV would mirror the Cherokee’s radical stylistic departure.

“I think this (Cherokee) is a pretty good run at polarising, so I think things for now at Jeep will be … I don’t see it as everything coming out striking up this type of reaction.

“It will be a different reaction when the vehicle you’re describing comes out. You’ll see a different crowd appreciating different things about it.

“But I think polarising-wise, this (Cherokee) is pretty damn polarising, and I would like to think the next-generation will be equally so, but speaking for the rest of the line-up, probably not quite as close.” Mr Howell said some Jeep elements – be it on the boxy Wrangler, taut Grand Cherokee or any other new model including the baby SUV – would always remain. Trapezoidal wheel arches and seven-slot grille, he said, would “always be there”.

Jeep caused a ruckus when it revealed the new Cherokee in February this year, particularly with the kinked grille – even though the 1984 XJ version had a toned-down take on the theme – and slim headlights.

Things were shaken up just as much underneath, with Jeep 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.

The switch was, naturally, a result of more stringent fuel economy and aero targets, but also a bid to cause a lasting impression, said Mr Howell. The company wanted a reaction, and it certainly got one.

“Reaction of any kind is good, (though) I don’t necessarily cherish bad reactions to be honest, I’ve seen enough bad news about the company I’ve worked at in the last five years I’m good,” he said.

“But to see some of the stuff coming out about the car now … now that’s what I’ m talking about. Quite a stir absolutely, and it’s hard to tell if it’s because of the name or design or both.

“… We knew it was not going to be a first-read, fall-in-love-type vehicle, for some maybe, but for a lot of people no. But we knew it was going to be a vehicle that would get a second look. It’s multi-dimensional.

“It’s a very modern interpretation of our heritage … we also knew it was going to be polarising, we took it all around the world and knew that.” The Cherokee arrives in Australia in early 2014. Look out for our first drive review later this week from the global launch in LA.

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