Jeep revealed the all-new Cherokee midsize SUV at the 2013 New York International Auto Show, finally letting fans see for themselves the controversially styled off-roader whose leaked prototype photos evoked substantial consternation.
As was seen in the official photos Jeep released in response to the leak, the Cherokee wears polarizing sheetmetal, with a folded-back version of the brand's signature slotted grille and underslung headlights in the manner of the Nissan Juke. Consumers' reaction to the styling remains to be seen, but lost in the discussion of the Cherokee's appearance is the fact that the vehicle is built on the Fiat-Chrysler Compact U.S.-Wide platform underpinning the Dodge Dart.
Turning a Dart into a Jeep capable of Rubicon Trail-ready specification is no small task. To accomplish that, the company made some key changes to the chassis, said Vehicle Line Executive Chris Barman. One was to boost ground clearance, which reaches a maximum of 8.7 in (220 mm) in Trailhawk configuration. Another was the substitution of steel for parts such as toe links that are aluminum on the Dart for improved off-road durability. An optional skid plate also armors the Cherokee's underside from rocks.
Some of the added ground clearance was achieved by angling the control arms downward. That could compromise the intended suspension geometry, but the change was within the design range of the suspension, Barman assured. Most of the added clearance is the result of the larger-diameter wheels and tires used on the Jeep.
The key to making a transverse front-drive car into a four-wheel-drive Jeep is the addition of the propshaft and rear differential. This is accomplished through the use of a single-speed transfer case added to the Cherokee's nine-speed automatic transmission for the basic Active Drive I system for customers looking for improved bad-weather security.
Those who need more capability can choose the Active Drive II with a two-speed transfer case that provides a low range with extreme torque multiplication for low-speed rock crawling. They can upgrade that to Active Drive Lock, which adds a locking rear differential for even better off-road ability. The whole rear-drive module, from the transfer case to the rear differential and axle, is supplied by American Axle, Barman said.
The Jeep Selec-Terrain system lets drivers adjust control parameters with five settings: Automatic, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and Rock. These choices modify the performance of 12 vehicle control systems, including the drivetrain control module, electronic brake controller, electronic stability control, transmission controller, powertrain controller and speed controller for the hill descent, and hill ascent control systems.
Automatic mode is self-explanatory, but Sport reduces the intrusion of traction control, raises the stability control slip thresholds, delivers torque bias for improved cornering, and allows for a front/rear torque split of as much as 40/60 to send more power to the rear wheels. Snow mode sets the transmission for second-gear launches, sets the brake controller to its slick surface mode, and also allows all power to go to either the front or rear wheels. Mud/Sand mode gives the brakes the off-road control mode and can send all of the power to the rear wheels if needed. Rock mode is for climbing over obstacles, and it works only in 4-Low. Like Snow mode, it can send all the power to one axle and programs the brake controller to provide increased brake lock differential capacity.
When shifted to Neutral, Select Drive II disconnects both axles, so the Cherokee can be flat-towed behind an RV as a dinghy. The Selec-Speed Control feature gives the unique ability to climb hills as well as descend them at an automatic speed ranging between 1 and 5 mph (2 and 8 km/h). The driver selects the speed using the +/- shifter input when driving in 4-Low.
In addition to the front-drive and various four-wheel-drive iterations of the Cherokee, it is also available as the Cherokee Trailhawk with Jeep's signature Trail Rated off-road capability for venturing places like the Rubicon Trail. This certification ensures the Trailhawk meets standards in traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation, and water fording, reported Barman. Achieving this degree of off-road capability was the engineering team's top focus, she added.
The Cherokee's base engine is the same 184-hp (137-kW), 171-lb·ft (231-N·m), 2.4-L Tigershark SOHC I4 as seen previously in other Chrysler applications. But the optional engine is a new, smaller version of the Pentastar DOHC V6. The new version displaces 3.2-L and produces 271 hp (202 kW) and 239 lb·ft (324 N·m). Both engines are all aluminum.
EPA fuel economy numbers aren't final, but the company says the Cherokee is up to 45% more efficient than the outgoing Liberty (which was thirsty for its size) at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway in two-wheel-drive form.
The Cherokee goes on sale mid-2013 as a 2014 model.