“The task of the Cherokee design team was to make it a Jeep, number one,
but a very new Jeep,” says Mark Allen, head of Design, Jeep.
It is the last half of that sentence that is clearly a case of understatement, because the 2014 Jeep Cherokee looks, at 100 yards, nothing like the Jeeps of yore, particularly the Jeep Liberty, which the Cherokee replaces in the lineup of the venerable go-anywhere, do-anything marquee. As Allen explains, there is something of a continuum of Jeep design. There is the Wrangler, the boxy truck, and the Grand Cherokee, which is far more formed and shaped. Along that continuum, the Cherokee is closer in approach to the Grand Cherokee, a vehicle that has proven to be immensely popular. While one might say that the Wrangler has a fan base that could be described as a “fanatical” base, it probably isn’t just because of the angular shapes that form that vehicle, because one might argue that the Liberty was nothing if not the product of a design-with-a-T-square approach, and it didn’t do particularly well in the market, a market segment that is populated with vehicles including the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CRV, and the Ford Escape.
Mike Manley, president and CEO of Jeep Brand (and he is also COO, Asia Pacific for Chrysler) points out that the mid-size SUV segment is the largest in that category of vehicle, accounting for approximately two-million units of sales in 2012*. So Jeep wanted to get a bigger portion of that, and to do so they decided that they needed to come up with a design that is clearly a Jeep, yet not a Jeep in the context of something that may be readily familiar. Allen’s remark regarding being closer to the Grand Cherokee than the Wrangler is certainly true in one sense, but arguably the Grand Cherokee looks more like other full-size SUVs than the Cherokee resembles a traditional Jeep.
And yet they made sure to pay attention to heritage, because while automotive people throw around the term “DNA” more frequently than Watson and Crick did, there is certainly a greater emphasis on using traits from past Jeeps in present ones than is the case for other types of vehicles. For example, there is the seven-slot grille. But in the case of the 2014 Cherokee, that grille is visually different than those of Jeeps gone by, as it is tighter and narrower. Each of the seven slots is individually formed in the front; “This is much more refined than having them hammered through a piece of plastic.” There is a horizontal snap in the grille, which goes back to models including the SJ. On the DLO surround, Allen points out there is kink in the area of the front side windows; that, he says, is a tribute to the half-door Wrangler, and it also serves the function of providing better visibility, which is useful when driving off-road. There are the trapezoidal wheel arches. They go back to the very first Jeep, the Willys, which, Allen jokes, “probably didn’t spend a day in a design studio.”
Allen: “Our objective with the Cherokee was to visually
convey that this is an all-new Jeep while still communicating
legendary best-in-class capability.”
There is a huge emphasis on aerodynamics, because the concern with fuel efficiency is now one that affects the design of every vehicle. So things like the narrower front end form, large rear spoiler, integrated sill aero spats, tail lamps that kick the air off the side of the body, and specific wheel geometries all contribute to a vehicle with a coefficient of drag of 0.332 (for the FWD model with grille shutters).
Robert Walker, chief designer, for Jeep Interiors, says that working on the interior of the Cherokee allowed them to work with a “clean slate”—but somehow that slate had huge Jeep influences. For example, speaking of the shape of the flow of the top of the instrument panel, he says that it was influenced by the wing span of a bird of prey. The center stack has a trapezoidal shape influenced by the grille form of the original Willys.
The color pallet used is directly influenced by places that the Cherokee could conceivably traverse:
• Morocco: Black (cloth or leather) with yellow (“Moroccan Sun”) accent stitching
• Iceland: Black and light grey
• Kilimanjaro: Deep brown with red accents
• Grand Canyon: Brown with gold-tone stitching
• Mt. Vesuvius: Dark brown and indigo blue leather with white accent stitching
The Grand Cherokee has proven that “stylish Jeep” is not an oxymoron. The competition in the D-SUV segment, where the Cherokee is positioned, is one that has not only, as Manley put it “exploded over the last seven to eight years,” but which is now full of competitors that are not only competing on things like technology, safety and fuel economy, but on design.
And with the 2014 Cherokee, Jeep has entered the fray with
a fresh design.
*Here’s an interesting factoid. The Jeep Cherokee was introduced in 1974 (based on the Jeep Wagoneer, known as the SJ platform for the Jeep cognoscenti), and it had a run until 2001. In 1984, American Motors, which owned Jeep, made a major change to the Cherokee, putting it on a new platform, XJ, which was smaller (21 in. shorter, 6 in. narrower, 4 in. lower, and 1,000 lb. lighter than the Wagoneer). What’s more, it was a unibody, not body-on-frame. Jeep contends that it, in effect, was the first modern SUV. What is interesting is that between 1974 and 2001, worldwide, there were approximately 2.5-million Cherokees sold. Consider how that segment has ballooned, given the two-million units in that segment that sold in the U.S. alone last year.