Automobiles

We Have Waited For This Day

We can now configure the all new Jeep Cherokee online!

This answers some questions, like which models have brown seats (the Limited), and what's the price (about $34,000 with the panoramic sunroof and all the technology options).

The only model to offer brown seats is the Limited. The seats are actually a volcanic clay and navy blue called Vesuvio (because daddy Fiat said so). 

However, I know Jeep, and if it's a hit, there will be special editions and probably more colors in the years ahead.


IF it's a hit.

But the bottom line remains the vehicle's best feature: This is the world's first crossover with a 9-speed automatic transmission. That, coupled to Fiat's new Tigershark 2.4L Multiair engine, it should get close to 30 miles per gallon, even with four wheel drive. Awesome.

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee Is Awesome

Allow me to cut to the heart of the brewing Jeep Cherokee design controversy. If this were unveiled as the 2014 Jeep Liberty, there wouldn't be as much outrage. It has an A pillar and sloping front door line reminiscent of the Kia Sportage. It has a rear windshield and taillight setup similar to the Subaru Tribeca. So what? Seriously. So what? There is no rule that the Jeep Cherokee needs to look like this:

Just as there's no rule that forbids a Range Rover from looking like this:

Jeep already has a vehicle in its lineup, the Patriot, that looks slightly retro, like the XJ Cherokee (1984-2001).

It's the year 2013. Jeep has only one body-on-frame truck in its lineup, the Wrangler. That's their most capable off road vehicle. Every other new vehicle they lunch is going to be a car-based unibody design. The Compass? I didn't see much hate towards their female-friendly, comfy crossover, based on the Dodge Caliber. The Patriot? It comes in a Trail Rated trim, but it too is based on the Dodge Caliber, and originally had a CVT transmission.

Jeep has a flagship that people love - the Grand Cherokee. It's challenge is to make a desirable intermediate SUV that won't compete with either the Wrangler or Grand Cherokee. 

And so, after Fiat acquired Chrysler, they immediately put the Fiat Viaggio platform to work in North America. The first product was the new Dodge Dart. You remember the Dart name, don't you? In the 60s and 70s, the Dart was a well powered compact car, which back then was still a car over 100 inches long. It is Stephen King's favorite Dodge of all time. Now it's back as a contemporary compact sedan, built on a front wheel drive, Fiat platform.

The 2012/2013 Jeep Liberty

And so the Jeep Liberty, while popular with both rental chains and Jeep fans since 2001, was not delivering what the majority of crossover buyers want in North America. They want more smartphone integration. They want a more ergonomic driving position. They also want a quieter ride and improved fuel economy (the Wrangler is not good in either category). Simply put, Jeep, seeing a large sales increase since the acquisition by Fiat, wants to keep the momentum going. And while the second generation Liberty is a big improvement over the first, it only has a three percent market share in the intermediate SUV segment – the most popular car segment in the USA. With this third generation vehicle, they think they can compete with the Ford Escape, both in the rental chains (which they already do) and the driveways of the suburbs. With four trim levels, two engines, and three all wheel drive systems to choose from, the Cherokee might be the vehicle to help Jeep push past the 1 Million units sold mark within a fiscal year.

Chrysler was expecting a fan backlash to this new design. But so far, they are unapologetic

The Cherokee won't compete against the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V, or Toyota RAV4. While the four cylinder versions of the Cherokee will have thee engine positioned horizontally with a front wheel drive bias, the Trailhawk trim can go far off road, leaving those vehicles, plus the Ford Escape, on the pavement.

In the commercial vehicle market, the current Liberty competes very well against the Ford Escape and Chevy Captiva. The Captiva is popular with the US Government, and the Escape is popular with small businesses. Liberties are seen all over cities, including New York. But I suspect this redesign will not make it a popular choice among plumbers. Jeep is aiming straight at the active small family set.

The press won't have any first drive reviews until at least May. Jalopnik was the website that first revealed the new Cherokee rolling off the assembly line. Most writers at Jalopnik who have written about it have defended the design and return of the Cherokee name in America (the Liberty was sold in other markets as the Cherokee). Matt Hardigree has already explained how the KL Cherokee is technically superior to the XJ Cherokee. Here are more reasons:

The 2.4 liter Tigershark inline 4 engine is Chrysler's replacement of the World Engine project co-developed with Hyundai and Mitsubishi. Ford and Hyundai's best engines are small displacement I4 turbos that use regular 87 octane. The Tigershark uses Fiat's “multiair” intake and variable valve timing technology to recycle a small amount of exhaust back into the intake cycle, resulting in a dramatic increase in fuel efficiency.

I just mentioned fuel efficiency. Here's something that will make it even more impressive: a 9-speed automatic transmission. Jeep purists already lament the lack of a manual transmission in the KL Cherokee. But this is the market. This is the 21st century. And this is the first 9-speed transmission in any mass produced vehicle. This means that even the Trailhawk version, with its full time “Active Drive Lock” 4X4 system, should still get over 30 miles per gallon using the Tigershark engine and the rear axle disconnected (which makes it the first 4X4 Jeep to offer that ability). This should translate into a 45% improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing Liberty.

The interior is welcoming, ergonomic, and beautiful. They really thought it out. It has a back seat 110-volt AC outlet for tailgaters. It has “hill” motifs on the insides of each door. There are plenty of leather and stitching options. It has an 8” entertainment and information center available. It looks like instlling interior LEDs will be easy. And it has a storage compartment on top of the dashboard – perfect for hiding that E-ZPass.

A full size 110v outlet faces the rear passenger seats in the Trailhawk and possibly other trims.

And I have one more reason to love it. Mango Tango! Yes. Mango Tango. Can't wait to see this color on the Cherokee.

Mango Tango on the Dodge Challenger

In Defense Of The "Boring" Cars At The NYIAS: Part 2, The 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Another car that isn't going to excite many people, but ranks high on the value meter is the Subaru XV Crosstrek. This car was introduced at last year's show, but it took a year of reviews and comparisons to cars in its class to grow on me. Why? Well. I wanted to give the Hyundai Elantra GT (i30) a fair shake. It has nice features, a good transmission and a very good engine. But the cost cutting in the rear of the car is obvious. Hyundai didn't send the wagon version of the car to the US (as they did in 2009 with the Elantra Touring), and the rear suspension has been downgraded to torsion beam. Most drivers won't notice or care. But I prefer independent rear suspension. Car makers took away the fun of rear wheel drive from us, but at least let us car buyers choose a superior suspension setup. Fortunately there are plenty of other cars out there.

The Crosstrek XV is the better value compared to the Elantra GT. The increased ride height is not for everyone. Nor is the CVT transmission. But the utility features, the slightly larger cargo space, the better stock wheels, and sportier cockpit should win both singles and young families alike. More important, it has a longer list of standard features, especially the heated seats, a feature that I believe Subaru offers standard in al of its cars sold in the US.

 

Car aficionados lament how Honda got rid of its tradition of using double wishbone suspension on all four wheels. That was and still is a premium, superior suspension design. Subaru has retained double wishbone rear suspension in all of its current US lineup. That's an engineering advantage over cars with torsion beam rear suspension.

Subaru unveiled a hybrid version of the XV Crosstrek at this year's New York International Auto Show. It has a driveshaft, so the rear wheels are not electrified as they are in Subaru's Viziv concept, which they unveiled this past February. The verdict on this more conventional hybrid is that the additional fuel savings probably won't justify the higher price tag. In fact, if anything, it will highlight just what a good value the gasoline-only XV Crosstrek is. Zac Estrada over at Jalopnik points out that the XV Crosstrek hybrid only get 10% better fuel economy over the slightly more fun, and lower priced gasoline model.

Like the Outback Sport before it, the XV Crosstrek is a lot of car for the money, and is Subaru’s best value. It comes well equipped at $20,000.

Subaru's global head of sales and marketing, Tomohiko Ikeda, revealed that Subaru's next two milestones are to electrify the rear wheels in future hybrid models (using independent electric motors, one for each wheel), and then full electrification for all non “performance” models (the BRZ and WRX). But until then, we have Subarus like this. While not nearly as fun to drive as the models that used five speed tradtional transmissions, these will do until the electectric vehicles arrive. At least the Crosstrek brings back some of the quirkyness that made Subaru such a lovable brand.

Revealed: The Final Saab-Subaru Joint Project

Back when General Motors owned 20% of Subaru, it decided to utilize Subaru's platforms for it's least appreciated brand, Saab. While Saab enjoys a healthy cult status among New Englanders, 1970s lberals, college professors, and gay men, it has had a tricky existance in the US. After all, how do you convince customers looking at BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz to consider a front wheel drive car from Sweden, containing a mix of engineering architectures from Alfa Romeo, GM, and briefly, Subaru?

Mercedes buyers buy the brand primarilly for the status and the safety innovations. BMW buyers are in love with the brand for its sport luxury blend and, until recently, universal insistance on rear wheel drive. Audi buyers used to be from left field, like Saab drivers. But in the last 20 years, under guidance of their parent Volkswagen, Audi has become the German auto afficiando's alternative to Mercedes and BMW. Saab has always been trying to compete against the German sport luxury segment, but for decades, they did so with a hatchback using a front wheel drive platform. Saab was more known more for its winter-proof features, such as heated seats, than its peformance on the road.

That was supposed to change in their partnership with Subaru. More all wheel drive vehicles would be introduced (in the end, only the leather-clad Impreza clone 9-2x was produced). Saab would share GM's new global platforms such as the Theta. Subaru's new flagship, the B9 Tribeca, would be the basis of Saab's first SUV, the 9-6x. In the spring of 2005, a prototype of the 9-6x was produced.

But it was too little too late to turn Saab into the next Oldsmobile. GM sold its stake in Subaru to Toyota that October. As a final product, GM quickly developed a Saab SUV based on the Chevy Blazer / GMC Envoy, dubbed the 9-7x. By 2009, Saab was forced to find a buyer or shut down as an auto maker.

Saab was rescued (twice, actually), and they remade their entire image. They embraced their heritage of rounded hoods, wrap around greenhouse windshields, and the coolest car cup holders of all time. They chose to make their vehicles part time all wheel drive, using Haldex rear differentials made in Sweden and used in proven platforms by Ford and Volvo. And they renovated both their design center in the UK, hired a highly talented, American-born design director, and are remarketing themselves as the car brand with the edge in design.

And so now, over six years after the 9-6x prototype was put together, it has been revealed in the Saab museum and on the Saab blog. It's essentially a B9 Tribeca with the more conservative body panels of the current Tribeca. In fact, the body panels shown here were designed for the Saab 9-6. When Subaru decided to tone down the original Zapatinas design in 2007, they simply copied what you see here for the sides and back of the current Tribeca.

The interior, however, is all Zapatinas. The electroluminescent guages of the Tribeca have been replaced by green LED lit dials, and the logo on the steering wheel is different. But otherwise this is the same interior that the Tribeca has used since its 2005 debut.