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

The Case For The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

The American auto show season is drawing to a close. What began last fall in Los Angeles is now wrapping up in front of the biggest crowds in New York. And for the first time in years, there has been a dominant theme. In a nation that has the widest selection of new cars availale (except perhaps for Panama or Dubai, where one can import just about any car, it seems), the market appears to be ready for compact hatchbacks and electric vehicles to take the spotlight from unibody SUVs ("crossovers"). We thought the American market was ready for this shift to hatchbacks in the late 1970s, during the second OPEC oil crisis. But with peak oil on the horizon, and two dollar gallons of gasoline never to return, both manufacturers and consumers are embracing a more European / Japanese car market model by both necessity and choice.

Having said that, there is still a place for body-on-frame SUVs for those who need or want one. People still drive in the grand national parks out west. I plan to drive down sandy paths to hidden beaches in Vieques for the rest of my life. I suspect that one day, the vehicles that can traverse sand and boulders will be electric powered. But until then, big block V6 engines will have to do.

So with the retail price of gasoline now over $4.00 a gallon, what should the price of a new body-on-frame SUV be? Who in his right mind would drop $106,000 for a military officer transport, the Mercedes G Class? Yes, it is hand built in Austria, served as Pope John Paul II's "Popemobile," and has been virtually unchanged since its redesign in 1991. A toy for the rich, surely. But as Jay Z has proven, you can get almost the same look, a similar feel and superior off road capabilities in the $30,000 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. And now the Jeep Wrangler is better than ever. A body-colored hardtop gives the Wranger a boxier, more military look. The front windshield has been narrowed to a more Hummer shape. Jeep has listened to its customers. What used to be a highly unstable, unreliable vehicle, is now a beutifully boxy, sporty off roader that does exactly what the Land Rover Defender and Mercedes G can do at a fraction of the price.

In fact, considering that the Trail Rated versions have an automatic locking center differential, and the driver can disengage the sway bars for additional ground contact and articulation, the Trail Rated Wrangler is arguably the most capable off road passenger vehicle in the world.

If you're going to spend at least $2,400 in gasoline and $3,000 in insurance each year, why not get the superior product at the lower price? Most buyers don't take cost of onership into account. But consider this: in the UK, this vehicle, because it doesn't get a minimum of 30MPG on the highway, would be subject to an annual gas guzzler tax, in addition to the annual road tax. If it were a Land Rover or Mercedes, it would also be slapped with an annual luxury car tax. So if you really want a gas guzzler (or you actually need one), be thankful you live in a country that doesn't tax you annually to own one. Only in America. And Jeep is a great American original.

This year at the New York International Auto Show, Jeep unveiled the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Mojave Edition. Aside from the two exterior lizzard graphics and two interior lizzard stitching on the improved leather seats, I think it is the most beautiful Wrangler Unlimited yet.