New York International Auto Show

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.

Another Great History Of The Subaru WRX

Now that we've had a preview of where the Subaru WRX will go within the next 24 months, Mate Petrany over at Jalopnik put together a fine, tight history of a favorite street legal rally car. I tried to do it last year and got a little carried away.

This story of an all new WRX began back in the Spring of 2011, when Subaru told the press at the New York International Auto Show that the Impreza and WRX would go separate ways. They have kept their promise. At this year's show, they told the press that all non-perforance Subarus will one day be fully electrified. I think they will also keep that promise.

Third Generation Subaru Forester To Be Unveiled This Christmas

I thought I had to wait until the 2008 New York International Auto Show. But Subaru in Japan have decided to make the unveiling a Christmas present to the fanboys and fangirls out there who have been begging for an updated Forester. It is the final car in Subaru's North American lineup that is due for an upgraded interior (in both design and quality), and obviously that had to wait for the complete re-design.

Spelling error aside, we'll be watching this space. The spelling error could have been more embarrassing. But still, it is inexcusable.

UPDATE 11/30/2007: The spelling error on the Subaru Japan wibsite has been corrected.

Breaking the Cover on the New Subaru Impreza, Part II

On Thursday, Subaru officially unveiled the third generation Impreza here at the New York International Auto Show. There are two trims so far, the 2.5i and the WRX. The new design has Subaru fans like myself puzzled. We've got questions. Is this a new design direction for Subaru, or does this new face belong to the Impreza only? Does Subaru not care about a lack of uniformity in its sheet metal and grill design across its model range? Is this all part of Subaru's charm? Or will eventual ownership by Toyota wash away that charm?

When I think about it, I'm all for charm. The SVX had a unique shape, face, and interior (thanks to Giugiaro), and it was considered to be all-Subaru. So why not this new ugly duckling? It is sure to grow on me.

A couple things about the exterior design. First, the high, round rear section looks a lot like the BMW X3, which is also a favorite of mine (and also considered to be BMW's ugly duckling).

Second, it features a contradiction. Despite being taller than its predecessor, this Impreza has a lower center of gravity.

The interior is gorgeous. Word from the auto show floor is that the materials inside the car are every bit as good as the Legacy and Outback, which received an upscale cabin in 2004 (and they arrived here in 2005). I even like the light-colored steering wheel in the 2.5i model. Can't wait to drive one.

Breaking the cover on the new Subaru Impreza, Part I

Well, Edmunds and Motor Trend have leaked official photos of the third generation Subaru Impreza. The car will be officially unveiled on Thursday April 5th at the New York International Auto Show. The current generation is one of my favorite cars on the road thanks to its unusual styling and rally-inspired full-time all-wheel-drive system (on manual and turbo models only). But the automatic transmission is dated and sluggish, and the interior, while sports car material, lags-behind the cleaner, contemporary cockpit of the Legacy and Outback siblings. A serious redesign was needed. And the initial offering coming this fall is a mixed bag.

Still built in Japan, the Impreza will offer solid mechanics. The suspension has been upgraded. The engine is the same, reliable 2.5-liter flat-4 that drives the Forester and most Legacy and Outback models. With the optional turbocharger, it generates 225HP. However, those who cannot drive stick, including myself, will have to wait for an upgraded gearbox. The dated 4-speed transmission will be carried over to 2008, and it is not practical for use with the turbocharger. So for full-time AWD, you must order the manual tranny.

Subaru's strategy is to dramatically increase sales of the most affordable and practical model, the 2.5i automatic. It will compete against the Volkswagen Rabbit, Golf, Mazda 3, Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Toyota Matrix, which all start under $18,000. The high beltline and increased headroom should make it more appealing, especially for those who are turned-off by a low-riding sports car. The 2.5i Impreza will use the current part-time AWD system, which is shared with the base Forester, Legacy, and Outback. With the exception of the rally-style underbody spoiler in the rear, the exterior styling is more conservative this time around. The compact, chrome grill and low-profile headlights remind me of the 5th generation Toyota Camry, Mazda 3, or even the Nissan Murano crossover.

Subaru enthusiasts are all asking the same thing: "Chrome?" Even the Camry Sports Edition trades-in its chrome grille for one in matte black. So Subaru still does not have a unified grille or face design across its 5-vehicle range. Subaru calls this grille the "mustache" grille, and it is is used by the Outback and Legacy in Europe, as well as the 2008 Tribeca and Impreza. But the Forester and North American Legacy and Outback get something else entirely. On the positive side, the famed Stars of Pleiades emblem on the new Impreza will be extra-large compared to all other Subies. It is no longer the badge for a cheap, inferior car.

The interior is the most significant improvement, and it is a welcome change. It features bigger guages, slightly fewer seams, an available navigation system, and a sculpted dashboard similar to Subaru's flagship, the B9 Tribeca.

So this first-year Impreza is going to try to appeal to everyone who is open to driving a hatchback. No word if the Outback Sport (based on the Impreza) will still be offered in 2008. My guess is that it will be dropped and customers will be encouraged to opt for the Forester if they want a compact car with raised suspension.