The Jeep Cherokee is back, and we’re seeing it a lot sooner than anyone expected.
Jeep released promotional photos of the completely new 2014 Cherokee on Friday evening, a little more than a month before the vehicle’s planned unveiling at the New York International Auto Show.
The sport utility vehicle, which replaces the Liberty in Jeep’s lineup, will be built in Toledo and go on sale sometime in the year’s third quarter, Chrysler said.
The Cherokee is a significant styling departure from the boxy Liberty, which Chrysler discontinued in August. It’s much more streamlined and rakish, and puts a new take on the traditional Jeep seven-slot grille, adding a slight bend about halfway up.
One of the styling cues that seems to be most divisive, from early reactions, is that of the headlights. They appear to be tucked into the front fascia, while narrow daytime running lights wrap around the front of the hood.
PHOTO GALLERY: Jeep Continues Cherokee Line to Succeed Liberty
Engaging Jeep fans on Twitter, Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s senior vice president of design, called the new vehicle a “paradigm shift.”
Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds.com, said the 2014 Cherokee’s design is distinctively Jeep but “in a fresh, bolder way.”
“I’ve seen the vehicle and I was actually blown away. I thought it looked really cool,” she said in a phone interview Saturday. “Certainly far different than the Liberty. I think its looks will be polarizing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
The preshow photos were an unexpected development considering Chrysler’s viselike grip on information about the new vehicle. Few details about the Liberty’s replacement had leaked since Chrysler started building preproduction models a few months ago.
But the dam broke Friday, when automotive Web site Jalopnik.com posted photos of what it said was the new model inside a production facility. Jalopnik also reported Chrysler was reviving the Cherokee name for the U.S. market, where that model name was last used in 2001. Libertys sold overseas continued to be called Cherokees.
Chrysler responded on Twitter by saying the vehicle Jalopnik was showing was “not the vehicle to be revealed” in New York. A few hours later, Chrysler released a brief statement and official photos of an upper trim level Cherokee Limited.
The automaker said the 2014 Cherokee “sets a new standard with even more best-in-class capability, exemplary on-road driving dynamics, and fuel economy improvements of more than 45 percent versus the outgoing mid-size SUV model.”
That works out to about 32 miles per gallon highway, going off the 22 miles per gallon highway rating the U.S. EPA gives the two-wheel-drive 2012 Liberty.
Specifications of the new vehicle, including engine choices and price, weren’t released. Some of that figures to come out at the New York auto show. Jeep spokesman Todd Goyer said the automaker would have no further comment on the vehicle until its debut at the New York show, which starts with a press preview in late March.
Chrysler didn’t address the leaked photos in its news release, and didn’t release any photos showing the vehicle from the rear.
Sources were unsure when the photos Jalopnik received might have been taken, but said the front of the vehicle had been tweaked somewhat since they were shot. Slight differences in the leaked photos and the official photos seem to back that up.
Chrysler had issued a directive that anyone caught photographing the vehicle inside the Toledo plant could be fired.
Dan Henneman, UAW Local 12 Jeep unit chairman for the Toledo Assembly complex, said he was disappointed someone had leaked the photos of the new product before Chrysler was able to unveil the vehicle.
Mr. Henneman declined to comment any further on the Cherokee.
The new vehicle is important for Toledo, which has a long history of building Jeeps. Production of military Jeeps for World War II started in 1941, and the city has built Jeeps of one sort or another ever since. Toledo built Cherokees from 1983 to 2001. Production of the Cherokee’s successor, the Liberty, ran from 2001 until last year.
Chrysler will add a second shift and 1,100 jobs to support the new Cherokee, bringing Toledo’s total Jeep work force at the Toledo Assembly Complex to almost 3,300.
Early reviews of Jeep’s newest vehicle from enthusiasts and automotive blogs were mixed, especially regarding the lights, and Chrysler seemed to recognize that. Spokesman Rick Deneau wrote Saturday on Chrysler’s official blog that there comes a time when “you’ve got to eschew the traditional and embrace the progressive.”
The post also seemed to be a warning not to judge the vehicle based on photos alone.
“Check us out in New York, hear the whole story, see both models we’ll offer, even drive it and see if you agree we’ve made the vehicle that does it all,” Mr. Deneau wrote.
He said Chrysler listened to customers who said they still wanted Jeep’s off-road capability, but also needed better fuel economy and better driving dynamics on the road. The 2014 Cherokee accomplishes that, he said.
Ms. Krebs, the Edmunds analyst, said the Cherokee is a case in which photos really don’t do the vehicle justice. She praised Jeep for resurrecting the Cherokee name, both from a historical standpoint and to capitalize on the success of its flagship Grand Cherokee, which is a larger vehicle.
Chrysler has revived several names in recent years.
“Generally that’s worked for them,” Ms. Krebs said. “We’ll see on the Dodge Dart, but Challenger and Charger have worked very well.”
Jeep has a lot riding on this vehicle, both in the United States and abroad. The brand sold a record 701,626 vehicles worldwide last year, and company officials have said they believe they can beat that by selling more this year and aiming for 800,000 vehicles in 2014.
The Cherokee will play a significant role, and company officials are eager to get it into dealer showrooms.
“It has a huge role to play,” Jeep brand Chief Executive Mike Manley said of the new vehicle in an interview last month at the Detroit auto show. “It’s one we have to get absolutely right.”
Ms. Krebs thinks they got it right.
“It’s definitely got the potential to be a hit. It’ll be globally successful, I think. They have to get marketing and distribution right, but I think it has the potential,” she said.
Officials have said full-scale production is to begin May 23.
Production will be ramped up with a second shift going on line in the year’s third quarter.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.