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car review

2014 Jeep Cherokee.

At this year's New York auto show, Jeep unveiled the all-new 2014 Cherokee to many questions, some concerns and even a smattering of criticism. It's not a Jeep, cried the critics.

Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles begs to differ. Sure it's a Jeep, he argues, but it's also a new Jeep design paradigm. Jeep cannot and will not remain completely and utterly rooted in its Second World War past. It must grow and evolve, and that means change, thoughtful change.

So, on the one hand, the latest all-new Jeep set for sale later this year has Jeep's signature seven-slot grille and the trapezoidal wheel arches. The wheels are typically big, too. On the other hand, fuel economy is a prime consideration, which means the designers must do their part in steering the Cherokee away from the boxy look of the 1990s Cherokee to something more aerodynamic, more muscular and modern.

A certain vocal segment will moan about the changes. So what? Jeep's designers had to do something different here. Keep in mind that the last Cherokee went away in 2000, replaced by the heavy and lumbering Liberty, which itself seemed like a foreigner's interpretation of what a real Jeep should be. The Liberty wasn't a disaster, but it certainly was an underachieve.

The last Cherokee and the Liberty were both squared-off designs of another era and, in their day, they were impressive. The car game, however, is about moving forward without disrespecting the past. So here we are, looking at the 2014 Cherokee and it represents real change, but with some links to what's come before it. The design isn't the only development worthy of comment, either. Jeep officials say they have engineered "benchmark capability, world-class on-road dynamics, fuel economy up to an estimated 6.3 litres/100 km [45 mpg]" and a tow rating that is best in class at 2,041 kg.

The new Cherokee will be sold with three new four-wheel-drive systems and what Jeep calls its Jeep Selec-Terrain traction control system with up to five customized modes – Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock. Here is the first SUV with a nine-speed automatic transmission, they say, and an industry-first is the rear-axle disconnect that improves fuel economy by cutting energy loss when 4x4 capability isn't needed.

Engines? The base is a 2.4-litre four-banger, while the up-market power comes from a 3.2-litre Pentastar V-6 that is a downsized verson of Chrysler's seemingly ubiquitous 3.6-litre V-6. The suspension is independent front and rear for both highway ride comfort and off-road capability.

Yes, purists will question the Fiat architecture underneath, but do the roots of the basic architecture matter? Not as long as the Cherokee does the job and plays the part of a true Jeep.