A replacement for the six-year-old Jeep Cherokee is being readied for production, the third-generation mid-sized SUV snapped here in testing ahead of its predicted unveiling at the New York auto show in late March.
Head of US sales for the Chrysler Group, Reid Bigland, confirmed at the Detroit auto show that for the first time the Cherokee nameplate will be used in all markets – the previous two generations were badged Liberty in North America only.
The Cherokee will be the first Jeep product to utilise the Fiat-Chrysler Compact platform, which underpins the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Dodge Dart. It can be used on any sub-five-metre-long products, including four-wheel drives and sports cars. The Cherokee will adopt a long-wheelbase version of the flexible architecture, called D-Evo by Fiat and Alfa Romeo – the Italians will debut the stretched platform with the Alfa Romeo Giulia, replacement for the 159 – and Compact US Wide (CUSW) by Chrsyler, Dodge and Jeep.
Previously, we've seen Jeep Cherokee prototypes cloaked by a stretched Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform, however this is the first time a cladded version of the actual production Cherokee has been spotted.
The latest testing mule gets the iconic, seven-slot Jeep grille up front, headlights that feature LED daytime running lights, and off-road-biased Firestone Destination all-terrain tyres. At the rear, the Cherokee gets a chrome tipped exhaust and tail-lights reminiscent of the just-released, facelifted Jeep Grand Cherokee.
A full-length, retractable soft top is also difficult to miss – the 'Sky Slider' roof option was offered in the current Cherokee/Liberty in the US, and is clearly retained for the new-generation car.
Inside, the steering wheel and instrument binnacle are pinched from the larger Grand Cherokee, while the stitching across the curvier dashboard and large infortainment screen indicates that the Cherokee will move upmarket in presentation to compete with mainstream mid-sized SUVs like the Toyota Kluger and Subaru Tribeca.
A new nine-speed ZF automatic is also likely to debut, mated to a 3.2-litre version of the Chrysler Pentastar V6 engine. Citing the Grand Cherokee as an example of a product-led renaissance, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a statement two years ago that "you [journalists] and the market have told us that we have uncompetitive powertrains, especially at the transmission end. And so we will have eight-speed rear-wheel-drive transmissions in market by mid 2011 [seen in Chrysler 300] and to be followed by a nine-speed front-wheel-drive transmission. They are both all-wheel drive and hybrid capable.
"These are leading-edge solutions to the mileage and emissions objectives we have set for ourselves."
Fiat's 1.8-litre Turbojet four-cylinder petrol and 2.0-litre Multijet four-cylinder diesel engines are also tipped to be offered in the Chrysler-Fiat brand's first example of sharing technology (beyond the re-badged Lancia products) between Italian and American brands.
For the first time, the Cherokee is expected to be available in front- and all-wheel-drive applications.
The Chrysler/Jeep manufacturing plant in Toledo, Ohio, produced the final second-generation Cherokee/Liberty models in August last year and is being re-tooled to produce this new model from late 2013.