"We wanted to leapfrog where everyone was going..."
Despite disagreeing with CarAdvice that the outgoing Cherokee was somewhat unattractive, Brian Nielander, Jeep design studio chief, admitted the medium SUV was 'ready for a redesign'.
There's little doubt the styling of the old model was a love or hate proposition, and with a focus more on premium styling and refinement for the new model, that 'shark style' front end has gone the way of the dodo.
"I would admit it needed change," Nielander told Australian journalists. "You kind of have to go back and think about when we did launch the MY14, that segment was pretty much all FWD architecture. The old design justified the upright boxy Jeep styling."
Nielander went on to reference other, less off-road focused SUVs in the segment moving away from more traditional designs looking to make a style statement.
"We knew the new platform wouldn’t feature a boxy Jeep on top," Nielander said. "We wanted to leapfrog where everyone was going - sleeker, with a lower front profile - changing the language in that segment. We wanted something that would stand out, and the Cherokee couldn’t be a me-too vehicle in that segment."
There is an element of difficulty involved - some brands suffer it more than others - when designers sit down to remake something that is either iconic or beset with expectations from an enthusiast buying public, and Jeep is certainly one of those brands.
Above: The outgoing Cherokee's polarising face
"We would never have done what we did on the '14 Cherokee to the Wrangler, because it has to look like a certain way," Nielander says confirming that very fact.
"As far as being adventurous on the styling, we think of ourselves as almost curators of the Wrangler. We have to put our own ego aside as designers. We are there to support the heritage of that vehicle."
Did the Jeep styling gurus go too far with the outgoing Cherokee, given the way in which the public criticised the styling, and avoided buying what was an otherwise solid, value-packed SUV in the mid-size segment?
Above: The rear of the redesigned Cherokee
"I don’t think we went too far, no," Nielander said. "I think the 'old' Cherokee (Trailhawk) was kick arse. It looked like a show car on the road. And it was meant to be polarising."
It's the old design adage, that vanilla is boring and to succeed you must offend nearly as many people as you attract - the Cherokee certainly did that. And yet, despite consistently disagreeing with anyone who asked, that controversial front end is gone for the new model.
"Move on, update it, we want the new Cherokee to feel more premium," Nielander said. "I think this new one is much more handsome looking - I like it - we’ve just moved on, other people can copy it, you see that all the time with certain styles. They come about, get emulated and then people move on."
The latter comment about 'emulating' was a response to whether brands like Hyundai have copied elements of the Cherokee's design (like the headlight signatures) – which no longer matters to Jeep, as the Cherokee has moved ahead another notch according to the manufacturer.
There's little doubt the new Cherokee is a vastly more attractive vehicle than the model it replaces. The new Jeep Cherokee will go on sale in Australia later in 2018, with pricing set to be announced closer to launch.