We had fairly reliable intelligence that the replacement for the Jeep Liberty was coming to the 2013 New York Auto Show, bearing either the Liberty or Cherokee name. However, Jeep certainly didn't plan on photos from the production line leaking out weeks before the debut. The leak forced the automaker's hand, prompting it to release not just a handful of photos of the new model, but to also confirm that it would be called the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
To call the styling controversial would be an understatement. The six-light, bisected look has been uncharitably compared by some to the equally polarizing Nissan Juke, whereas others are giving Jeep kudos for being willing to step outside of the safe and predictable mold they've created for themselves with tasteful but inoffensive models like the Grand Cherokee.
Regardless of what you think of the styling, what's arguably more important are the attributes the new Cherokee will bring to the table. We've put together up ten predictions for the new Cherokee. Check back after it's official reveal in New York to see how we scored.
1) Bigger Than the Liberty, Smaller Than the Journey
We don't think this prediction is that much of a stretch. After all, in the Nissan Pathfinder's transformation from a boxy body-on-frame SUV to a family-oriented crossover, key dimensions grew in almost every direction except height. We expect the length of the new Cherokee to be between 181 and 186 inches, splitting the difference between the 176.9-inch-long Liberty and 192.4-inch-long Dodge Journey. Our prediction for the wheelbase is a length between 108 and 110 inches, once again splitting the difference between the Liberty (106.1-inch wheelbase) and Journey (113.8-inch wheelbase).
2) Nine-Speed Automatic, Only
This is not much of a stretch either, as Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and others have all but confirmed it. It may in fact be the only transmission offered on the Cherokee, although there is a possibility a six-speed -- or even a dual-clutch box like the one in the Dart -- could be offered on the base model as a cost-saving measure. In all likelihood, the ZF 9HP will be the sole transmission offering. A manual transmission? Don't hold your breath, and even if one comes, it definitely won't be for the U.S. market.
3) 3.2-Liter Pentastar V-6, Only Engine at Launch
Like the nine-speed, the 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6 has been all but confirmed for the Cherokee. There have been rumors of various engine options, including the 2.4-liter Tigershark I-4, 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo, and possibly even a four-cylinder diesel of some sort. Some have even speculated the Grand Cherokee's 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 could find its way under the hood! We wouldn't totally count out a diesel option down the road, but it will probably be a four-cylinder in the 2.0- to 2.2-liter range, with around 160-180 hp and 250-300 lb-ft of torque. In terms of our output projections for the 3.2-liter V-6, we're putting it at around 240-250 hp and 225-240 lb-ft, with some of the variability dependent on whether it gets direct injection or remains port-injected like the 3.6-liter V-6.
4) True Low Range
This is somewhat more of a wish than a prediction, as we're sadly seeing the traditional two-speed geared transfer case going the way of the dinosaurs. We've seen Cherokee mules in Moab and other moderately-challenging off-road locales, so we're hopeful Jeep didn't wimp out and go exclusively with a single-ratio full-time all-wheel-drive setup.
5) Innovative Cabin/Off-Road Tech
The term "innovative" is somewhat subjective, and definitely a moving target in this fast-paced digital age, but Chrysler has already shown it's jumping into the Silicon era head first with UConnect Access, a large, prominent 8.4-inch touchscreen display on many models (and from the looks of things, on the Cherokee as well) that includes mobile app integration. We're hoping Jeep might throw in some cool off-road oriented tech toys such as a virtual inclinometer, compass, GPS breadcrumbs, virtual around-view off-road perspective, and maybe even a front camera a la Ford Raptor.
6) Slightly Lower Towing Capacity
We never want to predict diminished capability, but the overall trend in the industry is undeniable. The Liberty had a 5000-lb capacity, but the new midsize standard seems to be 3500 lb. We're hoping Jeep at least maintains the Liberty's 5000-lb maximum capacity in the new Cherokee, but 3500 lb is far more realistic.
7) Significantly Increased Fuel Economy
This one's somewhat of a "duh" prediction, especially in light of the Liberty's abysmal ratings of 16/22 and 15/21 mpg for 2WD and 4WD, respectively. We're expecting city ratings well into the high teens, if not low 20s, and a highway MPG rating in the high 20s, possibly even cresting 30 mpg on the front-drive model.
8) Competitive, Not Bargain Pricing
Jeep has lately positioned itself as a bit more of a premium product and we expect the Cherokee to reflect that trend. With the Patriot and Compass playing the entry-level role, the Cherokee can start comfortably higher. We're expecting pricing to start around $25,000 for an entry-level front-drive model and top out at around $38,000 for a loaded, four-wheel drive model.
9) "Heritage" Trim Packages
2011 Jeep Liberty 70th Anniversary Edition
Hard to say on this one. There's certainly ample precedent for it within the Jeep and Chrysler family, but judging by the 2014 Cherokee's radical departure from its past styling-wise, we're guessing if anything, there will be some new trim levels and packages not seen before. Laredo and Limited are safe bets, but beyond those two staples, who knows?
10) Premium Comfort and Convenience Features
Again, this one's not going too far out on a limb. The Liberty, while not a bargain-basement stripper, was not exactly known for its opulence. We expect several trim levels of the Cherokee to offer niceties like memory seats, automatic headlights, optional HID headlights, keyless unlock and start, rear seat video monitors (either singular or dual), and heated seats, possibly even for the rear. A power rear liftgate will likely be a package option on some trims, and standard on the Limited.