Often, our Styling Showdowns are strained, subtle comparisons of slightly restyled models that have a new grille, new taillights, or a new trim level. But in the case of the 2012 Jeep Liberty versus the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, the two models could not be more different.
The Liberty was a crude, uninspired successor to the popular XJ Cherokee, which on paper checked the right boxes for capability and specs, but never had much in the way of style and didn't do many favors for its owners at the pump, where it returned sub-par fuel economy for its class.
The new Cherokee carries over nothing from the Liberty stylistically or mechanically, being as good an example of a "clean-sheet" rethink as we can imagine. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, we'll leave up to you. The Liberty was defined for its traditional, straight-edged styling. The first generation had Jeep's trademark round headlights and seven-slot vertical grille. The mid-cycle redesign gave the Liberty a look more in line with the short-lived Jeep Commander, but was still no stylistic standout, in neither a good nor a bad way.
The 2014 Cherokee on the other hand, has a highly controversial and unconventional appearance. The LED running lights and turn signals are a separate unit from the headlights, which are mounted lower, right at the bumper line. The Cherokee does have a version of the traditional Jeep seven-slot grille, but with a pronounced kink. Jeep says this stylistic detail is not unprecedented, as the YJ Wrangler, also slightly controversial in its day for its rectangular headlights, had a crease in its grille.
From the A-pillar rearward, the new Cherokee is a fairly conventional midsize crossover. But the rear also has received its share of criticism, with its high-mounted LED taillights snuggling up against the rear glass, leaving a large area of unadorned sheetmetal between the taillights and bumper, where the license plate is housed.
We're much less ambivalent about the changes to the Cherokee's interior relative to the Liberty's. It's a huge improvement. In style, function, and materials quality, the 2014 Cherokee's interior takes the gold by a long shot, with a large, legible, and utile touchscreen interface, UConnect apps and functionality, and actual curves, compared with the Liberty's interior, which is the very definition of "angular."
If you're a hard-core Jeeper who believes the Wrangler is the only "true" Jeep and grudgingly accept the Grand Cherokee as part of the family, you may never consider the new Cherokee a legitimate heir to the name, as it rides on a transverse powertrain and car-based chassis. But based on the hardware and specifications we've seen, it's certainly more of a Jeep than the Compass or Patriot. Some have already suggested a front styling redesign is in the works, even as Jeep representatives vigorously defend the Cherokee's bold new style. What do you think? Will Jeep tone down the Cherokee's radical new looks to placate the critics, or is this the bold new look of Jeeps to come?