New Jeep models have the offroad community in an uproar, and the die-hards are not without a point. Jeep looks to be on the verge of a shift from the rugged, free spirit it has embodied since the ’40s to a more asphalt-friendly, suburban design. The question: is a Jeep still a Jeep if it isn’t a ‘Jeep?’
Jeep began as a light-weight, all-terrain military vehicle, but has since grown into a symbol of independence and freedom. Jeep culture is about the rush of adventure, the camaraderie of the trail and not being afraid of a little (or a whole lot) of dirt.
Now let’s talk about the 2014 Jeep Cherokee and the proposed 2015 Jeep Renegade.
The 2014 Cherokee
4 Wheel Parts Suspension Specialist Michael Finch describes the 2014 Cherokee as “a bold new direction,” going on to say, “The vehicle is a fine design and a strong case could be made that it is the way of the future.”
However, he follows that sentiment up with, “The biggest issue that I see is the name. Cherokee had a long run from ’84 -“ ’01. In that time it was a reliable, simple, easily upgradeable friend. The new Cherokee shares little in common with its namesake. Its abilities and upgradeability are in question. The new Cherokee is a fine ‘car’ but it’s no jeep and is an insult to the name Cherokee.”
Characteristics defining the new Cherokee include:
- Front and rear independent suspensions
- 31 MPG on the highway with the 2.4L Tigershark l4 engine
- 9-speed automatic transmission
Looking more like an aggressive soccer-mom-mobile than the offroad beast we expect from the name Cherokee, the 2014 model sports front and rear independent suspensions instead of the familiar solid axle, as well as rear-axle disconnect. The Trailhawk model also has offroad Jeep wheels, skid plates and offroad suspension with a 1-inch lift.
Despite its potentially blasphemous title, the Cherokee is receiving (begrudgingly) positive driving reviews, and more than that, it’s selling.
The 2015 Renegade
“I think this could be a good direction,” says Richard Gauthier, owner of G&G Auto Repair in Bakersfield, Calif.
If Jeep follows through in making this a 4-wheel drive, true offroad vehicle, Gauthier says he’s confident it could be a great alternative to those who love to leave the trail behind but are restricted by the size and weight of the Jeep Wrangler.
A little closer to Jeep’s tried-and-true boxy style in a very condensed package, the Renegade promises:
- Dual-panel “My Sky” sunroof
- Vintage military gas can
- Plenty of cargo space
Jeep’s first venture into the world of small SUVs, the Renegade, is designed to have a modern, global appeal while holding onto the rustic freedom embodied in the first machines to roll off the Jeep line. Just a concept right now, it’s tough to say whether the Renegade will be able to handle serious offroad terrain, but if Jeep’s history counts for anything, we can be sure it will be a tough little bugger.
And if it’s not quite up to the task, isn’t that what Jeep accessories are for?
So what is Jeep trying to say by crowning the 2014 line with the name Cherokee and offering up the teeny Renegade in 2015? Is this a new direction for the company under Fiat leadership?
It’s about the global market, mostly.
“The all-new 2015 Jeep Renegade expands the brand’s product portfolio and targets the rapidly expanding small SUV segment around the globe,” says Mike Manley, Jeep’s president and CEO, in a recent press release.
So, when the true Jeep enthusiasts, the ones who have the brand in their blood and the grease stains to prove it, say the new models violate the Jeep tradition, they aren’t wrong.
Jeep is branching out, reaching for consumer pools beyond the frequent offroaders which make up their own culture of Jeep enthusiasts. Does that mean it will alienate loyal customers and turn its back on tradition? Probably not.
Jeep is built, perhaps more than any brand, on its history and culture. It can’t walk away from that, but it does still need to compete with other diverse, global brands.
These new models are certainly different, but even the 2014 Cherokee has a Trailhawk model to try to appease adventurists. Is Jeep trying to rebrand itself? Maybe. At the very least, it’s trying to become more accessible to the world as a whole.
That means more products like these newest models, but it doesn’t mean they’re giving up on what being a Jeep is all about. Just check out the 2014 Wrangler for proof of that.