Jeep puts a new face on Cherokee

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Jeep will introduce a remade Cherokee crossover at the Detroit auto show next week as it looks to rev up sales in 2018.

After seven years of meteoric growth in the red-hot SUV market, U.S. demand cooled for Fiat Chrysler’s star brand in 2017. Yet, despite a 10.6 percent overall decline, retail sales were up on reduced fleet sales to improve margins and residual values. With the refreshed Cherokee, an all-new Jeep Wrangler and a product pipeline full of everything from a Wrangler pickup to a full-size Grand Wagoneer SUV, Jeep is bullish on the future.

“In 2017 we saw U.S. retail sales up and total sales up in every other global region,” said Jeep boss Mike Manley. “For global sales to be basically flat in a period when we strategically reduced fleet sales by 60 percent speaks to the continued momentum of our brand. Now we’re looking forward to the new Wrangler and Cherokee arriving in Jeep showrooms.”

Start with the Cherokee, an iconic nameplate re-purposed by Jeep in 2013 as a compact SUV under the hot-selling, mid-size Grand Cherokee. The shark-nosed Cherokee with three tiers of lights was the most polarizing new design this side of Lexus spindle grille – but buyers loved it.

Cherokee sales were three-fold stronger than its Liberty predecessor, cresting at over 220,000 units in 2015. It was briefly the darling of Jeep’s lineup, before falling back to No. 3 in 2017 with 169,882 in sales behind the Grand and Wrangler. With compact SUVs now the biggest segment in the land (for the first time ever, the Toyota RAV4 ute dethroned a sedan as the best-selling non-pickup in America), Jeep is eager to compete with the rebooted Cherokee.

Jeep gave a sneak peek of the new Cherokee in December. It’s received a conservative facelift to look more like the rest of the family. The seven-slot grille is more upright and the headlights and running lights have been consolidated under one lens cover.

The most significant change to the rear fascia is the license plate which has been move from the bumper to the middle of the tailgate for better visual balance. Inside, the Jeep is expected to get upgrades to its award-winning Uconnect system like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.

Jeep is keeping mechanical upgrades close to the vest, but its design tease hinted at “even more fuel-efficient powertrain options.” The Cherokee will debut on Jeep’s Cobo stand Tuesday morning.