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June 2013 Trail Head - Editorial

Posted in Features on June 1, 2013
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Photographers: Courtesy of Jeep

“…And for those reasons and those reasons alone, that is why curling without a shadow of a doubt is the best winter sport in the world and why hockey should be outlawed.” If you walked into a room during an assembly and heard only the last few words spoken, would you go jump on Facepage and Twerper and Pinhead to spread the gospel? “Down with hockey, up with curling!”, “Turn every hockey rink into a curling thingy or the terrorists win!”, “Boo hockey!” Or would you want to know the reasoning that drew the speaker to his conclusion before you made a social media buffoon out of yourself? Probably the latter, right?

Then why are people so ready to drink the Kool Aid and turn the rheostat to “hate” with automotive spy shots? Chrysler recently had its hand forced by an unscrupulous automotive-based website that published unofficial photos and misinformation about the new Cherokee. In response, Chrysler hastily released its own official photos and a trickle of information. The result was a firestorm of negativity.

I’m not here to argue the styling. You either like it or you don’t. I won’t steer you into a beer if white wine is your beverage. Just pour yourself a tall glass of Chardonnay and go watch Desperate Housewives or whatever it is you wine drinkers do. Personally, I think the new KL Cherokee (that’s its internal designation, the KL) looks like a cross between a Kia and an old Isuzu Vehicross. I call it a Kiacross.

No, I’m here to argue with those who cried foul at the use of the Cherokee name. “How can they call that thing a Cherokee, it isn’t worthy of the name.” How do you know? Many said the same thing when the XJ was debuted in 1983, thinking the small, V-6-powered 4x4 car without a frame wasn’t worthy of the name formerly held by the V-8-powered fullsize Cherokee Chief. But then people drove the XJ and found it was capable both on- and off-road, easily modified, and as loyal as a Beagle. And the world cried, “Yay, Cherokee!”

But Chrysler’s hasty intro to the KL went poorly. Like when you try to compliment a woman and wind up insulting her instead. “Lucky you, a big nose is attractive in some parts of the world.” In this case, people didn’t dig the styling, and without any hard technical facts to back up the images, the Internet pundits went wild with gems like, “At least we know where the designer of the Aztek wound up. Bet it wheels like one too,” or, “A vehicle that was originally a real 4x4 made for work turned into a wimpy p.o.s.” Or my personal favorite, “Kill it with fire.”

I’m not defending the Cherokee. I can’t. I haven’t driven one. And as of this writing no automotive journalist has. But I will say on paper its off-road performance shows promise with either a 189hp,174 lb-ft 2.4L four-cylinder or 269hp, 234 lb-ft 3.2L V-6 based off the 3.6L Pentastar. It’ll tow up to 4,500 pounds and offer three different 4x4 systems including full-time active with low range and locking rear diff. And, there will be a Trail Hawk version with rocker armor, off-road-friendly tires, and a 55:1 (2.4L) or 45:1 (3.2L) crawl ratio among other trinkets. It’s not a traditional enthusiast 4x4, but considering its role, mechanically it could be worse. Is Ford making a trail-ready version of its Edge or Escape? Can you get a Nissan Murano with a low range? (Seriously, can you? Ask a hairdresser and get back to me.) Can you buy a Land Rover Evoque for even close to the same price?

Rather than puke some watered-down crossover SUV into the market segment, Jeep made a real effort to maintain (at least on paper) some semblance of off-road worthiness. I think the least we can do is wait until we get behind the wheel of one and hit the trail before we collectively hang it by the neck until dead. That said, if the KL does suck, we’ll be the first ones to toss the ol’ noose around the oak tree limb.

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