News emerged this week about two new SUVs, very different in segments, cost, and design; but similar in plight. Both have, in recent years, undergone a vast change in audience. Their respective manufacturers, however, have handled this transformation differently. One does it right, the other, um…
When we first caught a glimpse of the 2014 Cherokee on Monday, we recoiled like a casting director from Gary Busey. We posted this shot on our Facebook page and got 30 comments. One was positive, but most people hated it. A few assumed it was a joke.
Unfortunately, this is no laughing matter…okay, okay, go ahead and laugh. Get it out of your system. The PR people at Chrysler are even acknowledging that it’s ugly- in their roundabout, rose-tinted-glasses manner. From their Twitter account: “More than anything else, Jeep SUVs are defined by how they do on- & off-road.” and “THX for all the 1st impressions on 2014 #Jeep Cherokee. Remember: More than any other vehicle, Jeep SUVs are more than exterior looks.”
They’re dodging the issue, but they’re right. The first Jeep certainly wasn’t about looks. It became beautiful because of what it could do. So although it’s obvious by the public reaction that no one is excited about the triple-decker headlights or the absurd brightwork, we might get excited about its capability, right? Well, yes. If you’re concerned with its capability on your way to your zumba class.
From Jeep’s press release: “Set to debut at the New York International Auto Show in March, the all-new, ‘no-compromise’ 2014 Jeep Cherokee sets a new standard with even more best-in-class capability, exemplary on-road driving dynamics, and fuel economy improvements of more than 45 percent versus the outgoing mid-size SUV model.”
Not much mention of slogging through mud or crawling over rocky trails. And from the fragile, don’t-touch-me, low-slung look of the thing, that’s probably intentional. Undoubtedly, the new Cherokee will be “trail rated,” since having its entire lineup wilderness-ready is a huge part of Jeep’s brand identity, but there’s no doubt this is designed around the concept of being tall enough to pull groceries out of the back with ease.
Well, okay, they’ve done that before, right? The Compass, the Liberty, and even the Commander all took their share of criticism for being softroaders. But this is the Cherokee. The XJ Cherokee, the last one produced, pretty much dominated the budget off-road scene for decades. It was simple, fun, and durable, but most of all, it could handle Moab or the Rubicon with ease. If Jeep wants to pander to the suburban adventurer, that’s fine. Just let the name rest in peace.
Conversely, an SUV with a legacy just as long, from a manufacturer who once, ironically, made Jeep components, has gotten new life in all the right ways.
This is the Mercedes G63 6×6, and it has come to demolish your personal property. It moves courtesy a 536 hp/560 lb-ft, twin-turbocharged V8 and six wheels. As with the truck you drew on the cover of your 2nd grade notebook, all six wheels are driven, and each of them comes wrapped in a 37 inch tire. There are five locking diffs, incredible exhaust notes, and buttons inside that allow you to deflate the tires when you need more grip.
We’re guessing it was built for one reason: to preserve the G-Wagen’s reputation. Like the Jeep, when the Gelandenvagen first debuted in 1979 it was as a military vehicle. But over the years it became more luxurious, more exclusive, and more insanely overpowered until it was in the public eye nothing more than a very powerful mall-crawler, a status symbol for athletes and DJs. Nobody seemed to be offroading the beast anymore.
So what did Mercedes do? They made a version with another axle. They made it so outlandish, so utterly ridiculous that no self-respecting rapper would ever pull up to the club in it. Their exclusivity might work against them- they’re only making 20-30 examples a year, and they’ll cost nearly a half-million dollars each, but as we can see, they’re certainly “trail-rated.”
Yes, these two SUVs are vastly different, but Chrysler could learn a thing or two from their ex, Mercedes, about keeping a name sacred. If you want to market a Cherokee, build one.
What do you think of the new Cherokee? What about the crazy G-Wagen?