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2014 Jeep Cherokee's racy design stirs up social-media storm

By Paul Lienert

DETROIT (Reuters) - The 2014 Jeep Cherokee revives one of the brand's hallowed nameplates, one that dates back nearly 40 years. But the Chrysler Group's new crossover vehicle looks like it would fit better in Italian cousin Alfa Romeo's future product stable.

The latest iteration of the Cherokee, the fourth to wear that badge since 1974, makes its public debut this week at the New York International Auto Show and goes on sale at U.S. dealers in late summer.

But the racy design of the 2014 Cherokee has been stirring up a social-media storm, especially among Jeep loyalists, since Chrysler released the first official photos in late February.

"American variant of Nissan Juke, unfortunately . . . No more tough'n'rough," complained one online Jeep forum member.

Responded another: "It is sexy, looks tough and is gonna kick some butt! Thanks, Jeep, for keeping it fresh and relevant."

Chrysler executive Ralph Gilles, who heads the automaker's design department, responded simply to critics on his Twitter feed: "Time will tell."

The decision to resurrect the Cherokee name might not be so controversial if the new crossover didn't represent a radical departure from previous boxy-looking Jeep designs.

The original Cherokee, a full-size two-door companion to the Jeep Wagoneer, was built from 1974 to 1983 by American Motors.

A smaller and even more squarish-looking Cherokee was launched in 1984 by AMC, which was acquired two years later by Chrysler. After the second-generation Cherokee was retired in 2001 by Chrysler, it was replaced by the Liberty, which was sold in overseas markets as the Cherokee before it, too, was phased out last year.

The 2014 Cherokee was designed to broaden the Jeep brand's reach, both in North America and overseas.

In addition to breaking out of the traditional design box, the new Jeep sports a sloping nose whose signature seven-slot grille wraps up and into the hood, and is flanked by stacked headlamps.

It is being built in Ohio, where Chrysler is pouring $1.7 billion into its Toledo plant, parts of which date to 1910 and which once housed Jeep's original owner, Willys-Overland.

The new Cherokee is built on the same mechanical underpinnings as the Dodge Dart and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. All three use a vehicle architecture originally developed in Italy by Chrysler's corporate parent, Fiat.

The 2014 Cherokee will be the first crossover to use Chrysler's new nine-speed automatic transmission. It will offer buyers a choice of three four-wheel-drive systems and two engines, a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter four cylinder and a 271-horsepower 3.2-liter V6.

Chrysler said the four-cylinder Cherokee is expected to have an EPA highway fuel-economy rating of 31 miles per gallon.

The 2014 Cherokee will come in four versions: Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trail Hawk.

(Reporting By Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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