The folks at Jeep have known for some time that high volume on-road models have to be part of the mix to keep low volume off-road models viable. From the 1946 Willys Station Wagon and the original Wagoneer, to the Grand Cherokee and the Compass, Jeep has been on a steady march towards the word no Wrangler owner wants to hear: “crossover”. Their plan is to replace the off-road capable Liberty and compete with the RAV4, CR-V and 20 other small crossovers with one vehicle: the 2014 Cherokee.
With two ambitious (and contradictory) missions and unconventional looks, the Cherokee has turned into one of the most polarizing cars in recent memory. It is therefore no surprise the Cherokee has been getting mixed reviews. USA Today called it “unstoppable fun” while Consumer Reports called it “half baked” with a “choppy ride and clumsy handling.” Our own Derek Kreindler came away disappointed with its on-road performance at the launch event, though he had praise for the Cherokee’s off-road capabilities. What should we make of the glowing reviews, and the equally loud dissenting voices?
In a week we will post our first full review of the all-new and all-controversial 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The new Jeep isn’t just raising eyebrows for the love-it or hate-it styling. Or the resurrection of the Cherokee badge. Or the constant delays in production. Or the transverse mounted engine. Or the lack of solid axles. None of that laundry list seems to cause as much discussion around the automotive water cooler than ZF’s 9HP 9-speed transmission. Click past the jump for a deep dive into the tranny with more speeds than my bicycle. If you don’t want to explore transmissions in detail, don’t click. You have been warned.
Mircea Gradu, who had headed Chrysler’s transmission, powertrain and driveline engineering since 2011, left the company to pursue other interests, according to a company statement released last week. Part of Gradu’s responsibilities were the development and launch of the new Jeep Cherokee’s innovative all wheel drive system that can allow the rear axle to freewheel to save fuel. That launch was delayed when 25,000 assembled Cherokees were held back from dealers while engineers recalibrated the software that controls the powertrain and then tested the vehicles. The same basic drivetrain components are planned to be used in a number of other Chrysler group vehicles, starting with the all new 2015 Chrysler 200 introduced last week at the Detroit auto show.
Chrysler announced Thursday that it will restart the second shift of workers assembling the all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee at the Toledo Assembly Complex next Monday after a week of downtime spent upgrading the software for the SUV’s powertrain. Chrysler had idled the 500 workers, it said, because it had built a sufficient number of vehicles to launch and that it didn’t want to overwhelm delivery logistics, but it was clear from the fact that none of the built Cherokees were being shipped and that some of the idled workers were conducting lengthy test drives that quality control was a factor in the shutdown. Chrysler software and drivetrain engineers have been working on patches to the engine and transmission mapping software and the company says that it has made progress on the upgrade.
There may not be a more important car launched this year than the Jeep Cherokee. A symbol of the union between Chrysler and Fiat, designed to lead Jeep’s push into the booming global crossover market, a bold new styling direction for the brand – these elements are all inextricably bound with the vehicle itself, with the Cherokee’s success in the marketplace vindicating all three. Predicting how well a vehicle will sell is always a crapshoot. I try to refrain from forming opinions of vehicles before driving them, but I couldn’t help but root for the Cherokee a little. It had sufficiently angered the Internet Product Planning division with its out-there styling, car-based platform and bold claims of off-road superiority. Charmed by the sheer gall of its contradictory mission (a CUV that can hang with true SUVs off-pavement), I wanted it to be a good vehicle on its own and succeed in the marketplace.