After more than a decade, the Jeep Liberty has announced its retirement and appointed its predecessor its successor. The new 2014 Jeep Cherokee trades the hard-lined edge of the XJ for a more consumer-friendly small-crossover design. Jeep promises that it offers plenty of capability for those that want it but in a more refined, practical package than ever before.

To Cherokee, or not to Cherokee

When we first flashed a glimpse at the new Cherokee, the feedback was overwhelmingly negative. Nicer commenters opined that it wasn't really a proper Cherokee, while less-kind souls went so far as to call it "Pontiac Aztec-like" in terms of failed designs. It's fair to say that there was some objection to this being a new Jeep, let alone a new Cherokee.

Jeep Chief Designer Mark Allen recognizes the early negativity and does about all he can with it: spins it into a positive.

"I get the sensitivity; I have one of those [Jeep Cherokee XJs] and I love it, I understand it," Allen told us. "But it's no longer a modern vehicle. The Cherokee is a name that we own, we're very proud of that. I'm glad we called this Cherokee; there was a lot of internal debate, should we or not, and I'm glad we did. Really what that [negative reaction] is is passion for our vehicles."

"Give this thing a chance," Allen implored Jeep fans and car buyers, explaining that even the iconic XJ had a fair share of detractors when it lost some of the box look during its 1996 facelift. While the new design may look softer than XJ lovers would like, the curvier build adds aerodynamics and efficiency.

Heritage redefined

Unlike during last month's teaser, Jeep has provided the information that folks will need to give the Cherokee revival a chance – or further detest it and write it off completely, as the case may be. The manufacturer is certainly mindful of the fact that the new design could create an uproar with Jeep traditionalists, and it has done its best to steep the new model in heritage while creating a modern look.

"It's not a box. We weren't going to build a box," Allen said. "It's a much faster, windswept vehicle, much more aerodynamically efficient."

The design takes on a much newer and more modern interpretation of Jeep. The grille and hood are a single piece, "ensuring a precise build" in Jeep vernacular. The lights are broken up into three pieces, helping Jeep eliminate the corner of the vehicle and create a smoother, more windswept front-end. Similarly, the raked windshield keeps air flowing easy.

Though the overall look is all new, a number of elements have been injected with a dose of Jeep DNA. Even the new Cherokee's most renegade feature – the creased grille – carries tradition. All Jeep fanatics will recognize the seven slots, but the crease (or "horizontal snap," as Jeep refers to it) is also a throwback to older Cherokees, which featured a crease in their grilles, albeit a much subtler line. Allen said that the trapezoidal wheel arches turn the playbook back even further – all the way back to the original 1941 Willys Jeeps.

Get down and dirty

Unlike modern-era crossovers, the original Jeep Cherokee had a reputation for off-road competence and performance. And just because the new Cherokee looks like a modern-era crossover, doesn't mean it cedes over all that performance. Jeep wants the Cherokee to appeal to the Little League-chauffeuring, mall-cruising mom crowd that's driving the crossover market but remain relevant to the dust-chucking Moab weekend set that embraced the original.

The 2014 Cherokee may share the Fiat Group's Compact U.S. Wide architecture with the likes of the Dodge Dart, but it received upgrades based around off-road capability. It employs an aggressive stance, rugged lower body protection, and aggressive approach and departure angles that set it up for off-road success.

The 2014 Cherokee comes out of the gate with a trail-rated Trailhawk package option. The Trailhawk turns up the off-road performance with a one-inch (2.5-cm) factory lift (to 8.7 inches/22 cm), skid plates, signature red tow hooks, and Jeep Active Drive Lock 4x4 with locking rear differential. The differential lock works automatically in some modes, such as "Rock," and is available to the driver in any low-range terrain mode.

Stay clean

Jeep made sure not to abandon off-roaders, but it recognizes that many Cherokee owners will never leave the pavement. In today's crossover market, the Cherokee has to work well on the street. In addition to the Trailhawk package, Jeep offers three road-oriented packages: Latitude, Limited and Sport.

The 2014 Cherokee has plenty of benefits for road-only drivers, in addition to off-roadies. Those benefits start with the one that's foremost on most drivers' minds: fuel economy. With the 184-hp 2.4-liter Tigershark Multi-Air 2 I-4 engine and standard-across-all-models nine-speed automatic transmission, the 2014 Cherokee offers a 45 percent fuel economy increase over the outgoing Liberty – up to an estimated 31 mpg (7.6 l/100km) highway and 500 miles (805 km) of range per tank. The I-4 puts out 171 lb-ft (232 Nm) of torque.

Those looking for more power and torque can opt for the new 3.2-liter Pentastar V6, which puts out 271-hp and 239 lb-ft (324 Nm) of torque and tows up to 4,500 pounds (2,040 kg).

Those engines can send power to two or four wheels through a 4x2 option or one of three 4x4 options. The Active Drive I 4x4 system has an automatic power transfer unit that requires no driver input and seamlessly transfers in and out of 4WD. The Active Drive II doesn't include a locking differential, like the Active Drive Lock, but it does share other attributes, including a two-speed PTU with torque management and low range and a 2.92:1 gear reduction. The Cherokee's rear-axle disconnect decreases energy loss and improves fuel economy when 4x4 is not needed. Select-Terrain traction control tweaks vehicle settings to five different modes: Auto, Snow, Sport Sand/Mud and Rock.

The new electronic power steering system contributes to the Cherokee's fuel economy, and a chassis with MacPherson front independent suspension and a new rear independent multi-link provides for a smooth, quiet ride and sure handling.

The Cherokee's more than 70 available safety and security features include ParkSense Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus, Forward Collision Warning-Plus, and Lane Departure Warning-Plus, all new to the Chrysler family; 9-1-1 assist call; electronic stability control; blind-spot monitoring; rear cross path detection; and ParkView rear backup camera. The radar- and video-based Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus system can bring the car to a stop on its own if necessary, and the camera-based Lane Departure Warning-Plus system delivers a jolt of torque to the steering system to warn of unintended lane drifts.

Moving on to the little luxuries, Jeep offers two open-air options in addition to the standard hard top. An interesting option available to Cherokee buyers is the all-new Sky Slider full-length soft canvas roof. A more traditional glass sunroof is the other option.

Step inside

Jeep worked to design a driver-focused interior with influence from around the world. It provides a comfortable feel with premium-touch materials on places where the occupants contact the vehicle – armrests, door uppers, etc. The seats are trimmed in cloth or Nappa leather and available with heating, ventilation and power adjustment.

The Cherokee comes standard with a 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and an 8.4-inch touchscreen system is available as an option. The 8.4-inch system offers Chrysler Uconnect Access infotainment, which can be controlled through the touchscreen, physical controls on the center stack, or voice command. Uconnect Access includes apps like Pandora and iHeartRadio, Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM Radio, and voice-to-text messaging.

The digital instrument cluster is driver configurable and includes an off-road configuration. Other information available on the cluster includes turn-by-turn navigation, speed, real-time fuel economy, safety and audio information.

In terms of cargo, the Cherokee is equipped with what Jeep terms a Cargo Management System, which includes a universal module rack in the rear cargo area. The 60/40 split-folding second row seats adjust forward and backward for comfort and cargo space. The front passenger seat folds flat and includes an in-seat storage compartment. Cherokee accessories to be available from Mopar include a Trailhawk off-road kit with tow rope and other accessories, a cargo bin, a folding cooler and a first aid/emergency kit.

Rolling forward

Jeep introduced the 2014 Cherokee at the New York International Auto Show and also brought a Trailhawk to the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, along with a half-dozen new concepts. Cherokee production will start later this year at Chrysler's Toledo, Ohio Assembly Plant. Deliveries will begin in the third quarter and pricing has yet to be announced.

For those worried that the "small crossover treatment" might migrate from the Cherokee to the Wrangler, Jeep reassured NY goers several times that the Wrangler will continue to be the Wrangler.

If Jeep's words and photos don't convince you that the new Cherokee is as rugged and off-road-ready as ever, perhaps the POV video below will do it.

Source: Chrysler