Jeep Cherokee

Martyn Goddard

Great designs never grow old, a truth no better confirmed than by designer Dick Teague's masterpiece, the Jeep Cherokee. Possibly the best SUV shape of all time, it is the paradigmatic model to which other designers have since aspired. Its face unmistakably says Jeep, even in the slightly overwrought face-lifts that appeared during its seventeen-year production life. The simplicity and directness of its boxy lines are perfect for what the car was-and is, as tens of thousands are still on the road-and the practicality of the shape is self-evident. Today's ubiquitous tall 4x4 station wagons all owe their existence to the Cherokee and its resounding commercial success. Without the Cherokee, there would have been no Toyota RAV-4 or Honda CR-V. Like all Jeeps of its era, the '80s Cherokee was extremely capable off-road; it was actually better in the bad stuff than on the highway. Nonetheless, it was much sought after as a particularly handsome urban vehicle when a striking all-black-with-gold-stripe livery transformed it from truck to limousine in the eyes of countless suburban owners. Renault owned American Motors when the Cherokee was developed, and starting in 1985, its own 2.1-liter diesel engine was an option. So equipped, the Cherokee sold extremely well outside the States, which was unusual for an American vehicle. Initially available with a General Motors 2.8-liter V-6 and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine derived from an AMC in-line six designed by Franois Castaing (the brilliant Renault engineer who introduced turbochargers to Formula 1), the Cherokee eventually had a 190-hp, 4.0-liter straight six. Its successor, the rounder, "cute-ute" Liberty, has never captured the Cherokee's market share, despite being roomier, smoother riding, and just as capable off-road. Better styling equals better sales; it's a lesson DaimlerChrysler should take to heart.

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