2014 Jeep Cherokee evokes shock, little awe

If there's a valuable design lesson to be learned from the Nissan Juke and Pontiac Aztek, it's that dual headlights rarely work. And Jeep adopted that look not just on any name plate, but on an all-new Cherokee — a classic brand with a loyal following for its utilitarian, no-nonsense style despite its absence from production since 2001.

Not surprisingly, reactions to its dramatic resurrection, which has been called "contemporary" by Chrysler/Jeep design chief Ralph Gilles, have been brutal, especially in social media.

"God-awful ugly, and a complete disgrace to its forefather... shame on Chrysler," lamented one twitter user.

"Looks like a dinosaur," quipped another.

Earlier this month, frontal shots of the Cherokee were released by Chrysler following leaked photos from the factory. Its official unveiling today at the 2013 New York Auto Show hasn't dulled any of the seething vitriol directed toward the SUV, which is being positioned more as a crossover than a rugged ute to traverse the Yukon. But the Cherokee hasn't completely strayed from its off-roading roots; the Trailhawk trim features a rear locking differential, skid plates, and a ground clearance of 8.7 inches.

The Cherokee's also more technologically advanced than its predecessor, with a rear-axle that can disconnect when its 4x4 capacity isn't being used, contributing to improved fuel economy of up to 31 highway mpg. The base model's 2.4-liter, 184-horsepower engine is 45 percent more fuel efficient than the outgoing Liberty, and the 271 hp, 3.2-liter V-6 touts a best-in-class towing capacity of 4,500 lbs. Plus, its 9-speed automatic transmission is a first on an SUV.

But those advancements have fallen largely on deaf ears, with the focus staying on its futuristic proboscis and high-waist rear. It's even already included in some ugliest cars lists before the hitting showroom floor. Although Jeep is targeting CUV volume sellers such as the Honda CR-V, the Cherokee faces an uphill climb when it arrives in dealers this fall given the competition in the segment, and the initial reactions to the revived badge.

"Time will tell," said Gilles in defense of the Cherokee. Unfortunately, that time may be now.

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