The 2015 Jeep Cherokee can end up looking a lot more appealing if you get to know it first.
That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but there's something true to it -- certainly in the way that Jeep fans will end up seeing the Cherokee. To be blunt, even a year in, the design still stands as a little unexpected and awe-inducing -- and not entirely in a good way. The sharp, futuristic (and arguably cluttered) front-end design is a direct challenge to square-jawed, Jeep tradition. But even if you can't quite reconcile with the front-end appearance, there's plenty else aesthetically appealing in the Cherokee to redeem it.
On one side, the new front-end styling breaks out in a new direction, in a class that's starved for a new look. But in our eyes, the controversial look feels incomplete; in some ways it feels like a redux of the Compass, a model that blurred design lines and styling consistency in ways that were a little uncouth, a little unconvincing.
The Cherokee's wan, thin nose is the first problem. Breaking up its LED running-light eyebrows from the headlamps sounds like a clever idea for cool looks after the sun sets, but in daylight it delivers an Aztek-like effect--a tiered face that looks like it's always being woken up too early. A Jeep should look wide and awake, like it's up before reveille. The essential seven-bar grille looks thinly drawn here; what was once a point of pride for Jeep is now an effete afterthought.
Behind all that the front end promises, the Cherokee just can't seem to match its own conviction from the front fenders back. Why does it so strongly resemble a Hyundai Santa Fe from the side, or a Kia Sorento from the rear? It's washed clean of all the rectangles, but doesn't have anything new to show in those softened contours. Walk around the Cherokee a few times, and you get a sneaking suspicion that grander ideas for the rear styling were dashed in favor of focus groups or wind tunnels.
While the exterior of the Cherokee polarizes, the interior peacefully unifies. It's sporty, not at all trucklike, and finished in smooth, fine fashion.
The SUV theming is far from humorless, thank goodness. Jeep designers have penned in some great Easter eggs, like the 1941 Jeep Willys you'll find when letting the Cherokee park itself, or like the small but perfectly formed Jeep that rests at the base of the windshield, climbing over a sensor like it's a Moab boulder. You'll be happier inside looking out, than most Jeep traditionalists will be, outside, looking in.
That heady ode-to-nature stuff inside seems funny to us, since the Cherokee's cabin is wrapped up as tightly in petroleum derivatives as our retirement accounts. Jeep says the interior shapes are influenced by birds of prey, with a fluid feel. Whatever. In any case, It's a handsome look tipped into several color schemes named for--you guessed it--places like Iceland and Mount Kilimanjaro and Morocco. (We would call them "grey" and "brown" and "gold".)