2014 Jeep Cherokee debuts with controversial design, automatic parking

NEW YORK--Trust me on this: the 2014 Jeep Cherokee doesn't look as bad in person as it did in the early photos that were leaked/released before the 2013 New York International Auto Show.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Smaller than it looks

The Cherokee's controversial design actually has scale working in its favor. The new model is a replacement for the Jeep Liberty and is sized to compete with the Ford Escape and Range Rover Evoque. This is significantly smaller than the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
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Better looking, but still ugly

Sure, it's better looking than I thought it would be, and it wears its proportions well, but I still think that the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is pretty ugly. With no fewer than six distinct forward lighting elements and a vertical-bar grill that wraps over the SUV's nose, the front end is just too cluttered for my taste.

The automaker tells us that the new Cherokee is more aerodynamic than previous Cherokee and Liberty models.

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Rear end

The rear end is a bit better looking, with high-mounted LED taillamps and reflectors embedded in the contrasting lower bumper. Simpler design, in this case, is more effective.
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ParkSense Park Assist System

Jeep emphasized that this new Cherokee is more comfortable and more refined than previous models. To this end, it is offering the Cherokee with some advanced driver aid technology, such as the brand's (and the Chrysler Group's) first use of the ParkSense Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist System (which even Mike Manley, president and CEO of Jeep, thought was a bit difficult to say). This system automatically steers the Jeep into a parking space using sonar sensors, while the driver handles the accelerator and braking.
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Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

The Cherokee may be more refined and comfortable, but Jeep wants to offer a model with the sort of off-road performance that fans of the brand expect. The Cherokee Trailhawk differentiates itself from the Limited with a ride height that is an inch taller, unique front and rear fascias that give room for more severe approach and descent angles, and the top tier of the Cherokee's three available all-wheel drive systems.
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Rear axle disconnect

The Cherokee is available with three different all-wheel drive systems. All three systems feature a rear-axle disconnect that automatically transforms the Jeep into a front-wheel drive vehicle when additional traction is not needed, resulting in increased fuel efficiency.
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Active Drive I and II

Jeep Active Drive I is the most basic 4x4 system that features a single power-transfer unit without any driver intervention. Active Drive II upgrades the power-transfer unit with torque management and a low-range 4LO for crawling or towing.
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Active Drive Lock

Active Drive Lock is the top-tier 4x4 system featured on the Trailhawk, which adds a locking differential for the best low-speed torque distribution for rock-crawling and severe conditions. Jeep boasts that the 56:1 crawl ratio is 90 percent lower than that of the outgoing Liberty.
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Select Terrain settings

Jeep's Select Terrain settings allows drivers to adjust the 4x4 system with a twist of a knob.
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Nine-speed automatic transmission

The Cherokee is available with a standard nine-speed automatic transmission that is mated to one of two engine options. The first is a 3.2-liter V6 that outputs 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque. Compared to the Liberty V6 that it replaces, fuel economy is up by 30 percent.
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2.4-liter Multiair four-cylinder

The 2.4-liter "Tiger Shark" four-cylinder engine uses Multiair technology borrowed from the Fiat Group and is the most fuel efficient engine offered in the new Cherokee. With up to 31 mpg on the highway, it boasts a 45 percent increase in gas mileage. Power is stated at 184 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.
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Cabin comfort

Going hand in hand with the exterior refinements, Jeep has also improved the interior of the Cherokee, boasting high-quality materials, improved noise reduction, and a handsome design. Don't expect Range Rover Evoque levels of luxury here, but the new Cherokee's cabin is of similar quality to the Ford Escape and its ilk.
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LCD instrument cluster

The instrument cluster makes use of a 7-inch LCD that is customizable to display as much or as little information as the driver wants. Here you'll find turn-by-turn directions, fuel economy, audio source info, and Select Terrain settings.
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UConnect infotainment

The 8.4-inch UConnect system's touch screen is the hub for the Jeep's infotainment. Here (and via voice command) users will be able to interact with navigation, local audio sources, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and streaming audio sources such as Pandora and Slacker. Outputting all of this audio is an available premium sound system with nine speakers and a subwoofer.

Smartphones and digital audio sources can connect via either Bluetooth or USB, and wireless, inductive charging is available for devices that support the technology.

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Best Cherokee ever?

Jeep claims that the new Cherokee is better than the outgoing Liberty by nearly every measurable metric. It also claims that it is more capable off-road than the 2001 Cherokee with which it shares a name -- not that it'd be too hard to best a 12-plus-year-old vehicle.
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2013 availability

The Jeep Cherokee Limited and Trailhawk will start hitting dealerships in Q3 2013 alongside the Cherokee Sport and Latitude models.
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