Alden, Iowa, United States
When we look back at some of the more shocking product launches of recent yeras, the Jeep Cherokee is certainly high up on the list. And we aren't just talking about its off-the-wall, polarizing design.
For starters, it brought back the iconic Cherokee nameplate - something Jeep enthusiasts have coveted for ages. But beyond that, it brought a new evolution for the Jeep brand. After all, the Cherokee is car-based - using the same compact platform that underpins the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200. It has a greater focus on technology and refinement than ever before, in an effort to appeal to a new crop of Jeep customers. And powering it all is a new (optional) V6 engine paired with an equally new nine-speed automatic transmission.
Can the Cherokee's car-based roots still allow for a vehicle that's superb when the going gets tough? Will its design still be a love/hate affair in one year's time, or will it start to blend in? Is the powertrain strong enough to not only support the needs of daily driving and road trips, but blaze a few trails as well? We're aiming to answer all these questions, and more, over the next 12 months. Welcome to the Autoblog long-term garage, Cherokee.
The 2014 North American International Auto Show is right around the corner, which means it's high time we found out which cars and trucks would be finalists for the prestigious North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year awards.
The finalists - three in cars and three in three trucks/utilities - are dominated by American brands, with two-thirds of the finalists hailing from either General Motors or Chrysler (don't worry Ford, there's always next year), while outliers from Mazda and Acura can be found in each contest. Here now is the list of finalists for the big prizes:
2014 North American Car of the Year:
Offering a diesel engine in an American pickup is anything but new - Ford, General Motors and Chrysler all offer excellent and almost impossibly powerful oil-burning engines in their various fullsize trucks. What is new and novel about the 3.0L EcoDiesel, though, is its size, and the variety of vehicles that use it. It's the smallest engine, as far as displacement is concerned, currently offered in a large truck in the US, and, for 2014 and 2015, it is available in the Ram 1500 and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Though it may be small, it's got muscle. While 240 horsepower isn't particularly impressive these days, the engine's 420 pound-feet of torque more than makes up for that. The torque rating is even greater force than even the big 5.7-liter Hemi can muster. Chrysler's well-regarded eight-speed automatic transmission makes the most of all that bull-headed pulling power in both the Ram and Grand Cherokee. Chrysler claims the Ram EcoDiesel 1500 can tow as much as 9,200 pounds when properly equipped, which makes it "90-percent of the Hemi with a night and day difference in fuel economy."
Make no mistake; it's that promise of a sizable fuel economy improvement that many long-haul truckers will be most interested in. In the Ram 1500 that we tested for our Tech of the Year competition, the diesel engine costs $2,850 more than the gas-fed V8, and Ram estimates that EcoDiesel buyers will pay off their investment when compared to the Hemi engine in less than three years, which is considerably less time than the 4.5 or so years the average buyer will keep his or her fullsize pickup. The more you drive, the more you'll save, and the math proves equally as effective in the Jeep Grand Cherokee.