Designer Says Crazy Looking 2014 Jeep Cherokee Is 'Very Contemporary'

Illustration for article titled Designer Says Crazy Looking 2014 Jeep Cherokee Is 'Very Contemporary'

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee debuted last week to some very mixed reviews. And by "very mixed," I mean mostly negative. Chrysler Group VP of Design Ralph Gilles has now spoken out about the new car, and he says it's "very contemporary."


In an interview with an automotive website, Gilles said "it’s also going to be seen as very current in the way that Jeep has evolved its aesthetic to a very contemporary place. That was very much a purpose for us."

So the aesthetic of the Cherokee is also the aesthetic of Jeep. And y'know what? Looking at the new Cherokee and the latest refresh to the Grand Cherokee, I can see what he means. The cars don't necessarily look alike, but they both have a very modern look, something that Jeeps have never really had.

For his part, Gilles was expecting the design to be polarizing. I wonder if he expected it to be this polarizing? I almost doubt it.

We'll see the car in person at next month's New York Auto Show.



Ultimately, here's my issue with this -

When BMW out the E65, the first car released under the styling direction of Chris Bangle, it proved that Chris Bangle was a smart man. His designs were very polarizing, and he knew that. That was his goal; he wanted people to argue and express opinions about it. Whether they liked it, hated it, or just didn't give a rat's ass (or, in this instance, a bangle butt), they were still talking about it. To Chris Bangle, that's what good design was about - inspiring talk and feeling and reaction. For the most part, I'm inclined to agree with him.

But Chris Bangle also had an advantage up his sleeve with BMW: BMW is not retro, either in philosophy or in style. BMW has always focused on advancing design, both mechanical and aesthetic. BMW also has a reputation for putting out solid, high-quality luxury vehicles. As such, people expected the then-next-generation of BMWs to be something that advanced the envelope. They certainly got that and more, and because of BMWs reputation for putting out high-quality luxury vehicles, that avant-garde and polarizing style became a luxury unto itself.

For much the same reason that royalty back in the day wore outrageous, impractical, and sometimes downright ugly clothes, the Bangle-era BMWs were huge successes. Quite simply, differntiation from non-owners was a luxury.

And now, if Ralph Gilles is to be believed here, Jeep is trying for the same thing. Unfortunately for Jeep, I don't they will succeed. They simply don't have the right formula that Chris Bangle had at BMW. Jeep is not consistently known for putting out luxurious, high-quality vehicles; neither is their once-parent company Chrysler. And quite frankly, even their new owners aren't always known for putting out world-class, high quality luxury vehicles on a consistent bases. In fact, as much as I love Grand Cherokees, they have something of a reputation as being unreliable vehicles.

Furthermore, Jeep does not sell itself on a reputation for advancing design and engineering. They sell themselves on a reputation of "Vague, essentially apocryphal connections to kicking Nazi ass in WWII! 'Muricah, fuck yeah!" Jeep depends on its heritage, no matter how far removed it is from that heritage these days, as that heritage is the only thing that ties its vehicles to its image. Its heritage, and little else, is what sells its vehicles. In fact, it's dependence has become so ubiquitous as to be essentially expected of them; to deviate from it is to court disaster (see: Jeep Compass). Every time they've tried to deviate, they've failed.

And now Ralph Gilles wants to come and tell me that this latest Cherokee is an intentional deviation with the purpose of giving Jeep a contemporary image?

You know what, I'll actually buy that. But that's not necessarily a good thing for Ralph Gilles or Jeep. In fact, it's a bad thing. The fact that I'll buy that assertion implies that I think that Ralph Gilles and the other heads at Jeep are actually stupid enough to try doing that with the utmost sincerity and seriousness, despite the prior failures that are staring them in the face. It means that they are stupid enough to entirely misunderstand the brand that they are managing and the image that it has (quite successfully) cultivated for itself over several decades.

I like Ralph Gilles, but at this point, I can only draw one of two conclusions: He's either talking out of his ass trying to put any positive spin he can on a notable design fail, or he's too clueless to realize the fact that he might have struck out with this one.