Design

Even The Jeep Cherokee's Designer Admits The Styling Needed Changing

That ugly frog face look is gone. No offense to Kermit.

The front-end styling of the Jeep Cherokee launched for 2014 was, shall we say, controversial. Some called it unique. Others flat-out ugly. But now it’s gone, replaced with the more conventional styling from the Grand Cherokee and Compass. And despite everything, Jeep’s design chief still believes the Cherokee’s previous look was not unattractive, and yet he told CarAdvice the SUV was “ready for a redesign.”

Full disclosure: we prefer the new styling by far, but design boss Brian Nielander also felt the time was right to move on. “I would admit it needed change,” Nielander told the publication. “You kind of have to go back and think about when we did launch the MY14, that segment was pretty much all FWD architecture. The old design justified the upright boxy Jeep styling.” His approach at the time was to move away from a traditional design in order to make a bold statement. “We knew the new platform wouldn’t feature a boxy Jeep on top,” Nielander said. “We wanted to leapfrog where everyone was going – sleeker, with a lower front profile – changing the language in that segment.

“We wanted something that would stand out, and the Cherokee couldn’t be a me-too vehicle in that segment.” Fair enough, and for all intents and purposes, it worked. The pre-refresh Cherokee sold very well, despite some initial launch difficulties, mainly with the then new nine-speed automatic transmission. Nielander and his team knew they were taking a design chance, and they deserve full credit for doing so, but he also made clear that mentality does not apply to all Jeep models, specifically the Wrangler. “We would never have done what we did on the ’14 Cherokee to the Wrangler, because it has to look like a certain way,” Nielander confirmed.

“As far as being adventurous on the styling, we think of ourselves as almost curators of the Wrangler. We have to put our own ego aside as designers. We are there to support the heritage of that vehicle.” The polarized styling applied to the Cherokee was all fine and good, but at least Nielander and other designers understand Jeep heritage where it’s needed most.

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