If you're discussing which of these vehicles best represent Jeep's entire legacy, the answer is simple...at least in my mind. Jeep's legacy is the Wrangler.
The reasons I chose the Wrangler over the Cherokee involve the body type and the history of jeeps. When thinking of past Jeeps, one of the most important vehicles ever built is the Willys.
The Willys was extremely popular in WWII, where in fact the term "Jeep" was most likely coined by military mechanics. Production of the Willys MB by the Willys-Overland Company was substantial in the war.
Willys-Overland and Ford were the two largest producers of Jeeps, and their Jeeps accounted for 18% (640,000) of all wheeled military vehicles built during WWII.
Many years have passed since WWII, and the Willys-Overland Company was bought by other brands including:
- Kaiser Motors (1953)
- American Motors Company (1970)
- Renault (invested heavily by 1979 although it did not buy out AMC)
- Chrysler (1987)
- DaimlerChrysler (1998, although jeeps were still a part of Chrysler)
- FCA US LLC (2014, Chrysler name changed to FCA)
Enter the Wrangler
When Chrysler bought out AMC in 1987, the AMC jeep in production was the CJ-7. It only took a very short time before it was replaced with the Wrangler (YJ). Although the YJ began production under Chrysler, it was an AMC-designed Jeep.
While the Wrangler is not the Willys in many ways, it certainly is the evolution of the Willys. It is a jeep true and true. It is no surprise that one of the limited edition Wranglers produced by Jeep in 2017 is called the "Willys Wheeler."
Initially sold as the Wagoneer, Jeep's Cherokee has a legacy of its own, but it just doesn't stack up to the Wrangler.
It's worth noting that the Jeep Grand Cherokee is the brand's most successful model of all time, and there's still a lot of stock put in it. The Cherokee is also the first Jeep vehicle to be built on the Fiat Compact/Compact U.S. Wide platform, developed together by Chrysler and Fiat.
The Cherokee is now in its fifth generation, specifically qualified as a "mid-sized crossover SUV." That doesn't exactly harken back to the roots of the Cherokee, and in my eyes, lessens the effect.
On top of that, there's no "Jeep wave" associated with the Cherokee (if you think there is, you're kidding yourself). That alone is earns the Wrangler points.
Jeep's legacy is caught between the Wrangler and the Cherokee. The Cherokee puts up a good fight in terms of Jeep's legacy as its evolution, the Grand Cherokee, is the most successful Jeep vehicle of all-time.
Yet, when I think of a Jeep, it is a Willys spawned Wrangler. I think most everyone else would agree.
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