AUBURN HILLS, MI – Chrysler adds to its award-winning Pentastar engine family a new 3.2L V-6 debuting in the Jeep Cherokee this week at the New York auto show.

The auto maker had been applying its 3.6L Pentastar V-6, a three-time Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner, widely, but instead develops a smaller engine that produces 271 hp and 239 lb.-ft. (324 Nm) of torque.

The goal, engineers tell WardsAuto at a backgrounder at the auto maker’s headquarters here, is to offer a fuel-efficient powertrain that can support rugged driving conditions.

Employing a V-6 is notable as auto makers begin to shy away from bigger engines in midsize SUVs. New versions of the Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota RAV4 all dropped V-6 options for their refreshes.

“One of the keys to our performance capability is there are people out there who want an SUV to go off-road,” says Chris Barman, chief engineer for the Cherokee. “People want to go camping, people want to go off-road.”

Engineers say the 3.2L Pentastar, developed in Auburn Hills, gets 30% better fuel economy than the previous-generation 3.7L used in the outgoing Liberty. Specific fuel numbers have not been released.

Through its partnership with Fiat, the Cherokee also has a 4-cyl. engine option with the 2.4L Multi-Air Tigershark, currently used in the Dodge Dart GT. The auto maker chose not to use the 2.4L World Gas Engine used in the Compass and Patriot as those models and engines phase out.

In the Cherokee, the 2.4L Tigershark makes 184 hp and 171 lb.-ft. (232 Nm) of torque and gets an estimated 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) highway.

Both engines pair with a ZF-designed 9-speed transmission, which engineers developed hastily to bring to market. “From the concept to standpoint to production, it’s about a 30-month process. It’s aggressive,” says Ed Perosky, director-automatic transmissions.

The 2.4L engine is built at the auto maker’s Dundee, MI, plant while the 3.2L mill is built at Trenton, MI.

afoley@wardsauto.com