Though its name suggests membership of a venerable lineage of existing off-road vehicles, the Jeep Cherokee XJ was completely new. It was a compact, and the first unibody sports utility vehicle; and it set the standard for all the SUVs that followed.
It was introduced in 1984 without special fanfare after a massive (over $215 million) design and production investment by AMC (then Jeep’s owners) in conjunction with Renault. Research and Development had got it right: 78,000 were sold in its first year, as word spread of the XJ’s superlative off-road accomplishment — and an on-road performance that could take the place of a regular car.
Narrower, lower, and shorter overall by 53 cms (21 ins) than its predecessor, the huge, four-door, truck-based, four-wheel drive Cherokee Wagoneer, the Cherokee XJ was also lighter and far easier to handle. Off-road, the XJ benefited from not one, but two four-wheel drive systems, ‘Command-Trac’ and the full-time four-wheel drive operational option of `Selec-Trac’. Just as novel, and perhaps more important, was the ‘Quadra-Link’ suspension system that proved adaptable to almost every situation.
With its clean, straight lines accentuated by strong wheel-arch flares, the Cherokee XJ had the beauty of functionalism. The cabin was upright, giving good, all-round visibility; and there were no fussy details to detract from its companionably ‘alert’ air. Automobile magazine praised it as ‘possibly the best SUV shape of all time . . . the paradigmatic model to which other designers have since aspired’. It must have been.
For all the dozens of different versions of trim, seating configuration and power train, the Cherokee XJ changed very little during its production life, in the USA or in China — and modification packages for it are still being made.
Better SUVs have been made since, but only in the potent shadow of the Cherokee XJ.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1984 (until 2001 in USA; until 2005 in China)
2.5 I (153 cid) Straight Four
Top speed of 108 mph (174 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 12.8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Enthusiasm for the Cherokee XJ ensured that it rapidly became more and more powerful. By 1987 a new 4.0 I inline six-cylinder Jeep engine known as the ‘Power-Tech Six’ could raise 177 hp, enough power to tow 5,000 lbs — or for a Jeep Cherokee XJ to sprint from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in just under 9 secs.