1984-2001 Jeep Cherokee

November 11th, 2006 by William

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When I started the Fun and Affordable Cars section of this blog I initially intended to profile sports cars, sports sedans and wagons, but after a little thought I decided to include a few truck/4×4 type vehicles because hey, they can be fun and affordable too. And that brings me to the Jeep Cherokee.

In 1984 Jeep did a major redesign of its tried and true Cherokee. With more modern skin, an up to date interior and smaller over all dimensions than its predecessor, many true 4×4 enthusiasts cast doubt on the new Jeep. But the Cherokee proved everyone wrong by being one of the most capable out-of-the box four wheel drives available at the time. The overall design of the new Cherokee, designated XJ, proved so good that it was left in production until 2001.

Part of what made the XJ such a capable vehicle was its suspension. The new Cherokee featured live axles with coil springs and a multi-link setup to locate the axles. This made the jeep very flexible off road and still yielded a fairly decent ride on road, especially compared to other leaf sprung vehicles. The Cherokee also offered a good variety of drive train options throughout its run. Starting out with a humble 4 cylinder and V6 as engine choices the Cherokee received a 4.0 fuel injected inline 6 cylinder starting in 1987. This motor was based on the old Jeep 258 six and proved to be both powerful and reliable. Numerous transmissions were also available including a 4 speed manual in the early days, a 3 speed automatic, a 4 speed automatic, and a 5 speed manual box. Taking care of the four wheel drive duties were both the Command-Trac and Selec-Trac systems. Command-Trac was a part time unit that allowed the driver to engage four wheel drive on the fly. Selec-Trac gave the option of full time engagement in four wheel drive.

The biggest downside of the ‘84-’01 Cherokees is their electrical system. They are very prone to electrical failures from engine sensors to power windows. And with many of the components on these Jeeps being electronically operated there are a lot of places for a failure to occur. My recommendation would be to find a Cherokee with as many manually operated components (locks, windows, etc.) as possible to avoid lurking electrical gremlins.
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Photo courtesy of JP Magazine
On snow and ice these Cherokees have performed superb; they have also proven their worth in the dirt and rocks. Nowadays there is even a special off-road racing series for the venerable Cherokee called JeepSpeed. The best part is you can score a XJ series Cherokee for dirt cheap.

A total project could probably be had for free. If you want to put in a little elbow grease it is not unheard of to get a driver for around $1500. A really nice late model Cherokee might go as high as $6500. I would recommend buying the newest car you can find, as these Cherokees definitely got better as they developed. I would also try and get a vehicle with 4.0 liter six as it seems to be the most powerful and trouble free engine available in the Cherokee. No matter what you end up with, it will probably be a bargain. Whether you’re a poor ski-bum in need of mountain transportation or bored off-roader looking for a cheap toy to thrash around in the dirt, the Cherokee is the perfect 4×4 for the budget minded enthusiast.
-Bill Mertz

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About William

I am a twenty something car enthusiast. I spend most of my days working in a small restoration shop in Northern California that specializes in vintage Alfa Romeos. I also manage to do some freelance writing for a handful of automotive publications. When I'm not at the shop I can usually be found working on one of my own project cars, out driving on a good windy road or good jeep trail. Despite what my girlfriend says cars aren't what defines me, they are only what I do. When I have a chance I also love to go camping, play sports or generally do any type of outdoor activity. I don't take myself to seriously, so I hope you don't either.