Jeep Cherokee XJ Specs and Review: A Comprehensive Guide

jeep cherokee xj specs and review

Are you considering buying a used Jeep Cherokee XJ? Trying to decide if this iconic 4×4 is the right fit for your needs? In this comprehensive 3000+ word buyer’s guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the Cherokee XJ’s history, performance, capability, and what to look for when buying one.

The Jeep Cherokee XJ delivers an impressive blend of on-road comfort and serious off-road capability. Introduced in 1984 as a redesign of the SJ Cherokee, the XJ generation cemented itself as one of the most popular and capable SUVs of all time. Even decades after the last Cherokee rolled off the line in 2001, demand and aftermarket support remain strong.

For outdoor adventurers, overlanders, off-road enthusiasts and anyone seeking an affordable, durable, and proven 4×4, the Cherokee XJ is a top choice. Read on as we cover this legendary SUV from all angles and help you determine if it’s the right rig for your needs.

A Brief History of the Cherokee XJ

The Cherokee nameplate stretches back to 1974 when Jeep introduced the SJ Cherokee to replace the Jeepster Commando. The SJ introduced unibody construction to improve on-road comfort while retaining the off-road talents expected of a Jeep. These earliest Cherokees were only available in a 2-door version at first, with a 4-door option following in 1977.

While successful, the SJ Cherokee was still truck-like in both comfort and handling. Looking to expand their lineup of daily-driver friendly SUVs, Jeep launched the all-new XJ Cherokee generation for 1984.

The Origins and Evolution of the Cherokee Name

The 1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ represented a major leap forward in refinement, comfort, and broad appeal while still delivering serious off-road chops.

Some key changes and improvements included:

  • Unibody construction for increased structural rigidity and on-road comfort
  • Lower, wider, and more aerodynamic stance compared to the SJ
  • Softer suspension tuning and greater noise insulation for a quieter ride
  • More interior space thanks to larger footprint and flush glass
  • Introduced Jeep’s iconic 4.0L straight-6 engine, derived from the AMC 258 inline-6
  • Available in comfortable, well-equipped Limited and Laredo trims beyond base and Sport models

The Cherokee XJ received a number of updates and variant models throughout its lengthy production run from 1984 to 2001. By the end, it bore little resemblance to the boxy, basic 1984 model. Let’s take a closer look at each generation and the Cherokee’s evolution.

How the XJ Differed from Previous Cherokees

The XJ represented a major evolutionary step beyond preceding SJ Cherokee models. While off-road performance remained competitive, the priorities shifted to better on-road drivability, comfort, efficiency, and appeal to casual SUV buyers beyond hardcore off-roaders.

Some of the key differences included:

  • Unibody construction – The SJ used traditional body-on-frame construction. Unibody added stiffness for better handling and ride comfort. But it limited lift height compared to bof.
  • Aerodynamics – The XJ adopted a lower, wider stance and more rounded profile to cut through the air compared to the narrow, upright SJ. This improved efficiency and wind noise.
  • Comfort and interior space – Flush side glass, a lower beltline, and wider footprint increased interior roominess. Plusher trim and added sound deadening delivered greater comfort, especially on road.
  • Engines – A range of new engines replaced old AMC/Jeep mills, headlined by Jeep’s new 4.0L straight-6. This torquey, efficient, and durable engine is almost synonymous with the Cherokee XJ itself.
  • DRIVEABILITY – Revised suspension, steering, and comfort touches made the XJ much more cooperative for daily driving, school runs, and commuting.

While arguably less rugged than the SJ, the Cherokee XJ proved you could still tackle tough trails and drive comfortably all week. This balance between off-road talent and on-road manners makes the XJ such a sought-after classic 4×4 today. Now let’s take a closer look at the different generations.

Overview of Cherokee XJ Generations and Models

The Cherokee XJ spanned two generations across a remarkable 17 year production run. Along the way, Jeep offered various special editions and model variants. Here’s a quick look at each generation and the major models offered:

First Generation Cherokee XJ (1984-1996)

The first XJs rolled off the line for the 1984 model year and proved instantly popular. This generation Cherokee was offered in 2- and 4-door versions on a unibody chassis shared with the Jeep Wagoneer.

Four trim levels were offered:

  • Base – Vinyl seats, manual windows, basic radio. As stripper as Cherokees came.
  • Sport – Added nicer materials and features like power locks/windows, aluminum wheels, roof rack. Most popular trim.
  • Pioneer – A more luxurious take on the Sport with additional exterior trim and two-tone paint schemes.
  • Limited – Top-spec model with leather seats, premium sound, and maximum gadgets.

Buyers could choose between rugged part-time 4WD systems like Command-Trac and Selec-Trac or opt for rear-wheel-drive only. Engine choices included a 2.5L 4-cylinder, 2.8L V6, and the 4.0L fuel-injected straight-6. By 1987, the venerable 4.0L was the sole remaining engine choice and proved a perfect match for the Cherokee.

This generation Cherokee delivered excellent off-road performance thanks to generous suspension travel, low-range gearing, and available locking differentials. A driver-side airbag became standard in 1994. The first-gen XJ Cherokee enjoyed strong popularity before a major redesign for 1997.

Second Generation Cherokee XJ (1997-2001)

In 1997 Jeep rolled out an extensively updated Cherokee with modernized styling and features. The new rounder, more aerodynamic bodywork helped improve efficiency and noise. Only 4-door models remained as the 2-door Cherokee was dropped.

The trim lineup was also simplified:

  • Sport – Offered the most rugged appeal and capability
  • Classic – A step up with nicer interior appointments
  • Limited – Top-line luxury model as before

Under the hood, the venerable 4.0L straight-6 carried over unchanged while a new diesel option arrived later in production. The old 3-speed automatic transmission was swapped for a smoother, more modern 4-speed auto.

This second-gen XJ debuted important safety advances including front side airbags and optional ABS brakes. The stout Dana 35 front axle now featured more durable CV-style shafts. A driver-side airbag became standard in 1998.

2001 marked the final model year for the Cherokee as more stringent emissions and safety requirements loomed. Limited production of 2001 models continued into early 2002 until the Toledo Assembly Plant finally shut down in June 2001. After an incredible 17 year run, the XJ Cherokee took its place among the all-time great SUVs.

Notable Special Editions

In addition to the main Sport, Classic and Limited models, Jeep offered several interesting special editions and packages:

  • Columbia Edition – Based on the Sport, this outdoorsy variant arrived in 2001 replacing the Sport. It added unique fender flares, tow hooks, and two-tone paint with light khaki lower bodywork.
  • 60th Anniversary Edition – Celebrated Jeep’s 60th anniversary in 2001. Just 3,041 examples were built, all in a distinctive Bright Cactus Green.
  • Briarwood Edition – Luxury-themed 1995-1996 model with two-tone paint, gold accents, alloy wheels, and special interior trim.
  • Trekker – A 1991 package offered on Pioneer models that included a roof rack, special decals and trim, and Kenwood premium sound.

Beyond the factory models, countless XJs have been customized over the years with lift kits, wheel/tire upgrades, skid plates, bumpers and more. The strong aftermarket support is a key reason the XJ remains so popular long after the end of production.

Cherokee XJ Exterior and Interior Overview

Now that we’ve covered the history and main models, let’s dive into the iconic styling and functional interior that make the Cherokee XJ stand out.

Exterior Styling and Dimensions

The Cherokee XJ cuts a boxy, purposeful profile compared to more rounded SUVs of its era like the Ford Explorer or Toyota 4Runner. With its flat edges, near vertical grille and glass, and truncated rear, the Cherokee prizes function over form.

This utilitarian shape pays dividends off-road by allowing great approach, departure, and breakover clearance angles. The slab-sided design also resists dents, dings, and damage compared to curvier sheet metal.

Here are the key exterior dimensions:

  • Length ranged from 173″ (1984-1990 2-doors) to 183″ for ’97-01 models
  • Width of 67″ to 70″ depending on generation and mirrors
  • Height from 64″ to 67″
  • Wheelbase: 101.4″ to 105.5″

The XJ casts a wider, lower presence than old SJ Cherokees, enhancing stability and interior space. Overall ground clearance measured 8.3 inches from the factory. Later second-gen models gained slightly rounded lower body cladding for a touch more style.

Speaking of style, the XJ Cherokee sported a wide palette of color options over its lengthy run. Popular shades include:

  • Bright Red
  • Dark Green (Fern or Pine)
  • Light Khaki
  • Gray
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White/Sliver

…plus various special edition two-tone combos. What’s your favorite XJ color? Many owners install heavy duty bumpers, fender flares, lights, and lift kits to personalize and protect their Cherokees for off-road duty.

Interior Comfort, Ergonomics and Cargo Capacity

Step inside the Cherokee and you are greeted with a straightforward, functional layout prioritizing utility over luxury. The boxy exterior translates to an expansive, roomy cabin with space for 5 adults. Front seats deliver impressive comfort for long days behind the wheel.

Some interior features include:

  • Simple, legible gauges and chunky controls
  • Large greenhouse provides excellent outward visibility
  • Fold-flat rear seats enhance versatility and cargo capacity
  • Durable vinyl and cloth upholstery holds up to muddy boots
  • Ample small item storage in a center console and glovebox

The Cherokee XJ makes quick work of bulky cargo thanks to its square layout and folding rear seats. With rear seats folded flat, available cargo volume measured:

  • 69.2 cu-ft (1984-1990)
  • 83 cu-ft (1997-2001)

The Cherokee won’t haul sheets of plywood as easily as a true cargo van, but its do-anything design swallows most anything an active family or intrepid adventure seeker can throw at it. Simple controls and displays put every feature within easy reach – no digging through menus on a touchscreen here!

Cherokee XJ Performance and Off-Road Capability

The Cherokee XJ delivered a choice of capable engines across its production run including frugal 4-cylinders, smooth V6s, and the famed bulletproof 4.0L straight-6. Drivetrain offerings included RWD or 4WD paired to manual or automatic gearboxes. Here’s an overview of the hardware that gives this SUV such impressive on- and off-road performance.

Available Engines and Transmissions

Several engine options powered Cherokee XJs over the years:

  • 2.5L AMC 150 I4 – Producing 105 to 117 hp. Only offered early in the XJ run. Known for blown head gaskets.
  • 2.8L AMC V6 – Small but reliable V6 producing 115 to 130 hp. Discontinued after 1987.
  • 2.1L Renault I4 diesel – Rare option sold mainly overseas. Underpowered for the Cherokee.
  • 4.0L AMC Straight-6 – Legendary 242 ci high-output 4.0L introduced in 1987. Reliable, torquey, and plenty powerful.

By 1991, the smooth and sturdy Jeep 4.0L straight-6 was sold exclusively in the Cherokee through the end of production. Rated at 190 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque, it provides ample grunt for the brick-like Cherokee as well as towing and hauling. Combined with the available 5-speed manual, the 4.0L is a delight to wind out both on and off-road.

Transmission choices consisted of:

  • 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic – Durable but sluggish slushbox. Replaced by a new 4-speed auto in 1997.
  • 5-speed AX-5 manual – Smooth shifting and perfectly matched to the 4.0L. The way to go for optimum performance and fun. Also built to take abuse.
  • 4-speed automatic – Modern electronically-controlled 4-speed auto introduced in 1997. Vastly improved drivability over the old 3-speed.

The Cherokee XJ could be equipped with either 2WD rear-drive or one of several rugged part-time 4WD systems. These systems featured low range gearing for serious off-road traction and a lockable center differential:

  • Command-Trac – Part-time system with 2WD and 4WD high modes plus 4WD low range. Center diff could be locked for maximum traction.
  • Selec-Trac – Added an auto-locking center differential to Command-Trac so it could be left engaged on high-traction surfaces.
  • Vari-Lok – Later Selec-Tracs added an automatic locking rear differential for even more traction and capability.

Suspension and Drivetrain Components

The XJ Cherokee featured a stout suspension and drivetrain ready for action. Key hardware included:

Front suspension:

  • Coil springs with upper and lower control arms deliver 6.5″ of wheel travel
  • Optional heavy-duty package added larger sway bar and gas shocks

Rear suspension:

  • Leaf springs with live solid axle provides 5″ of travel
  • Durable, easy to modify design used until the end of production

Front axle:

  • Dana 30 on early XJs, Dana 35 on most models – sturdy but not bombproof
  • CV-style front axles introduced later for more articulation

Rear axle:

  • Chrysler 8.25″ – Rugged semi-floating axle handles big tires and torque

To enhance traction, buyers could opt for limited-slip differentials front and rear, plus:

  • Heavy-duty off-road package – Upgraded cooling, skid plates, tow hooks
  • All-terrain tires and aluminum wheels from the factory

The Cherokee’s suspension provides a compliant ride on-road but truly comes alive off-road. The long suspension travel allows impressive articulation over obstacles. Just beware of bump stop binds with larger tires.

How Capable is it Off-Road?

While a touch less rugged than the old SJ Cherokees, the XJ generation proved highly adept off-road thanks to:

  • Low-range 4WD gearing allows easy crawling along with great traction and control
  • Available center and rear locking differentials further enhance traction in mud, sand and snow
  • Excellent approach (35 deg), breakover (21 deg), and departure (26 deg) clearance angles
  • Simple, sturdy suspension design with ample articulation and wheel travel
  • Low overall height compared to larger 4x4s improves maneuverability on tight trails
  • Strong aftermarket support for lifts, armor, tires, etc allows endless customization

The Cherokee XJ is right at home on fire roads, forest trails, overlanding adventures, and gnarly rock crawling provided you upgrade its limitations:

  • Budget suspension and driveline parts limit extreme use and big tires off-road
  • Unibody construction limits suspension lift heights compared to body-on-frame SUVs
  • Meager 8.3″ of factory ground clearance hampers rock crawling efforts

While no Ford Raptor or Jeep Wrangler, a modified XJ Cherokee will handily out-perform most other vintage SUVs off-road. The available manual transmission and torquey 4.0L also make traversing tough terrain much more satisfying.

Why the Cherokee XJ Became an Icon

The XJ Cherokee was an instant hit upon its debut and remained wildly popular throughout its 17 year production run. But what exactly made this boxy SUV stand out in the crowded mid-size SUV segment and become a legend?

The Formula for Success

When introduced, the Cherokee XJ represented the perfect size and blend of capabilities to suit 1980s adventurous families as recreation vehicles exploded in popularity. Compared to rivals, the Cherokee delivered:

  • Rugged yet refined design – Boxier and burlier than rivals while offering nicer amenities and ride comfort
  • Legendary 4.0L motor – Strong, silky smooth, and decent mileage. The perfect SUV powerplant.
  • True off-road credentials – 4WD, low range gearing, available diffs set it apart from early crossovers
  • Car-like comfort – Nice highway manners thanks to the unibody chassis and coil sprung suspension

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *