Born of an alliance between Europe and America, the XJ Cherokee set the template for decades of Sport Utility Vehicles...
American Motor’s partnership with Renault was, in hindsight, one of the stranger marriages to come out of the 1970s. Nevertheless, it laid the groundwork for one of the most significant vehicles of the 1980s. AMC’s had already brought the Eagle crossover to the market, combining a permanent AWD system and tall ground clearance with conventional car bodies, but the XJ Cherokee was to be something else. Designed by a team of Renault and AMC engineers, lead by the legendary Richard ‘Dick’ Teague, a groundbreaking monocoque body with ladder chassis rails incorporated was developed with European sales in mind from the outset. Renault’s François Castaing had joined American Motors, and engineered a groundbreaking, compact powertrain for the new SUV. Renault’s partnership ended due to military contract restrictions, and Chrysler acquired American Motors, reaping the benefits of Castaing’s foresight and genius. After almost a decade, the Cherokee Limited went on sale in RHD markets including the UK in 1993. Initially offered with a 4-litre injected straight-six producing 190bhp in High Output form, the 1535Kg Cherokee could hit 60mph in less than 10 seconds. UK models were also offered with a 2.5-litre VM diesel and a four-cylinder petrol unit of the same capacity, neither of which offered full-time four-wheel drive unlike the 4-litre auto. In 1997 the Cherokee was facelifted with a substantial improvement in interior quality, before being discontinued in 2001.
Jeep Cherokee 4.0
TORQUE 220lb ft@4000pm
MAXIMUM SPEED 112mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION 19-28mpg
TRANSMISSION 4WD, four-speed automatic
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
1984 through to 1997 Cherokees can rust impressively. Tailgates are glassfibre, as is the nosecone, but the structural bits are ferrous metal with a fierce urge to become ferrous oxide. Rears of sills, the roof along pillars and tailgate hinges, scuttle, floor and footwells are all choice rotspots. Facelift models have better rust protection.
The AMC straight-six is an astoundingly robust engine, unstressed and simple. The fuel injection system and cooling system can give problems like any car, and be particularly aware of early injected models with aftermarket immobilisers. Head gaskets can fail on any example however, and the Jeep’s robust nature means it can be neglected. Check for airlocks, functional heater and clean coolant. The four-cylinder petrol is robust, but coarse. The VM diesel is also prone to head gasket failure, with four cylinder heads to remove.
Particularly on early XJ Cherokees, be aware of failing rear leaf springs leading to a sagging rear end. These are not particularly expensive to replace or upgrade, but are often ignored, particularly on cars that tow. Leaving them in this state is borderline dangerous, and ruins the usually well-mannered road behaviour.
Jeep’s significant introduction for the XJ Cherokee was the Quadra-link front suspension. This uses a track bar to maintain the axle location, and when new, contributed to a stable, predictable attitude even at speed. When worn, the suspension can develop a high-speed wobble that in the most extreme cases, can cause each front wheel to leave the road in turn. A violent vibration above 60-65mph will give you a very good indication that this is the case. New bushes and dampers will restore normality.
Thankfully for Cherokee owners, the transfer cases used are tough. The selector linkage, however, is not, and problems shifting on the fly can be down to a loose or misaligned link. On 4-litre models, Selec-Trac should shift between 2WD and 4WD easily, although it is best to shift when going straight. Any sign of wind up and the car is in part time 4WD or has issues elsewhere. Older Cherokees may be reluctant to shift back to 2WD until driven on loose surfaces. Four-cylinder models only offer part time 4WD with locked centre differential, and should be tested on appropriate terrain, not Tarmac.
AMC was known for gremlins of all kinds, and the early XJ in particular got a fair share. Electric window and seat switches look cheap, and they are. Trim is also cheap and fragile on the early model - watch for the Limited SE with leather-trimmed dashboard. Light switches, fan switches and window motors can all give trouble, as can door locks. The most persistent problem you’ll encounter is the immobiliser, which can fail due to wiring problems, particularly in the instrument cluster or on early models, or the simple variation of after market installations.
RIGHT ENGINE CHOICE
Although the Cherokee’s smaller engines may be tempting for economy reasons, in the real world the 4.0 is the only one that makes sense. Not only is it paired to the automatic that suits the car best, the transfer case has both full time and part time 4WD with low ratio and shift on the fly. Once you’ve settled on facelift or original and the factory immobiliser is behaving, your real mission is to check for rust, everywhere.
All Cherokees have exceptional off-road ability. The 4-litre straight-six is particularly capable, with part- and full-time four-wheel drive, ample power and torque, and legendary robustness. This trail-eating and highly capable car is also surprisingly good on-road, with nimble handling and sporty performance. Compact dimensions make it an easy vehicle to live with, though the interior space is lacking if you’re expecting American dimensions.