The “Jeep” brand is synonymous with “off-road vehicle” because the American company can look back on the longest off-road tradition. With the SUV boom, however, the Jeep Cherokee has been facing more and more competition since the 1990s, and as a result it has gained considerably in comfort and equipment. But unlike its competitors, underneath the chic SUV design is still an angular off-roader that has been represented in Europe in five generations since 1984.
A car for off-road use
Like a real off-roader, the rustic Jeep Cherokee plows through terrain with its all-wheel drive. “Since 1941” is written on the steering wheel to recall the long off-road tradition. In the meantime, the Jeep brand belongs to Chrysler and thus to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). The name “Jeep Cherokee” stands for sometimes very different models, which are also named differently depending on the region. Accordingly, you have to keep track for a Jeep Cherokee used car. The history of the Cherokee begins as early as 1974 with the 2-door Cherokee SJ, which was initially produced as a full-size SUV by American Motors Corporation and was intended primarily to compete with the Ford Bronco and the Chevrolet Blazer. The original Cherokee is the sporty version of the similar Jeep Wagoneer model, which had been rolling off the production line since 1963. In 1984, a luxury version of the Cherokee was even given the name “Wagoneer”, which is why the original Jeep Wagoneer was simply renamed “Grand Wagoneer”. The Cherokee retained the nostalgic driving feel until the 5th generation. On the track, it clearly lets you feel that you’re just maneuvering two tons of car through the terrain and have to crank hard despite power steering. The Jeep Cherokee is and remains a real off-road vehicle. It leaves buttery smooth driving on the road to its modern competitors.
Between the Jeep Renegade and the Grand Wagoneer
While competitors try to conceal a lack of off-road prowess with rustic design elements, the Jeep Cherokee hides its off-road capabilities under a fashionable shell. Whether compared to the VW Touareg, BMW X5 or Nissan X-Trail, the competitors’ SUVs score points with a smoother ride, more comfort, better equipment and more modern assistance systems. But when it comes to off-road driving, the Jeep is no match. This is where the long off-road experience comes into play and makes driving more fun. Nevertheless, the Jeep Cherokee is an attempt to tie in with the trend towards more travel comfort. For example, it is already much more comfortable, quieter and more convenient than its little brother Jeep Rene-gade, which in turn steers better through the terrain thanks to 300 kg less weight. And then there is the Grand Wagoneer, which has been marketed in parallel as a luxury SUV since the beginning of the Jeep Cherokee XJ in 1984 and continued to be built almost unchanged until 1991. So if you want a used Jeep, the brand alone has several models to choose from. Other brands with a broader product range usually only have one SUV in their lineup, but they don’t specialize in SUVs either.
The six faces of the Cherokee
After the original Cherokee of 1974, the Cherokee XJ range then started in 1984 with the 1st generation. By American standards, the SUV is rather small, but it was perfectly suited to the SUV boom of the early 1990s in Europe. The 1st generation of the mid-size SUV is simple and angular, a typical Jeep in fact. In 1997, the Cherokee went into the 2nd round with a retread. Not much was done to the drivetrain, but the body and interior are more focused on driving comfort. With the 3rd generation in 2001, the Jeep range split – in Europe and North Africa, the SUV continues to run under the name “Jeep Cherokee”, while in its American homeland it is called “Jeep Liberty” until 2013. In addition, the Cherokee KJ is no longer a real Cherokee at all, as the two models no longer have much in common from a technical perspective. So, starting in 2001, Jeep Cherokee refers to a whole new model line. With the 4th generation, a somewhat larger model was launched in 2008, based on Chrysler’s Dodge Nitro compact SUV. In the U.S., the series continued to run under the name Jeep Liberty, while in Europe it remained the Jeep Cherokee. In 2011, sales were initially discontinued in Europe, then in 2012 also in the U.S. in preparation for the production of the 5th generation. Since 2013, the Jeep is now called Cherokee again in the U.S. and has two diesel and one gasoline engine in the program for Germany. In 2018, the Cherokee got a makeover, which was mainly reflected in the appearance, as well as in the renovated interior with modernized multimedia landscape.
The evolution of the Jeep Cherokee by internal designation:
- Cherokee SJ (1974-1983) – the original Cherokee.
- Cherokee XJ: 1st generation (1984-1996)
- Cherokee XJ: 2nd generation (1997-2001)
- Cherokee KJ (2001-2008)
- Cherokee KK (2008-2012)
- Cherokee KL (since 2013)
Engines from Chevrolet to Renault
The 1st generation Cherokee XJ is equipped with various engine variants – from the 2.8-liter V6 engine with 115 hp from Chevrolet to the 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder with 105 hp from AMC to the 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine from Jeep, which produces between 170 and 185 hp depending on the model year. With automatic transmission and selectable all-wheel drive, the Cherokee accelerates to 100 km/h in 9 to 10 seconds. The few examples with diesel engines were made by Renault (82 hp) or VM Motori (115 hp). At the end of the 90s, the four-cylinder with 131 hp and the PowerTech six-cylinder with initially 169 hp and later 190 hp remained in the program. A turbodiesel with 115 hp was added for Europe. In the 3rd generation Cherokee KJ, the off-roader initially had two gasoline engines and one diesel engine in the range – all with selectable all-wheel drive. By 2008, the diesel engine increased its output to 163 hp. From 2008 to 2012, the Cherokee rolled off the line with two different engine variants: the 3.7 V6 gasoline engine with 214 hp and a 4-speed automatic, and the 2.8 common-rail turbodiesel with 177 hp and a choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed automatic. The Selec-Trac II all-wheel-drive system sends torque to the axle with the best grip and allows manual shifting from two to four wheels. Available in Germany since 2014, the 5th generation Cherokee KL:
- with a 3.2-liter Pentastar V6 gasoline engine (272 hp)
- with a 2.0-liter Fiat MultiJet diesel engine (140 or 170 hp)
- since July 2015: 2.2-liter MultiJet II diesel engine (185 or 200 hp)
- since September 2018: 2.2-liter MultiJet II diesel engine (195 hp)
Large interior vs small trunk
In the 5th generation, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard features on the SUV. Inside, the Cherokee KL stands out with plenty of space, which in turn is lacking in the trunk, where it is on par with the VW Golf (depending on equipment) with 412 liters of cargo space or 1,267 liters when the backrests are folded down. Otherwise, the Cherokee convinces with its rustic charm and awakens nostalgic feelings with the knobby steering wheel and rubber floor mats.
Jeep Grand Cherokee as successor?
AMC engineers had been developing a successor to the Jeep Cherokee since 1983. The first prototype, the “Jeep Concept 1,” was ready in 1989. But other projects had priority, so the release of the Grand Cherokee as a competitor to the Ford Explorer was delayed until 1992. By then, the Grand Cherokee was no longer a successor either, but a stand-alone luxury SUV in the upper mid-range with a V8 engine, slightly more driving performance as well as much more driving comfort. In 2017, the 4th generation WK2 Grand Cherokee Trackhawk was unveiled and set the record for the most powerful production SUV with an internal combustion engine with 717 horsepower from the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat’s 6.2-liter V8 gasoline engine.
If you want to drive a proper SUV but don’t want to look like a head ranger, a Jeep Cherokee used car is the way to go. Those who prefer long-distance comfort in an SUV and don’t plan any off-road excursions at all can look at the Grand Cherokee instead, or take a look at the competition. In addition, there are major differences between the individual generations and models of a used Jeep Cherokee, which can quickly cause confusion.