UK CAR Reviews: Jeep Cherokee
Jeep Cherokee 2.5 sport

1996 in the year  

2.5 petrol engine. 

It all started with the Willys Jeep a vehicle proven world wide under the most stressful of conditions. Apparently based originally on an English Austin Seven, this utility vehicle was not unique in any particular portion of its design but executed with a masterful simplicity. The makers of this small war wagon could never have known the effect it would still be having over 50 years later.

In the late 40s Rover directors were using a Jeep as a farming utility vehicle, and realised its potential, it British clone became the Landrover, and much to the Americans chagrin forged new markets worldwide. The Americans could at least be consoled by their giant isolated home market. So it stayed for twenty years.

Then Rover directors looked again stateside and spotted a small niche market for a fledgling luxury sport utility vehicle. The seeds were there in America and some un-typically British risk taking and out of the box thinking around the prototypes problems gave us the Range Rover and a Rover a lead back into the American market with a vehicle that influence generations of off roaders. Again it must have grated quite hard with Americans to see the British rip off there ideas, and probably even more so as it hid a Buick V8 under the bonnet.

The much misused name, synonomus with off roading

Off course the Americans responded at home with even bigger better 4*4 but they never really crossed back over the Atlantic as the original Range Rover was relatively cheap and perfectly Eurosized compared to their battle tanks.

However, in much in the same way that American automakers had downsized many of their cars in the previous decade, Jeep downsized it Cherokee, in 1984. Prior to this year, the Cherokee moniker was attached to what amounted to a sportier version of Jeep's Wagoneer. Mostly unchanged since its debut in the early 1960s, the Wagoneer was a large, truck-based, four-door wagon with four-wheel drive The former Cherokee, introduced as a 1974, shared most everything with the Wagoneer, including dimensions and engine selections. The major differences between the two were that the Cherokee was initially available only as a two-door (with the same wheelbase and length as the Wagoneer) and the Cherokee cost less than the more luxurious Wagoneer. A four-door Cherokee joined the line-up in 1977.

The 1984 Cherokee shared nothing with its predecessor, save its name. A shorter wheel- base (over 7 inches less than the "old" model, at 101.4 inches) and overall length (at 165.3 inches, a decrease of 21 inches) combined with a much lighter weight of around 3,100 pounds (over 1,000 pounds less than before) went a long way toward better fuel mileage and easier manoeuvrability, on-road or off. Two-door and four-door body styles were offered.

It was now very close to the 100 inch Range Rover

Still we in blighty did not get to see it.

Styling for the trim Cherokee was chiselled and taut, with muscular wheel well flares and a tall greenhouse that afforded good visibility for driver and passengers alike. The interior continued this theme with a likewise simple dash and control layout. Seating capacity was listed as five, though it was tight for three adults to ride in the backseat.

Trim levels were comprised of the base Cherokee, more luxurious Pioneer and the sporty Chief. The Pioneer featured carpeting, additional instrument panel gauges, full centre console and a rear window wiper/washer. The Chief was the most styling' of the trio with blackout exterior trim, hood striping and white-lettered tires.

Motive force came in the form of either four- or six-cylinder power. The 2.5-liter four banger inhaled its fuel and air through a one-barrel carburettor and made 105 horsepower. The optional, 2.8-liter, two-barrel V6 (which was actually supplied by Chevrolet) produced but 115 horses. Although these powerplants were adequate, serious thrust for the Cherokee was a still a few years away. There were three transmission choices for the V6: a standard four-speed manual, optional five-speed manual and optional three-speed automatic. The four-cylinder was limited to the four-speed manual as its gearbox.

Considered by many as the leader in the four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicle segment, Jeep offered not one but two 4WD systems for the Cherokee. "Command-Trac" was a part-time, shift-on-the-fly unit and the "Selec-Trac" system allowed the option of full-time 4WD operation. A "Quadra-Link" front suspension design (which featured a solid axle suspended by coil springs and four links) contributed to the Cherokee's quickly acquired reputation for off-road prowess.

In the States the new Cherokee was well received by the motoring press and the buying public alike, with nearly 78,000 Cherokees sold in its first year.

1985 brought the Laredo trim level to the Cherokee family. Standard on the Laredo were most of the features of the Pioneer with upgrades such as plusher interior materials, pinstripes alloy wheels and chrome grille treatment.

Changes to the Cherokee in general included the addition of front headrests and passenger assist handles (for easier ingress and egress as well as something to hold on to when the driver went hog wild off-road). Two-wheel-drive versions were now offered for those who did not need the capabilities of four-wheel drive. A few new options debuted as well, such as keyless entry and a Renault-sourced, four-cylinder, turbodiesel engine.

Two major hardware upgrades were hot topics for the Cherokee in 1986. A redesigned and more powerful four-cylinder engine was now standard. The replacement of the stone-age carburettor with fuel injection helped the 2.5-liter mill pump out a respectable 117 horsepower, an increase of 12 horses over the previous motor. Smoother operation and easier starting were other benefits of the more modern induction set-up.

Geared toward serious off-road enthusiasts was a new "Off-Highway Vehicle" package that included heavy-duty suspension components, bigger (225/75/15) tires, skid plates, tow hooks, a 4:10 rear axle ratio (to help in climbing up steep grades and slogging through mud) and higher ground clearance.

Serious power became an option in 1987 when Jeep dumped the 2.8 V6 and put a stout, 4.0-liter, inline six-cylinder engine of Jeep's design on the option list. Kicking out 177 horsepower, the new "Power-Tech Six" could catapult the Cherokee from rest to 60 mph in around 9 seconds -- pretty quick, especially for an SUV. Another benefit of the increased muscle was more towing capacity -- rated at 5,000 pounds. The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder was tweaked for an additional four horsepower, for 121 ponies.

A new, electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission replaced the former three-cog unit. The new automatic also offered selectable shift modes: Power (which provided better performance through higher-rpm upshifts and quicker downshifts) and Comfort (which was more relaxed and economical in operation). In addition, the primitive, four-speed manual was history, leaving the five-speed for shift-it-yourselfers.

Cosmetically, the Cherokee received the option of two-tone paint. Inside the cabin were found new door trim panels with stowage bins.

A new, loaded-up Limited four-door model debuted halfway through the model year. Just about every luxury, performance and convenience feature was standard on the new top dog Cherokee. The Limited came with the powerful, 4.0-liter inline six teamed with Selec-Trac and could be identified by its colour-keyed bumpers, gold wheels and gold pinstripes. Leather seats, power everything, keyless entry and an eight-speaker sound system were additional highlights of the Limited's lengthy standard equipment list.

Other models received minor changes, such as new plaid seats in the Laredo and revised blackout trim on the Chief.

1988 saw the addition of a Limited two-door and the subtraction of the unpopular turbodiesel engine option. Sharp-eyed enthusiasts could discern an '88 by a new eight-slot grille that replaced the former 10-slot unit.

Laredo models received new chrome trim as well as lower bodyside cladding. In an effort to offer a Cherokee for everyone (and leave no part of the potential market uncovered), a Sport two-door model was offered. The Sport added alloy wheels and special graphics to the plain-Jane Cherokee, allowing those on a budget to drive a sharp rig without breaking the bank.

The availability (on models equipped with the 4.0-liter engine, automatic transmission and Selec-Trac) of a four-wheel, antilock braking system (ABS) was the big news for the 1989 Cherokee. Jeep's ABS operated regardless of whether the Cherokee was in 2WD or 4WD (unlike some competitors who offered either only rear-wheel ABS or four-wheel ABS that would not function when the vehicle was in 4WD).

Other functional upgrades for 1989 included two former options that were made standard. Base models received power steering and all Cherokees swapped their former 13.5-gallon fuel tank for a 20-gallon unit.

Changes were few for Jeep's most popular model for 1990. Safety was improved through the fitment of three-point seatbelts for all outboard occupants. And a new overhead console on the Limited featured a compass, outside thermometer and storage compartments for a garage door control and sunglasses.

Power for both the four- and the six-cylinder engines was boosted for 1991. A new, multi-point fuel-injection system helped the four-banger squeeze out 130 horsepower -- an increase of nine horses over the 1990 model. And the big six now cranked out 190 horsepower, bringing the zero to 60 mph time of the Cherokee down to under nine seconds.

Trim levels were shuffled about; the Pioneer was dropped, a new Briarwood debuted, (identified by its fake woodgrain trim on the bodysides) and a four-door Sport model joined the two-door Sport.

Making life easier for the owner of a '91 Cherokee were new double-sided keys, highlighted underhood service points and an optional illuminated entry system.

1992 saw carpeting added to the standard features of the base Cherokee. And Laredo four-doors could now be fitted with (optional) leather seating, just like the fancier Limited. Other than this, not much else changed for the Cherokee this year.

The Cherokee line was simplified for 1993, as the previous five trim levels gave way to just three; base, Sport and the new Country. The Country featured champagne-coloured lower body, fender flares and bumpers as well as most of the luxury features of the defunct Limited. And Sport models were updated with a two-tone treatment that featured black on the lower body sides.

A long-life, stainless steel exhaust system was fitted to all models, helping to lower ownership costs.

Safety refinements were added for 1994. Side-impact beams were now found in the doors, the roof was beefed up for more crush resistance and a centre, high-mounted stoplight sat atop the liftgate. Air conditioning now used CFC-free refrigerant.

For those who didn't like the champagne (the colour, not the libation) of the year before, the Country was now available with silver as the secondary colour. And in an effort to make the base model sound more appealing, the entry-level Cherokee now had the "SE" moniker added to its name.

In spite of looking very much like the 1984 version, the Cherokee continued to be popular among those looking for a manageable (both in size and cost) and capable SUV. 1995 brought a few notable changes, a driver's side airbag and the availability of an automatic (albeit just a three-speed) transmission for the four-cylinder SE. Sport and Country models continued with the 4.0-liter, six-cylinder engine hooked up to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox. A few new colours, such as Moss Green and Aqua Pearl, completed the changes for this year.

Minor refinements continued for the Cherokee in 1996. Both the four- and six-cylinder engines were tweaked to run smoother and quieter. The inline six now produced its power at lower rpm, making it more responsive whether accelerating from a light or towing a trailer up a steep grade.

Safety and reliability were both enhanced this year. An automatic transmission/brake pedal interlock reduced the chance of an accident by requiring the driver to apply the brake when moving the gear selector out of Park. The electrical system was upgraded via a heavy-duty alternator and battery. And the engine received a stiffer block, new aluminium pistons and a new powertrain control module.

In addition to the aforementioned improvements, some new colours, such as Bright Jade and Stone White, helped extend the appeal of the Cherokee, now in its 13th model year.

Fourteen years after it debuted, the Cherokee finally received a facelift, well, actually quite a bit more than a facelift. The $215 million update occurred in 1997 when the front and rear ends were smoothed out, the interior was updated and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels were reduced.

Although one had to look close to pick off a '97 versus an older Cherokee, a more cohesive appearance was achieved via softened corners at the nose and tail and with wheelwell flares that blended into the bumper ends. The front vent windows were dropped for a cleaner look and lessened wind noise, and larger side-view mirrors, new bodyside mouldings, new wheels, optional deep-tint glass and a centre high-mounted stop lamp completed the changes outside.

Inside, change was much more apparent, as the more modern cabin featured several essential improvements in ergonomics, safety and style. A new dash (now with a passenger airbag), revised gauges and a new centre stack with easier to use controls for the stereo (now available with both cassette and CD players) and climate control system sported a cleaner design with fewer pieces, which decreased the likelihood of squeaks and rattles. Other interior refinements included new door panels, lighted power mirror and window switches, a trip computer for the overhead console and a new centre console that boasted integrated cupholders.

In an effort to improve build quality, Jeep made changes to the plant that made the body panels, using new or reconditioned stamping dies and tighter tolerances. More testing, including all electrical functions and increased use of robotic paint sprayers were employed, as well.

Having made extensive engine refinements in 1996, Jeep left well enough alone, but did improve the electrical system via upgraded connectors and a decreased amount of wiring.

For 1998 trim levels were juggled. The Limited returned to replace the Country as the top-of-the-line Cherokee, and the Classic debuted, slotted between the Sport and the Limited. The Classic added colour-keyed bumpers and mouldings, a roof rack, air conditioning, power mirrors and alloy wheels to the Sport. Three new colours, Chilli Pepper Red, Deep Amethyst and Emerald Green, joined the palette.

Soldiering on into 1999, the Cherokee line continued with minor changes. The Sport model now had colour-keyed bumpers and grille, a Sentry Key anti-theft system debuted, heated front seats became optional on the Limited, and engine efficiency was improved via revised electronics and a new exhaust catalyst.

The 2000 Cherokee got a more refined version of the 4.0-liter inline six. Introduced the previous year in the Grand Cherokee, the revamped engine ran quieter and cleaner (it now met Low Emission Vehicle standards) than the previous iteration. A new five-speed manual gearbox with improved shift quality was mated to the new six in SE (if the six was ordered) and Sport models and a four-speed automatic were standard on Cherokee Classic and Limited.

The Limited traded its monochromatic appearance for a flashier appearance this year. Chrome highlights on the grille, headlight bezels and rear license plate brow along with silver alloy wheels served to further distinguish the Limited from the other Cherokees.

Lastly, some new colours debuted, including Patriot Blue and Silverstone Pearls.

The last year for the Cherokee, 2001, would pass without much fanfare. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine was finally buried, child seat tether anchors debuted, and Steel Blue replaced Desert Sand on the colour chart.

Although that is the American end of the story the British side of the story did not really start until the ninety's. Along with American cars shrinking, European cars were growing and the 4*4 fad was in full flight. Suddenly the Cherokee had a British market and with Chryslers re-birth in Britain came the Cherokee, no longer a gross characature of a 4*4 but now seemingly mid sized and competitively priced. Chrysler finally introduced the proven Cherokee to British buyers in 1993. It was a long time coming but was it worth the wait???


Well it is certainly a good looking 4*4 in my eyes. Im no lover of any genre of American car styling but this one seems to have slipped by the gross out overkill designers, and perhaps that’s the secret of good looking 4*4s. Two boxes stuck together and the stylists held firmly in check. From my point of view at least it always seems that the more effort the designers put in the worse the 4*4 result is. It is also very restrained from the glitz factor that seems to effect so many stateside SUV's there is no great lumps of gleaming chrome to catch the eye and burn your retinas. You may like it that way, or perhaps you really want a Dodge Ramcharger monster truck, a Stetson and an imitation colt 45 stuffed down your pants.

For a while in the '90s the Cherokee was one of the most fashionable 4x4s you could buy, and despite the arrival of the more supposedly "lifestyle-orientated" rivals such as Land Rover's Freelander, the Jeep still has a lot of street cred, Its classic boxy styling looks the full off-road part even parked in its usual residential street

Inside it’s a little on the obvious side of vulgar in its design. Hardly leading edge Audiesque ergonomics but then what 4*4 really is top notch in this area. Makers cant really win here anyway, most will complain because they don’t reach the standards of modern saloon cars, others will describe it as irrelevant tack which which get ruined the first time you ford a deep river, or you mud covered golden retriever jumps aboard.

In its day and now second hand, you get an awful lot of car for your money. Americans expected lots of equipment and most of it stayed there on it trip across the Atlantic. This has top be one of the major selling point of the Jeep its value for money, as British and Japanese makers pushed models ever more upmarket and slotted lesser equipped vehicles in the market gaps the Cherokee offers allegedly Range Rover levels of equipment and Discovery prices.
There have been some minor electrical problems as you would expect with a car full of gizmos. But, overall Cherokees have behaved pretty much faultlessly over the past six years and that is unlikely to change.

I cannot really covey just how small that cabin feels. The rear, especially, is far too cramped for comfort - anyone back there will complain constantly. This always seems a downside of 4*4s. No matter how big externally they seem to shrink like a reverse tardis on entering.

The nicely shaped front seats at least give good comfort for those endless roads you would expect to find in America, and combined with the steady ride give little to complain about in the comfort stakes. Find a comfortable driving position is easy enough.

Sport Badge means little.

The Boot like the car is not quite as spacious as on would imagine, though no worse than many 4*4s 

Endowed with the smallest engine option a somewhat sluggish 2.5-litre petrol; the Cherokee is no stormer. It has to be pushed fairly hard to keep up with traffic. Although strangely it cruises well enough on the motorway. Not really so strange when you check out the Gearbox with its long legged top gear which mean you can wind the Cherokee up to a fair old ambling gate without too much difficulty given a long enough stretch.  The gearbox is a fair effort considering the Yanks are not big on the manual change front, certainly at least on a par with other 4*4. The clutch is solid and predictable if a trifle on the heavy side. 

Fuel consumption is nothing to write home about, but you really would not expect too much would you? For the thrill seekers the 4 litre turns in zippy performance to challenge the mightiest 4*4 hot rod, for the tight of pocket a rather nasty 2.5 turbo diesel eases the wallet burden at the expense of any kind of zip at all.

More often in the 4*4 world the phrase handling gives way to terms such as manageability and ease of driving. By definition if you want precise handling you buy something else.

The Cherokee is not too big for a 4*4, and feels very nimble and manoeuvrable within its design limitation. Light controls mean there is no really strain involved and the big car goes where you point it as long as you respect the reality of its bulk. It hides its design fairly well so as long as you realise what it limitations are there should be no real problems. Of course you have got that lovely high driving position, giving you a great view out.

The steering is unusually sharp for a 4*4 which is a good thing for its realistic usage, there is little body roll on corners, which suggests its fairly tightly sprung, good for the road but maybe the ultimate limiting factor in extreme off road.

On simple off road excursions at least it is just as easy to manage. I did not dare go diving through any rock strewn quarries, so I will have to accept that it is a perfectly capable off roader beyond my limited skills. Like many 4*4s it probably aimed at 99% road use with the occasional foray down a dirt road or across a field. Despite the Cherokee being a competent off-roader, country motorists looking for a real workhorse should probably look elsewhere, at something a little less glamorous.

Underneath its all fairly straight forward bog standard 4*4 fare and its a credit to Jeep that it remains as manageable as it is without high tech suspension and driveline trickery.

On the road the brakes are sharp and strong, off road perhaps a little too sharp.


Driver and passenger airbags are standard. A popular target for thieves, the Cherokee has a remote locking system plus an engine immobiliser and alarm. Crash tests often seem to defeat 4*4 in the war between car and brick wall. In the war between Cherokee and Ford Fiesta, I will drive the Cherokee thank you very much.

Lovers of American Iron, used to tell me how cheap spares were through the little independent specialists. I remember seeing how 8 pistons for a 5litre V8 ford came out at the same price as a single Rover V8 piston.

That of course was more of a reflection of how much we get ripped off by the manufactures. I cannot see the Chrysler official franchises being quite so altruistic. Still the Cherokee offers competitive service and maintenance costs, compared with a V8 Land Rover Discovery. Of course fuel is the biggest single cost, in petrol-engined models. Resale values are slipping, but demand remains strong for good used examples

The Cherokee might be looking a little dated now, but it's still excellent value and continues to be in demand. Depreciation is average for a 4x4, but a Cherokee always manages to attract a lot of interest on the used market. The Orvis and the Limited with leather are the best models, and as always the diesels are in demand from those who think it worth driving a bronchitis stricken snail in return for a little economy. Still if the 4*4 tickle your fancy its well worth moseying on down and taking a peak at on of these. Its realistically probably just as good as any other 4*4 , better looking than most, well engineered, tough, well equipped and different enough not to make you a sheep baaaaa.

Goodyear and Wrangler how American.

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