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Jeep Cherokee: best of breed from 1975 to 2001

First generation Jeep Cherokee

1975-76 Wagoneer Cherokee police cars
2014 Jeep Cherokee • Grand Cherokee
Can and should Jeep build a new XJ?

The first Jeep Cherokee, launched in 1974, was simply a two-door version of the Jeep Wagoneer. In 1977, the Jeep Cherokee, still a low-end version of the Wagoneer, was available with both two and four doors.

All Cherokees for North American sale were made in Toledo, Ohio, regardless of generation; later Cherokees were also made offshore.

Second generation Jeep Cherokee (1984-1996)

After ten years, a new and completely different Cherokee was brought out, which would revolutionize American SUVs. This new Jeep Cherokee had a shorter wheelbase than the original, and a shorter length - seven and 21 inches respectively - helping it to check in at a svelte 3,100 pounds, a thousand pounds less than the Wagoneer-based model, around the same weight as a Plymouth Valiant. The new Cherokee was more economical, and easier to drive both on and off road. Again, both two and four door models were available; a pickup version called the Comanche was built on the same assembly line.

In front, a multilink front suspension with a track bar and coil springs was used, with recirculating ball steering; traditional leaf springs held up the rear.

The coil link suspension, a version of which remains on the Wrangler, allowed the Jeep to have superior wheel travel, while maintaining a surprisingly good ground clearance under all conditions. The suspension, assailed by critics as "outdated" for years, resulted in a ride those same critics loved - firm but not punishing, with good cornering, fine off-roadability, and a feel that left drivers feeling refreshed after a long trip.

The upper angled arms restrict the lateral movement of the axle in the vehicle, caused by the track bar, by trying to form a three-link system, but with rubber bushings, the effect is minimized but progressive as the axle goes through its jounce-to-rebound travel. This is what causes the assymetrical handling and braking of the XJ, MJ, ZJ, and WJ (although as these arms and the track bar mounting were revised on each succeeding vehicle, the effect was minimized more in each series after the XJ and MJ) - Bob Sheaves.

Downsides of the five-link suspension were asymmetrical braking and steering, described in Evan Boberg's book. Suspension engineer Bob Sheaves wrote that there was no way to eliminate these issues in a five-link design; "You can move the effect around in the performance envelope, you can raise or lower the speed where the driver loses control of the vehicle, you can minimize the effects in one area (but lose the control outside that band). ... An independent system, a 4 link, even a 3 link does not have this issue. They do have other issues, but not the cause of 'death wobble' and the brakes pulling the direction of the vehicle out of the intended path."

At rest, an independent front suspension can match the static height of a coil link axle. However, a coil link axle remains a constant distance in relationship to the wheel; the axle moves with the suspension; while, with independent front suspensions, the differential is fixed to the body; so that, when a wheel travels during jounce and rebound, the entire vehicle is closer to the ground. Thus, a coil link suspension with "less" ground clearance can have a higher "effective ground clearance" in actual driving than the more "modern" suspension type used in the later Jeep Liberty. (Thanks, "MoparNorm.")

The 1984 Cherokee would be instantly recognizable today, combining the big wheel well flares, boxy shape, and general appearance of the final 2001 model and the new Jeep Patriot and Commander. The interior was simple and functional, and fit four in comfort. There were three trim levels - base, Pioneer (luxury), and Chief (sport) (Laredo would come later, providing most of the Pioneer features with a lower price).

The base engine was Jeep's own 2.5 liter four-cylinder, and the optional engine was a 2.8 liter Buick V6. Both were carbureted, with one and two barrels respectively, producing 105 and 115 horsepower (with much greater differences in torque). A four-speed manual transmission was standard, with an optional five speed manual and three-speed automatic for V6 models. A Wagoneer version included standard full-time four wheel drive.

In addition to the suspension, the Cherokee was set apart by the four wheel drive system. Command-Trac was a conventional part-time system, but it had a shift-on-the-fly feature in an era when many people had to stop to change to four wheel drive; Selec-Trac was a full-time four wheel drive system that didn't destroy the tires too quickly on dry roads. A two wheel drive version was also sold, as was a diesel using a Renault engine; the diesel was dropped by 1988. While the Cherokee diesel engine was, according to Bob Sheaves, "advanced for the time, a decent performer, economical, thrifty, and inexpensive" as an option, the market ignored it.

One interesting aspect of the Cherokee, according to Evan Boberg in Common Sense Not Required, was the power steering pressure - it started out normal, was raised to a very high level by an engineer who sought to remove the "catch-up" condition common to all cars with power steering, and was later brought back down after an unusual number of failures. There was also a condition in 1989 when the Cherokee pulled, because the wrong caster was specified by one department; this was also corrected later. (Caster would not be adjusted without fairly major work to the suspension, due to the design. One highly valued engineer wrote, "The proper fix is to replace the asymmetrical panhard rod with a Watts linkage to prevent the axle from moving in an arc, perpendicular to the vehicle longitudinal centerline.")

The XJ Cherokee also included amber rear turn signals, an oil pressure gauge, and, despite the ground clearance, a relatively low roof and cargo bay height (making it easier to use the roof rack). When the XJ Cherokees came out as 1984 models, they were sporting a length of about 10" less than a K-car, with four doors and, in 1983, 71.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seat down. In 1987, they changed to 71.8, coinciding with the firewall adaptation to make room for the inline 6 engine, theoretically cutting into interior space, but AMC did it well and got more room for cargo inside. (The K-car, albeit with a much lower height, was rated at 67.7 cubic feet).

In 1985, a 2.1 liter four-cylinder turbodiesel was added; two-wheel drive was made available; and the Wagoneer got Limited trim.

In 1986, the 2.5 liter engine gained fuel injection, bumping power to 117 horsepower and easing starting and general operation, with no gas mileage penalty. A new off-road package with bigger tires, skid plates, a raised suspension, and a 4:10 gear ratio was also added.

As Evan Boberg noted in his book, Common Sense Not Required, the Cherokee also was a hit from the start because it was the only four-door SUV on the market when introduced. The introduction of the four liter engine in 1987 turned it into a performance vehicle as well, and sales continued to be strong.

Evan wrote:

I was told [that] the executive in charge of the design of the Cherokee hated the AMC inline 6 cylinder engine (the 4.2 liter) and specifically designed the Cherokee so it would not fit. The Nash 2.5 liter engine was fitted with fuel
injection and the General Motors 2.8 liter V6 with oil leaks were the original engine options.
The four liter engine had long been under construction at AMC, and was based closely on the successful new 2.5 liter four-cylinder. It provided 170 at first, and was quickly boosted to 177 hp, making acceleration faster than most cars, and allowing 5,000 pounds to be towed. (Evan also noted that since the Cherokee was more profitable than its pickup version, lower Comanche sales meant more profits.)

Sharing parts with the Cherokee/Wagoneer XJ body was the Jeep Comanche (MJ body), a light pickup with the optional Command-Trac four wheel drive system which could shift at any speed. It had a standard six foot bed, with a seven foot long bed optional; towing capacity was raised in 1988 to 1,475 pounds. Early-model XJ and MJ models (mid-1980s) could have a Peugeot diesel (later a Renault diesel); a metric-ton (2,240 pound) payload package was available on the Comanche until 1990, with heavy duty U-joints and propshaft, Dana 44 rear axle, and heavy duty brakes. The base engine on the Comanche was the four cylinder, more powerful than any other compact pickup engine; but the four liter six was also available (standard on Eliminator models), making the Comanche quick indeed. (Jeep Comanche page)
Evan also suggested that the success of the Cherokee led Chrysler to buy AMC from Renault. Certainly it was a lone bright spot in an otherwise struggling company; the Wrangler was selling at a steady if low volume, but the Renault-based cars were experiencing a lack of success similar to the earlier, heavier four-wheel-drive AMC cars.

Changes to the Jeep Cherokee

Also in 1987, a new automatic was added, providing four speeds and electronic control, which allowed power and comfort modes. The four speed manual was finally dropped, along with the diesel. The Limited arrived, with the six cylinder engine and Selec-Trac four wheel drive, not to mention leather and various de rigeur luxury items.

Starting in 1988, components were slowly changed, in an effort to increase reliability; this process continued through to the 1994 model year, the first of the all-Chrysler interiors and components. The Sport also arrived in 1988.

Four-wheel antilock brakes were added in 1989; unlike competitors', they worked even in four wheel drive models.

For 1990, Cherokee added a new optional overhead console, new colors, three-point seat belts on the back seats, and a standard AM/FM electronically tuned stereo. The 2.5 liter engine stayed at 121 hp, 141 lb-ft; the straight-six at 177 hp, 224 lb-ft.

In 1991, the four cylinder was given multiple point fuel injection - the only non-turbocharged four cylinder at Chrysler to get it - to provide 130 horsepower; the six cylinder was upgraded the same way, and now pushed out 190 hp with 225 pound-feet of torque. The Pioneer disappeared and the short-lived Briarwood showed up. By 1992, only the base model could have the four-cylinder.

In 1993, Chrysler rationalized the Cherokee, dropping all but the base, Sport, and Country (luxury) models, and added sequential multiple-port injection to the 2.5 liter engine, increasing gas mileage. 1994 brought non-CFC air conditioner refrigerant, better roof crush resistance, and side door beams for impact protection; the base model was renamed SE. In 1995, a driver's airbag was added.

In 1996, the engines were made quieter and given more usable torque with several air path changes; the Selec-Trac system was upgraded; OBD II on-board diagnostics were added; the powertrain control module moved to the JTEC system; and a revolutionary returnless fuel supply system, first seen on the Neon, was installed. For 2000, some changes were made to the graphics and exterior appearance; and extended-life headlamps that were brighter than the 1999 headlamps.

Jeep Cherokee repairs

We have dedicated pages for:

There appear to have been few systemic problems with the Cherokee. Evan Boberg's book noted that the power steering suffered from early failure in early models; and models built from 1989 until about 1993 could pull to the right if caster was adjusted to spec (7 degrees). (The solution, according to Evan, is to adjust camber to 4 degrees - and to ignore the pull.)

Tom Wand wrote, "On Jeep models including the 1991 model year and possibly 1990, a large connector near the center of the Dash Panel (Firewall) can cause some problems. This "C101 Connector" carries all of the engine mounted circuits. If the engine is running rough, no power, stumbling, hard starting, simply disconnect this connector and reconnect it. The oxygen sensor signal, which passes through it, is such a high impedance that it may corrode in the connection and not work. Simply undoing and reconnecting it cleans the corrosion of and fixes the problem." (Our note: you may want to use di-electric grease to prevent corrosion.)

John Mastiano helped a customer with a 1995 4x4 Cherokee that shook violently when over 45 mph; it had had the steering stabilizer replaced and a leaf added to the rear springs because the rear was about one inch too low (this made it four inches too high). A mechanic replaced the traction bar because it had a slight movement but this did not help. John wrote, "This is usually caused by loose front end components (control arm bushings,ball ends, etc). Lifting the rear by 4" could also play a major role due to the front end alignment (caster) being thrown way off spec. Though it was written for the Ram, TSB 19-05-96 could help."

Another mechanic wrote about a problem that causes many shops to replace or rebuild the AW4 automatic transmission. "These have a special type of Park/Neutral safety switch. Starting, reverse lights, and shifting input are all part of this switch function. These are expensive at $250, but it is a switch you can take apart, clean the wipers and contacts, and reassemble.... very carefully. With one 298,750 mile 1992 Jeep Cherokee which two shops had said needed a new transmission, this switch was filthy inside; I cleaned it and put it back together, sealed the outer part with RTV to prevent any contamination in future. The Jeep shifts great again. This is the third one we have done and it worked all three times. Be very sure to set up the position of the switch after cleaning with an ohmmeter to make sure it has flow to starter relay in P and N."

Cherokees with the Borg-Warner automatic do not take the same transmission fluid as those with Chrysler automatics.

Pete Jackson wrote about changing the starter on the 1987 Cherokee 4.0. He said this was a 15 minute job requiring a 3/8" drive ratchet with 14 mm, 15 mm, and 13 mm (1/2") sockets, preferably standard depth though deep would work with some challenges; and a 1/4" combo wrench.

  1. Be sure the brake is set and the transmission is in gear or Park; disconnect the negative (and positive if desired) cables from the battery.
  2. Remove the 1/4" nut from the solenoid terminal, if yours isn't a spade connector. Mine uses a ring terminal and 1/4" nut with a screw.
  3. Remove the 13mm nut (and cable) from the positive battery cable on the starter solenoid terminal.
  4. Remove the 15mm upper mounting bolt from the starter (this one faces the rear of the vehicle) and the 14mm lower mounting bolt from the starter (this faces the front of the vehicle)
  5. Remove the starter and put the new one in; put on the upper and lower bolts, the 13mm nut and cable, and the solenoid terminal nut. Torque the mounting bolts to 37 pound-feet and the cable connection just past snug. (Torque specs are from the service manual; the rest is straight from Pete.)
1997-2001: third generation Jeep Cherokee

The Jeep Cherokee was extensively restyled for 1997, with new sheet metal, seats, door trim panels, and a new, electronic instrument panel (with microprocessor) added; a tachometer and trip odometer became standard. Outside, a new grille and air dam, along with numerous other changes and additions, updated the Cherokee's appearance. Front doors switched to a single pane of glass, and outside mirrors were enlarged, with optional power, heated mirrors.

The Cherokee kept its powertrain, but most of the electrical connectors were upgraded, a new plastic gas tank (20 gallons) replaced the steel tank and had a new fuel pump and new fuel lines. Transmissions were carried over, other than a new hydraulic clutch and pedal linkage on the manual transmissions. The Mark 20 antilock brake system was made available; the parking brake was relocated; a single-touch-down driver's power window was added; and a floor console became standard, with an optional overhead module.

The largest change was a switch to the CCD bus, which eliminated numerous wires and electrical connections; the bus included the powertrain control system, instrument cluster, airbags, compass, electric locks, and, with the Aisin Warner automatic, the transmission computer. The remote entry system was switched from infra-red to radio, and could be programmed using either the MDS or DRB systems.

A 500 amp battery replaced the 430 amp one, and a 117 amp alternator replaced the 81 amp alternator. An electronic airbag replaced the mechanical one, and became standard equipment.

See our 1997 Jeep Cherokee page and Jeep Cherokee Police Car pages; the latter has details on the differences between the standard and police Cherokee, and how their results in performance testing.

Also see Can and should Jeep build a new XJ?

Jeep Cherokee Specifications, 1992 and 1997

For acceleration, braking, and cornering results with comparisons to the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Explorer, see our coverage of the Michigan State Police tests of the Jeep Cherokee.

Offroad specs, 1997: Running ground clearance, 10.2 inches; approach, 38°; breakover, 24°; departure, 32°. Weight distribution 9four door), 53/47.

4WD specifications 199019921997
I4 power 121 @ 5250130 @ 5,250 125 @ 5,600
I4 torque 141 @ 3250149 @ 3,000 150 @ 3,250
mpg (manual)
I6 power 177 @ 4500190 @ 4,750 190 @ 4,600
I6 torque 224 @ 2500225 @ 4,000 225 @ 3,000
I6 mpg (manual)n/a15/2017/21
Axle clearance 8.88.3
Payload11501,1501,150 lb
rear seat up
35.7 c.f.35.6 cubic feet 34 cubic feet
Cargo, folded seat71.8 c.f.71.8 cubic feet 71 cubic feet
Max towing 5,000 lb
Drag (cD) .51
Frontal area 24.5 cubic feet
Headroom, F/R 38.3/38.038.3/38.037.8/38.5
Legroom, F/R 41.1/35.341.0/35.341.4/35.0
Shoulder room, F/R55.3/55.355.3/55.355.2/55.2
Brake type, F/R Disc/DrumDisc/DrumDisc/Drum
Base wheel size15 x 6 steel 15 x 6 steel 15 x 7 steel


Stabilizer bars, F/R.94 / .63.95" / .63" Unknown
Weight2,832-3,0762,985-3,0283,111 - 3,153 lb

2014 Cherokee2005-2007 Jeep Liberty2002-2004 Jeep LibertyCan and should Jeep build a new XJ?


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