The Jeep Cherokee XJ is often pointed to as the vehicle that started America's modern love affair with the SUV. Just right sized, boxy, handsome, and dependable, the model outlasted the company that originally designed and produced it by more than 15 years. Originally conceived by Jeep engineers under the American Motors corporate umbrella, with help from Renault who had a partnership with them at the time, the Cherokee was the first small SUV with all the off-road prowess of a larger truck, and car like amenities inside.
It was a million miles from its predecessor. The original Cherokee was a heavy, growling V8 (there was an ‘entry-level’ in-line six) powered wagon related to the Wagoneer, with styling that was retro when it debuted in the 60s.
The big Cherokee's replacement came with a lighter, modern unibody construction and some more sensible power units for a post-oil-crisis America (though the big Wagoneer kept going for another 6 years). Having said that, the smaller engine options weren’t especially tempting, and Cherokee fans would probably opt for the 2.8-liter or 4-liter six cylinder motors. Not so frugal, but more in keeping with the Jeep’s muscular image.
The rectangular styling may have looked conservative, even in its day, but while some designs of the time looked dated faster than MC Hammer's pants, the Cherokee’s shape has almost become an icon for the tough but stylish off-roader. Even now, its look combines on-road presence with everyday practicality that’s quite hard to pull off.
We’re not the only ones to think so. The second-generation Jeep Cherokee stayed on the US market from 1984 to 2001 – fourteen years. It’s been made all over the world, including China, Venezuela, Argentina and Egypt. The Beijing Auto Works kept making their version of the Cherokee until 2014, that's a full 30 years after the introduction!
A Grand Cherokee was introduced as a successor in 1993 with more luxury features and more room, but sales of the original remained strong so it was not canceled. In 2001 Jeep bowed to the inevitable and launched a new model called the Liberty, which was similar in size but with a more rounded profile. The Cherokee name was relaunched in 2014 with a sleek and radical design a million miles from the second-generation Cherokee’s iconic utilitarian rectangles.