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First Generation SJ (1974 – 1983)
The first Cherokee was a spinoff from an SUV known as Jeep Wagoneer. It looked and even felt like the Wagoneer; only the Wagoneer had lost two doors to shed some weight and become smaller. Jeep targeted younger people with the Cherokee who required a smaller vehicle for their small families, toning down the ruggedness of the predecessor.
The first generation came with plenty of engine options, which included the following:
- The 401 AMC V8, capable of producing 215 horsepower, enough to outperform almost every other competitor
- A 5.9 liter V8 with double-barrel carburetor producing 175 horsepower
- A 4.2-liter straight inline six-cylinder that shelled out 110 horsepower
- The 360 V8, coupled with four-barrel carburetors
- A turbo-diesel engine variant was also available
A four-speed manual transmission was standard in all Jeep Cherokees, but the new owners had an option of selecting an automatic for a small price.
Since this generation lasted for around nine years, minor changes were made over the years. Here are a few notable ones
- A chief package was introduced in 1976 and offered extended fenders for larger tires
- A four-door model was introduced in the year 1977
- The automatic transmission was changed from the GM Turbo Hydramitic to the Chrysler Torque Flite in 1979
Second Generation XJ (1984 – 2001)
The second-generation Cherokee, more commonly known as the XJ, is the most famous Jeep model. It is considered to have played a vital role in developing 4x4 SUVs. Given that this generation lasted for seventeen years, you will not be surprised to see still a few of them running around. As they are now becoming vintage collectibles, their value has started to increase.
This model is also famous for being the first American SUV that focused more on off-roading. It mainly came with a four-wheel drive, but a slightly lower-priced rear-wheel drive option was also available. Similarly, the vehicle came as a 4-door SUV, and a 2-door variant was also an option.
Just like the previous generation, Jeep did not hold back when providing engine options. The second generation could be bought with:
- 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder diesel engine
- 2.1-liter turbo diesel engine
- 2.8 liter V6
- 4.0 liter straight inline six-cylinder engine
However, the 2.8 liter and 2.1-liter options did not last very long and were removed soon after the introduction of the second generation. The 2.5-liter engine lasted until 1996, which is when the second generation received a refresh.
The 1996 refresh did not bring about any significant changes. But some of the most notable ones include:
- Smoother lines were added to tone down the boxy appearance
- The taillights were upgraded for a fancier design
- The fiberglass tailgate was replaced with a steel one
The second generation was offered in various trims, starting from the basic, aka SE, to Pioneer and Limited. The higher decorations included luxuries like power seats, keyless entry, and air conditioning.
Third Generation KJ (2002 – 2013)
The third generation Cherokee was renamed Jeep Liberty in North America, but it still held its name internationally. Jeep anticipated that the market might not differentiate it from the Grand Cherokee, and the cars would end up conflicting with one another.
This model was the first to use a rack and pinion steering system. It was also the pioneer to incorporate the PowerTech Jeep engines.
Although there were countless recalls for some models of this generation, other models were well beyond par.
Here are some of the models that you should buy from the third generation:
Despite being over a decade old, this model still stands out as one of the top models for the Jeep Cherokee. The rugged and durable compact SUV does not fail to impress with its running condition and performance.
This model looks compact and trim on the outside, but it feels nothing like a compact as soon as you step inside. With a beautiful interior and a stylish exterior, this model is still one of the most sought-after Jeeps, even years after it was produced.
Under the hood, this model is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 engine, which produces 210 horsepower. To deliver that power to the wheels, the Cherokee houses a five-speed automatic transmission.
Understandably, a car so old will not come with the latest technology and complex gadgets. However, the vehicle still houses essential features like keyless entry, six speakers, an external temperature display, and heated mirrors.
With time, the 2009 Jeeps have been disappearing from the market. Most people assume that the car is too old to sell and no one will want to buy it. However, the Cherokee 2009 is one of the most durable cars out there, lasting for many more years to come.
This was also a good model for the Cherokee. Like its predecessor, it exhibited extraordinary off-roading abilities due to its durable structure and powerful engine. The interior design of this model was superior to many of its competitors.
Even today, there are numerous satisfied customers for the 2010 model and continue to purchase it due to its reliability and durability.
One major downside of this model is fuel economy. Most competitors moved towards fuel-efficient SUVs in 2010, but Jeep decided not to compromise engine power for better fuel economy.
This model remains similar to the last two, with some optional features added. The 2011 Cherokee housed heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, and a rear-seat entertainment system. Jeep focused more on fuel economy in this model and decided to let go of the 5.8 liter Hemi engine.
In addition to these three good models, there are three models that we advise steering clear of because they have had the most number of issues since their inception.
Avoid the 2002 Cherokee
This model made the most significant sales in the third generation, hitting around 175,000 units sold in the US. But it did not turn out to be a hit as sales declined every year from 2002.
The reason for the decline was the numerous problems that came with the vehicle. Nearly all safety features, including airbags, seatbelts, and overall safety rating of the car, were below average. The airbag light would turn on some vehicles, while the airbag would not deploy upon collision for others.
In addition to issues inside, another common problem was a weak fuel tank that would start leaking erratically. This resulted in many fires and led to the car getting poor safety and crash test ratings.
Avoid the 2004 Cherokee
The 2004 Cherokee was much better at safety ratings than the 2002 model, but it had newer problems. An off-road vehicle made to brave the rough terrains had defective ball joints. The powerful SUV also came with power window issues, where the motor failed on multiple models and faulty rear reflectors.
While Jeep took significant measures to improve the overall safety rating of the Cherokee, the minor issues are still enough to put this SUV on the vehicles to avoid list.
Avoid the 2012 Cherokee
It was almost like Jeep started a generation of problems and ended it with some more problems. The last model of the third generation came with suspension, transmission, and fuel economy issues.
Although fuel economy is one of the last things that SUV owners worry about, the 2012 Cherokee had everything but an impressive fuel average. Where competitor SUVs ranged between 25 and 27 miles per gallon, Cherokee remained at around 18 mpg.
Transmission issues plagued the 2012 model further. The sophisticated automatic transmission was known to lag and even fail at times. The main culprit for the failure was transmission fluid seepage and leakage. The transmission would go low on fluid without the owner knowing, leading to multiple problems.
Somehow, suspension issues came back to the Cherokee and led to numerous recalls. The control arms and ball joints would fail even before fifty thousand miles. These were very expensive to repair and were not covered in the warranty.
The third generation Cherokee, which was produced under the brand name Liberty until the end of 2012, did not have a very graceful exit. But for Jeep, only the Liberty brand got tarnished, allowing the company to re-launch the Jeep Cherokee once again.
Fourth Generation KL (2014 – Present)
To replace the slightly tarnished Liberty, Jeep made a comeback with the Cherokee in 2014. This was nothing like any of the previous Cherokees. The smooth lines and the sporty body work were enough to envy the competitors. Although the new Cherokee looks much sleeker and gentle, it does not compromise on its off-road abilities.
The trims offered many options, including three different styles of four-wheel-drive systems. Under the hood, the owners had the choice of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a more powerful 3.2 Liter V6. Both these engines were coupled with a modern nine-speed transmission.
The base model came with a touchscreen infotainment system. The higher trims offered luxury features like a larger touchscreen, better sound system, remote starting, and heated leather seats. The trailhawk trim was best suited for off-roading. It came with an advanced four-wheel-drive system and better suspension.
The updated Jeep Cherokee has made quite an impression in the SUV and crossover market. Let us look at some of the most popular models.
The 2015 model is where you begin to see new technologies incorporated in the Cherokee. You can drive on all terrains with this model. The Selec-Terrain system allows you to set the proper traction for mud, sand, rock, and snow. If you don’t want to do this manually, the advanced system automatically senses the movement of the vehicles and sets the best settings for the terrain you are on.
While the new model does have a technologically advanced and luxurious interior, previous Cherokee owners are likely to find it small and congested.
Jeep performed a mid-cycle refresh for the Cherokee in 2019, giving it a new appearance. You now had the option of purchasing a Cherokee with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine under the hood.
Inside, the car comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In addition to these entertainment features, the vehicle is now equipped with hill start assist and brake hold, a feature loved by off-roading enthusiasts.
The Cherokee is a majestic SUV that has undergone numerous transformations over its fifty-year history. Historical models are increasingly becoming collectors’ favorites. The newer models flaunt modern technology to provide the best driving experience, both on and off the road.
Despite the changes and advancements, Jeep has retained the fundamental essence of the Cherokee; to be the most rugged and reliable SUV in the market. While the old Cherokee was built to take on rough terrains, the new models perform exceptionally well both on and off the paved roads. It does not take the new Cherokee long to turn from a quiet and smooth everyday vehicle into a powerful beast that can easily brave tough terrains.
About The Author
Working as a restoration tech on exclusively Mopar offerings of the late 60’s and early 70’s honed the skills to build what I consider the most prestigious make of American cars of that era. The iconic slant six, behemoth 426 Hemi and everything in between shaped my view on the automotive world. I’ve translated those skills towards vehicles that “everyman” has access to enjoy and Mopar influence still plays a significant role.Read More About Tyler Herndon