To say the Jeep Cherokee XJ is a popular SUV is almost an understatement. It was the first SUV to switch from body-on-frame to unibody construction. But its simplicity and durable design meant it was still just as capable off-road. Police departments used them, and even 20 years after the last model rolled off the line, they’re still regularly seen on trails. And the Jeep Cherokee XJ’s fans aren’t found just in the US. In fact, recently, the XJ fan club gained one more member: Evo magazine founder Harry Metcalfe.
Jeep Cherokee XJ Wagoneer Limited specs and features
Although the Jeep Cherokee XJ was sold from 1983-2001, Europeans didn’t receive it until 1993. At least, they didn’t receive Euro-spec versions until then. The example Metcalfe drives is a 1989 Jeep Cherokee Wagoneer Limited—the first XJ to ever be imported into Europe.
It’s important to note that the Jeep Cherokee Wagoneer Limited isn’t the same as the Grand Wagoneer. The two, Motor1 reports, are somewhat related, in that early XJ design sketches are based on the SJ Grand Wagoneer. However, the SJ was the big, luxurious, body-on-frame SUV. The Cherokee, meanwhile, was designed to be a smaller, lighter, sportier SUV, Four Wheeler reports. However, the more luxurious trims of the XJ used the Wagoneer name. And the Wagoneer Limited was the top-of-the-line variant.
The 1989 Cherokee Wagoneer Limited is suitably fully loaded. Under the hood is a 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine, which has a legendary reputation for reliability, Road & Track, and Autotrader report. Inside, the SUV has leather seats, power windows, central locking, and cruise control.
For off-roading, the Jeep XJ offered four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case. There’s also a crawler gear for when the trail or hill gets really demanding. And, to help with low-speed rock-crawling, it has solid front and rear axles, Four Wheeler reports.
And it’s that blend of genuine capability and comfort that Metcalfe finds so appealing.
What makes the Jeep Cherokee XJ a great SUV?
Driving around his farm, Metcalfe compares the Jeep Cherokee XJ Wagoneer Limited to both the original Range Rover and Land Rover Discovery. And while both are off-road icons in their own right, Metcalfe actually prefers the Jeep XJ. In fact, he calls it “a mini Range Rover.”
That’s a fairly apt comparison. For one, the XJ was about 31” shorter than the SJ Grand Wagoneer. And yet, its unibody design meant it had almost the same interior space as the larger SUV. The smaller size also made the Jeep Cherokee light. It was about 900 pounds lighter than the SJ, and about 400 pounds lighter than the Range Rover. It was also faster than either the Range Rover or Discovery. In fact, a six-cylinder-equipped Jeep Cherokee XJ could go 0-60 3.4 seconds faster than a V8-equipped Land Rover Discovery.
But the “mini Range Rover” title also carries over to the driving experience. Even over heavily-potholed rural roads, Metcalfe reports the Cherokee Wagoneer Limited rides very well. It also handles rather well, due to its lighter weight. And being an 80s SUV, the lack of airbags makes for excellent visibility. Plus, the 4WD system means the Jeep can climb over hills or drift through fields easily, even without off-road tires. The transmission even offers a ‘Power Mode’ for faster shifts.
Also, in another point for the Jeep Cherokee XJ’s luxury credentials, the original owner of this SUV bought it to drive around his Saint Maritz ski chalet, The Hairpin Company reports. There, it shared garage space with a Porsche 959 supercar, Audi Ur-Quattro, and other high-end cars. Mini Range Rover indeed.
Pricing and availability
But, for all their extra features, Wagoneer Limited models aren’t necessarily more expensive. One sold on BaT in 2017 for about $5000. True, many XJ Cherokees come with over 100,000 miles on the clock. But Autotrader reports these SUVs are fairly robust. There are very few electronic components, and while 2000-2001 six-cylinder engines are known for cracking heads, overall, the powertrain is very durable. The main concern is rust.
It’s worth noting that, when it was new, the Jeep Cherokee XJ Wagoneer Limited was roughly half the price of the Range Rover. Although the price disparity has gone down, Range Rovers are consistently valued higher than Wagoneer Limiteds. But, considering how much restoration work goes into making Range Rovers reliable, getting an XJ might be the better bet.
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