Jeep Cherokee XJ 1994-2001

This series of articles offers buying tips and advice on some of our all-time favourite used four wheel drives. Vehicles that have proven themselves and stood the test of time. These vehicles, if serviced and looked after properly, can represent good value for anyone searching for a used 4x4. In this article we examine the Jeep Cherokee XJ 1994-2001.

An Unfriendly Welcome
Jeep Cherokee XJ 1994-2001n

Many would consider the XJ Jeep Cherokee undeserving of a place alongside classic four wheel drives.

On it's Australian release in 1994 it debuted with tacky interior styling and trim, a cramped cabin and antiquated technology. The Australian motoring media derided it, claiming it couldn't turn in a paddock, handled poorly on the road and drank fuel. All these statements contained an element of truth. Still, no one denied, the XJ Jeep could eat up the dirt.

The Jeep interior was cramped and an average adult quickly suffered claustrophobia in the rear seats. Added to that the interior trim looked destined to disintegrate and fall off at any moment and the dashboard arrangement was decidedly un-Japanese.

The Jeep Cherokee XJ was a big hit in the United States when AMC/Chrysler unveiled it in 1984 but when it arrived in Australia 10 years later it seemed doomed to sales oblivion.

However the Australian 4WD buying public picked up on it and plenty were sold. Part of the attraction was AMC/Chryslers strategy to manufacture a mid sized Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) that could perform services as a daily-driver and capable off-road scrambler.

Jeep, is of course, synonymous with the army vehicle first made in 1941 for the U.S. Military and perhaps Chrysler favoured the 4x4 element in this design rather than loading it up with on-road comforts. U.S. Police forces and government agencies bought it by the thousands and while the XJ Jeep may not have been the liveliest or best handling street car it had an uncanny knack of pulling it all together in four wheel drive mode.


The XJ tipped the scales at just over 1.5 tonnes and was constructed around a unibody platform which doesn't offer the same rigidity as a cab-on-chassis design but worked in the compact Jeep.

A fully cast 4.0 litre inline six cylinder engine provided 135 kW at 4700 rpm while torque was 299 Nm at 3200 rpm. The torque curve was the strength of the engine which delivered lots of hill climbing, rock munching power down low - just where you want it when the going gets tough. The engine was old school push rod design with fuel injection and electronic ignition. It was an ageing and simple design that proved rugged if not thirsty when pushed. Fuel consumption was claimed to be 14.4 litres per 100km although 16 litres was closer to real world driving. One saving grace was a top-end design that allowed fitting of LPG without valve train modification and many Australian units had a gas tank added.

Engines and Gearboxes

The six cylinder engine was coupled to a four speed electronic automatic transmission. No manual was available for the petrol model. The auto did come with some refinements though, one was the ability to 'shift on the fly' or select between 2WD and 4WD at any speed. A two speed transfer case moved from High-range 4x4 to Low-range 4x4 and the centre differential could be 'locked' for better traction when things got loose. The Jeep could also be driven on the highway in 4WD - useful on wet or snowy roads.

In 1997 a 2.5 litre four cylinder diesel engine was added to the line up. It sported an intercooler and turbo charger and developed 85 kW at 3900 rpm and 300 Nm of torque at 2000 rpm. Coupled to a five speed manual gearbox it ran on the smell of the proverbial 'oily rag' compared to the petrol six.


A coil sprung front end combined with leaf springs on the rear and solid axles all around completed what turned out to be an extremely strong drive train and suspension setup.

Fuel capacity was 76 litres and the XJ Jeep could be ordered as 'Sports' or 'Limited' models. The sports package had heavier duty suspension while the Limited came in a softer 'European' arrangement. The Limited had colour coded bumpers and grill, wider tyres on alloy rims, an overhead console, electric leather seats and anti-lock brakes. The Sport was appointed with cloth trim, central locking, power mirrors and windows, power steering, air-conditioning and a limited-slip diff.


Thankfully, the media was wrong and the Jeep Cherokee XJ has survived and proved to be a durable performer that handles the Australian conditions with relative ease. Part of the problem is that the Jeep was probably not what was expected of the Americans - a big, burly F100 being somehow more appropriate.

While they may not be everyone's cup of 4WD tea, the Jeep has an awful lot going for it as an off-road investment. These vehicles were priced competitively when new and good units that may never have left the highway abound.

Solid bodies with good approach and departure angles make for a solid foundation to build on. The town friendly ground clearance means that a suspension lift is required to straddle really tricky obstacles and hills. That's all that's required to transform a common sense design and bullet proof drive-train into a real off-road weapon.

The article 4WD Accessories, What do you need? offers some tips on outfitting a four wheel drive.

Four Wheel Drive Suspension Lift details some options on how to get a bit more ground clearance.

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