There's a lot you can do to improve an XJ's articulation. Certainly there are a number of lift kits, steering assemblies and other suspension-minded aftermarket goodies available that will all help to do that. Yet, there was one innovative approach we'd heard about that intrigued us so much we just had to find out more about it.
Currie Enterprises in Anaheim, California sells a turnkey kit designed to give the Jeep Cherokee much more articulation than it has as a stocker. The Currie kit, which has been dubbed the "Sportsman" because it converts a stock XJ into a brawny trail-ready rig, features a 4-inch lift kit that employs military-wrap leaf springs, coils, bumpstops and new upper and lower "Johnny Joint" control arms (see sidebar). The lower control arms are fully adjustable and they allow pinion-angle and caster to be adjusted as well. The beefy arms themselves are thick, rounded heavy-duty shafts made of 1 ¼-inch heavy-wall DOM tubing, are zinc-plated and come with zerk fittings and Grade 8 mounting bolts.
When purchased complete, the kit also replaces the Cherokee's puny stock steering linkage with a thicker drag link, tie rod and panhard bar. This is key, because while many lift kits may elevate the XJ, they rarely compensate for the increased angles and resultant stress placed on the stock steering linkage. Still, there's more to the kit. It also uses innovative bushings for the upper and lower control arms. Called Johnny Joints, these connectors give you the movement of spherical rod-ends while also offering the vibration-free ride of conventional polyurethane bushings.
Though it's not part of the Sportsman kit, Currie can improve upon the Cherokee even further with a tailshaft conversion kit for the NP231 transfer case, swapping out its slip-yoke and replacing it with a fixed yoke and CV joint. The conversion moves the point at which the rear driveshaft connects to the transfer case closer to the front of the vehicle. This allows for a longer driveshaft, improving ride-height angle and reducing much of the tension on the shaft at full load.
Once installed, the 4-inch lift cleared the way for a set of 31x10.50x15 tires and offered substantially improved ground clearance. But what really impressed us was the articulation the XJ achieved--a full 10 inches of upward travel.