Jeep Cherokee - The Sky's The Limit - TechnicalPosted in Product Reviews on April 1, 2001
The Jeep Cherokee has long been considered a good trail rig. It is big enough to hold the family and all the gear on off-road excursions. Its longer wheelbase brings its own advantages in steep, off-camber terrain. And there is a plethora of aftermarket parts available for the Cherokee that make even the most ambitious buildup a breeze.
Yet, the Cherokee has almost always been considered the lesser sibling when compared to the CJ, YJ, and TJ. Until recently. About a year ago, we began to notice that Cherokee projects were being undertaken by hard-core four-wheelers who, at one point in the not-so-distant past, would never have considered an XJ a serious trail rig - or at least not one comparable to the short-wheelbase Jeeps. We feel that this change of heart is due primarily to simple human nature. After all, you can only concentrate on one thing for so long before you start to look for new challenges. Enter the Cherokee.
Consider this: There are a lot of Cherokees on the market today, and they are relatively inexpensive to get in to. They share many of the same parts with their shorter brothers, so experience with the CJ, YJ, and TJ translates well. And there is a slew of manufacturers out there who have been building serious off-road equipment for the Cherokee for years.
It was all of this combined that encouraged us to purchase our '96 Cherokee and begin turning it into an off-road machine. In the last issue, we took a rebuilt NP231 transfer case from National Drivetrain and installed a CV-compatible, fixed-yoke conversion kit from Skyjacker. This is a good idea any time you lift your rig more than about 3 inches because it will eliminate any problems with pinion angles and driveshaft vibration. And, in our case, it was essential because we were getting ready to install Skyjacker's new 6-inch Rock Ready suspension kit.
In the past, one of the big problems with suspension lifts of this height was that the change in suspension geometry left the rig unstable, especially at any kind of speed. To address this, Skyjacker designed a complete subframe assembly that bolts into the stock hole locations and incorporates longer upper and lower control arms for greater stability on and off the road. According to Skyjacker, the new design will allow only 1-1/2 degrees of camber/caster change through a full cycle of the suspension.
The 6 inches of lift provide excellent clearance underneath while making room for as big as 33-inch tires. We've heard of people getting 35s in the narrow Cherokee wheelwells but not, we suspect, without doing some serious saw work. Because we wanted to get a feel for what tires would work best, we started with a set of 31x10.5R15 Dunlop Radial Mud Rovers mounted on 15x8 Mickey Thompson M/T Classic IIs. The Rovers work great off road, but we'll soon be swapping to 33s. With new driveshafts also an essential part of this lift, we had Tom Wood's Custom Driveshafts cut us two new units that now work perfectly.
We found this to be one of the easiest installs we've done in a while. The powdercoated subframe assembly actually lined up perfectly with every stock hole. Not once were any strong-arm tactics required. The kit uses factory holes for every piece. The only drilling required was in the coil spring plates in order to bolt down the aluminum bumpstop spacers. The boys at 4 Wheel Parts Wholesalers in Redondo Beach, California, put the complete kit on in a day, and we were out four-wheeling that weekend. We are still getting our suspension broken in, but so far it has given us good articulation in the rocks and still steers straight on the road with no sign of bumpsteer.