Killing off Jeep's biggest success
The model year was 1984, and Jeep took a leap of epic proportion (for them) - it unveiled its first all-new vehicle in more than 20 years. But fearing the change that comes with new things, it clung to an existing name: Cherokee. That, and Wagoneer. The Cherokee and Wagoneer II were created as smaller, lighter, cheaper alternatives to the existing fullsize Cherokee/Wagoneer (the Senior Jeep, or SJ, as that model was called, was then later renamed Grand Wagoneer, but more on that in another Autopsy). Think sport truck (XJ) versus family truckster (SJ). The two downsize product lines were differentiated from each other by the Cherokee's more rugged rep and the Wagoneer II's more luxo style. While trim levels came and went - then came again, then went again - and engines got more potent, the XJ remained essentially the same durable, capable Jeep throughout its existence until 2001. Just don't be fooled when you hear the Cherokee name still being spoken overseas. That's just a Liberty. And don't be fooled by the Commander - period.
In 1963, two new J Jeeps hit the ground running: the Wagoneer ute and the Gladiator pickup. But jump to 1983 (and $250 million later), and AMC realized big bucks could be had in the compact 4x4 market, so it debuted the all-new '84 "sport wagon." (Yes, its purpose was indeed to fill a void in the market, not to be a distraction from the death of the CJ-5.) The Cherokee came in two- and four-door configurations, while the Wagoneer II was offered simply as a four-door. The XJ's only "redesign" over the course of its life was more like a freshening, which happened to the '97 model when it got, most notably, a new grille and front fascia.
The Model/The Body
One of the biggest deals about the XJ was its "uniframe," or unibody, construction. The "new concept" in 4x4 design was to weld the box frame directly to the floorpan for more strength, better ground clearance, and even lighter weight compared to body-on-frame. The XJ came in at 21 inches shorter than the lengthy SJ (165.3 inches versus 186.3 inches) and with a wheelbase of 101.4 inches (compared to 108.7 inches). It was also narrower at 65.9 inches (the SJ was 72 inches). In addition to shedding the SJ's bulkier body, it dumped some poundage too - 901 pounds. It had a GVWR of 4,629 pounds.
When the XJ launched, the Cherokee had a base model as well as the sporty Chief and the fancy Pioneer, while the Wagoneer was offered in base and as a chic-y Limited. Which to get? The marketing slant was that the Cherokee was for first-time, recreational-going buyers, while the Wagoneer was geared toward repeat 4x4 buyers or ones who'd owned a two-by wagon. Translation: If you were young and poor, you'd buy a Cherokee. If you were old and rich, you'd go Wagoneer. Features unique to the Wagoneer were narrow fender flares (the Cherokee's were wide) and chrome side mirrors and door handles (the other XJ's were black).
In the next year came the Laredo - more flashy than the Pioneer - followed two years later by the Cherokee Limited (pimpy gold wheels, anyone?), then, shortly after, a two-door Limited. Plus, a two-door Sport. Keeping up? For 1990, the Pioneer was yanked and the Cherokee got wood - Briarwood. And then there were three: For 1993, models were just base, Sport, and Country (can't have anything more lavish than the new high-end Grand Cherokee, after all). But then there were three again: A year later the SE was born, although technically it was just a way to avoid the word "base." The year after the XJ's '97 redesign, the Classic arrived, and the dead Limited traded spaces with the alive Country, although only as an optional package, not a trim level - until 2000, when the Limited became an actual model again. Fickle much?
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The XJ came out of the gate with a brand-new AMC 2.5L four-cylinder as the standard engine, which made 110 hp, although that was bumped up to 117 hp by 1987 when it went fuel-injected. It had a one-barrel Carter/Weber carb and cast-iron block and head, with uniside-flow cylinder heads. GM's 115hp 2.8L V-6 had a two-barrel Rochester carb with an open-loop design in every state but California and had cross-flow cylinder heads (it also had one of AMC's highest warranty rates in its history). It used a 60-degree angle versus the more common 90-degree. The '87 2.5L engine got a new power-steering pump as well as a new water pump and a metric oil filter. The XJ also had a short-lived, optional Renault 126ci 2.1L turbodiesel four-banger that made 85 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque and featured a 21.5:1 compression ratio (it wasn't available in California; even back then, the state was an emissions-hugger).
The '87 model year is when radiator support got changed for more clearance and the firewall got tweaked so that the GM engine could be replaced by the glorious Power-Tech Six 4.0L six-cylinder, which had a high-flow head, multiport fuel-injection, and a displacement of 242ci. It made 177 hp at 4,500 rpm and 224 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm and ran a head-port design lifted straight from the 2.5L. For the '91 XJ, the high output version of the 4.0L was born (which was added to the Wrangler as well), and both it and the 2.5L got pony bumps. (For more technical details about the 4.0L, pull the April '06 issue from your archives, which has "The History of the 4.0L.")
The XJ received new four- and five-speed manual transmissions, which were engineered so that the entire gear assembly was supported by an intermediate bearing plate; the gear assembly could be removed right from the case. Both trannys had fully synchronized gears and an aluminum housing. The Cherokee had a Borg-Warner T-4 standard with the 2.5L, while a Borg-Warner T-5 with Overdrive was attached to the V-6 as standard equipment, although the four-cylinder could be had with it too. You're probably wondering, What about the Aisin Seiki AX-4 and AX-5? Jeep says the XJ started off production with the T-4 and T-5, although the production application is not clear. The optional automatic for either engine was a Chrysler 904 heavy-duty three-speed with a new lock-up converter. The Wagoneer got the five-speed as standard for both engines and the three-speed as the option (in other words, no four-speed manual for it). In 1987, a new four-speed automatic with Overdrive (AW4) replaced the three-speed and included Power and Comfort shift options. The four-speed manual also was deleted. The AX-15 five-speed manual appeared in 1988 and began phasing out the bad-tasting Peugeot BA-10 that had previously come with the 4.0L. The AX-15 was then swapped for the NV3550 in 2000.