My Curbside Classic: 1989 Jeep XJ Wagoneer Limited – A Cherokee With a Few Extras


In the fall of 2013, my fiancé and I were in the market for a new daily driver.  Well, when I say new, I mean well used but new to us.  Our decrepit and battered Ford Focus wagon had blown its timing belt and we knew with our crazy schedules that we couldn’t make ends meet with just one reliable vehicle. I also knew that our budget was slim at best and that we both wanted to own something with a bit of character and style. So on a rainy afternoon, I took a drive out to southwest Littleton to look at a 1989 Jeep Wagoneer Limited.  Within 1 hour we were in love with the di-noc wood paneled box. Cash changed hands and that evening, we added the Wagoneer to our fleet.


The XJ  version of the Wagoneer became part of the Jeep lineup in 1984 with the introduction of the new downsized Cherokee XJ platform.  The full-size SJ Wagoneer would continue on as the top of the line Grand Wagoneer from that point forward.


XJ Wagoneer’s were marketed as upscale, top of the line versions of the standard Cherokee and therefore came with every available option at the time.


Ours came equipped with leather power seats, power mirrors, power windows and locks, A/C, digital dash clock,  fog lights, fake wood trim on the dash and doors and of course di-noc wood paneling all over the body.   Surprisingly, every single power option with the exception of the driver’s side power window, still works perfectly on ours.


Early Wagoneers had the standard Cherokee headlight and grill setup.  Starting with the 1987 MY, Wagoneers received their signature quad-headlight front ends which moved the signal lights inside of the unique front grill.


1987 also marked the first year of the legendary Jeep 4.0 liter inline six being stuffed under XJ hoods. replacing the 2.8L GM v-6.  In its initial incarnation, the 242 cubic inch motor would produce 177HP and 224 lb-ft of torque.  1991 and later versions, dubbed the HO for “High Output,” of the 4.0 would see a power increase to 190hp and 225 lb-ft of torque thanks to a slightly redesigned cylinder head.  The HO version of this motor would continue in the Jeep lineup virtually unchanged until 2006.


The 4.0 inline six in our Wagoneer is original and carries all of the quirks of the original Renault influenced design, including the well-known RENIX (Renault/Bendix) engine management system as well as a very difficult closed loop pressurized cooling system.  While many folks in the Jeep world cannot stand either of these items, we have yet have any issues with the RENIX system or the cooling.


Our Wagoneer is an original Colorado vehicle and had been owned by the second owners since 1991.  Aside from some faded paint and peeling clear coat, the body and interior are pretty well preserved.  There is not a spot of rust anywhere.  The Asin-Warner AW-4 4 speed automatic shifts perfectly and the inline six still pulls very strong with tons of low end torque even with nearly 170,000 miles.


Our Wagoneer also has the advanced for the times NP242 Selec-Trac transfer case.  This transfer case allows for either full-time 4wheel drive on dry surfaces, or part time 4-wheel drive in snow or mud.  The transfer case also has a 4-low option for low speed crawling.  This technology seems archaic now but in 1989, it was a pretty unique feature.


For the last 2 years, the Wagoneer has served as a reliable albeit gas guzzling daily driver.  However, on the weekends, the Jeep was ready for play, spending plenty of time shuttling us to various far flung mountain bike trail heads across the southwest.


As a road trip and camping vehicle, the Wagoneer is truly in it’s element.  It’s a comfortable and competent highway cruiser.  And when the going get’s dusty, muddy, rocky or snowy, it turns into a competent off roader.


Most recently, Robyn and I completed a 1,600 mile camping/off-roading/mountain biking road trip through Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico.


On desert back roads, the Wagoneer really feels at home.  In 4-low it will crawl up and over obstacles you wouldn’t imagine a bone stock old suburbanite grocery-getter would be capable of handling.


Although the Jeep has never let us down, it does have almost 170,000 miles on it and I have had to do my fair share of work to keep it driveable.  Early in the vehicle’s life with us, I had to replace the valve cover gasket which was pouring oil and the entire cooling system which was leaking profusely.  I’ve also replaced almost the entire brake system and the starter motor.  Most recently, the power steering pump has started squealing like a stuck pig and leaking from the return line.  That and the 26 year old suspension will be getting replaced later this summer.


Overall our Jeep Wagoneer has been one of our favorite vehicles.  Though it is in no way pristine, we have had multiple people leave notes on the windshield asking us to contact them if we should decide to sell. Maybe we would someday, but for now, we intend to enjoy it awhile longer.


Recently, the Jeep has gone into a semi-retirement as Robyn and I have purchased a low mileage Subaru Outback to take over responsibilities as a daily driver.  Going forward, we hope to use the Wagoneer for our regular trips to the southwestern deserts as well as for exploring Colorado’s endless mining roads.  We hope to keep the old Wagoneer in the family for years to come.