Classic CARmentary: 1999 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4WD

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

What has always impressed me about the XJ Cherokee is how it manages to look so much bigger than it actually is.  Measure for measure, it’s almost identical to the tiny Chevrolet Trax and only six-inches longer than the comical Ford Ecosport.  I was actually convinced that its Liberty replacement was smaller until I looked at the specs.  Of course this was accomplished using small front and rear doors and compromising  passenger space, but I would prefer to be seen in one of these over any modern crossover in its size class.

Good design has its rewards, and not only was the Cherokee sold in the U.S. all the way until 2001, but versions of it were produced around the world until 2014.  That’s one hell of a run.

The following review was written on April 18, 1999.

Despite the fact that it’s entering its seventeenth season, the Cherokee is still a good seller for Chrysler’s Jeep division (trivia: Chrysler paid only a little more money to purchase Jeep than it would have cost to develop an SUV of its own). Part of the reason is the Jeep mystique: There are Jeeps, and then there are girly-man SUVs, and the Cherokee’s ability to take a small family to the outer reaches of the Yukon is one of the primary factors of its longevity. The sharp-edge styling is nearly unchanged and unmistakably Jeep. Its age is betrayed by the flat windshield, recessed windows, and grooves in the side body panels, an old styling touch.

Stepping inside is like stepping back in time. While a 1997 update modernized the dash, console and most of the controls, it still feels totally Eighties. You open a small door and step into a cramped interior with limited glass area. Most adults will find their knees jammed up against the seat back in the rear. The square body lends nicely to the cargo area, but the vertically-mounted spare tire takes up a lot of space. While it’s technically classified as a mid-size SUV, its dimensions are actually closer to the compacts like the Suzuki Vitara.

But the compacts don’t have a big-mamma 4.0-liter in-line six. Although abrasive sounding, it accelerates the Cherokee with authority. They also don’t have the Cherokee’s Selec-Trac four-wheel drive system, which allows you to select two-wheel drive for better gas mileage, part-time four-wheel drive for foul weather and off-road conditions, or full-time four-wheel drive. However, the ride is extremely harsh and bouncy, and wind-noise as well as engine and road noise is commensurate with some airplanes.

All of this would be more acceptable if the price wasn’t over $27,000, which is the tally for our fully loaded, leather, power-everything Cherokee Limited. Please take my advice and get a base Grand Cherokee, which is still well equipped and a world-class modern SUV for about the same money. If you must have a Jeep and your budget is limited, the base SE with four-wheel drive starts at a more reasonable $18,600.

For more information contact 1-800-925-JEEP


Type: Four-door Sport-Utility Vehicle
Engine: 190-horsepower, 4.0 liter inline-6
Transmission: Four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 16 city/21 highway
Tested Price: $27,260