What Is A Jeep Cherokee Classic?
The second generation of the Jeep Cherokee XJ became a popular option for many young buyers, as over 2.8 million units were manufactured during its production cycle. By the time the Classic rolled off the assembly line in 1996, Chrysler had ended its feud with Renault and wholly absorbed the Jeep line.
During the Cherokee’s lengthy run, the Classic was offered as a trim for only five years. Even though Jeep experimented with plenty of different trims over the years, they offered the Classic trim in 1996, decided to drop it in ‘97, and then changed their minds by reinserting it with a facelift from ‘98 through 2001.
For the ‘96 model year, the Classic edition joined the SE, Sport, and Country trims. The SE and Sport had been enjoying tremendous success, and Jeep wanted to capitalize by offering a mid-level entry (Classic) and the upgraded luxury version called the Country.
The SE had replaced the base model in 1994 and had most of the everyday things you would expect in a no-frill entry, like full-faced steel wheels, a plain steering wheel, air, manual locks, and an AM radio.
The Sport offered remote keyless entry, vinyl/cloth upholstery, air conditioning, and an AM/FM stereo with cassette.
The Country had more bells and whistles, with an upgraded sound system, upholstery, and power seats (it would be replaced in ‘98 when Jeep released the Limited trim).
Body and Appearance
Even though the Classic was considered a mid-entry, it had plenty to offer. The construction was unibody (which Jeep first used in 1984 when the Cherokee was first developed). The unibody allowed Jeep to lighten the vehicle, instantly improve fuel economy, and give the Cherokee a more car-like ride than the rough-and-tumble Wrangler.
Most Jeep XJ Classic trims had a monochrome paint job (the ‘98 brochure offers seven paint choices, Black, Red, White, Moss Green, Amethyst, Gunmetal Grey, and Chili Pepper Red). The most common Cherokee classics were four-door models, and although the two-door model existed in ‘96, it was pretty rare. The 16” alloy wheels helped separate it from the lower trim (SE), giving the XJ Cherokee a nice upgrade image.
The 97 - 2001 models featured a facelift over the previous version of the XJ Cherokee. The front fascia was tweaked with seven vertical slats, and although the company kept the metal bumpers, they added plastic accents on each end. Chrysler added a new liftgate, and modified rear taillights.
The interior was a fuller, more visible dashboard that pushed in toward the cockpit a bit. A large center console hid the transmission hump, and airbags became a standard for all models.
A few features of the Jeep Cherokee Classic were an upgraded interior from the SE: in that, it had cloth upholstery, an overhead console, AM/FM stereo, and air conditioning. A standard feature for the Cherokee (Sport and higher) was keyless remote entry (a must-have for most new American buyers).
One of the most intriguing features of the XJ Cherokee was the ability to haul a bunch of cargo. Americans could now load up for the weekend with all their gear. (The rear seats could be removed to allow additional cargo space, with a release lever on the passenger side).
The Cherokee was powered by the 4.0L 242 I-6, delivering 190 horsepower and 225 lb/ft torque. The Classic offered good fuel economy at nearly 20 mpg and had a top speed of 112 mph. Equipped with a standard five-speed manual overdrive or the option of 4-speed auto, the automatic transmission had plenty of power for pulling, towing, or off-roading. With its Command-Trac part-time 4WD, using NP231 transfer case, owners had the choice of 2Hi, 4Hi, N, or 4Lo.
The CommandTrac had been used on Jeeps with great success for over a decade and a half, so Jeep knew it to be reliable and sturdy. While the system relied on a chain-driven, aluminum case to keep the weight down, CommandTrac’s 4WD locked both axles together when owners used the “shift-on-the-fly.” Of course, Jeep issued stern warnings about using the CommandTrac in anything but 2WD (highway or dry surfaces) so as not to burn up the tires and drivetrain.
The company had little to worry about as most Americans preferred the off-roading capabilities of the small SUV. The low gear ratio of 2.72:1 was appropriate for all but the most extreme off-road conditions, and Americans found the Cherokee the perfect weekend excursion vehicle. The rugged off-road capabilities were the press point for most advertising. A 1999 television commercial claimed the Cherokee could “climb a 30% grade, laugh at an 80% chance of snow, and provide 100% freedom and do it for 10% less than the competition.”
What Are The Specifications for the Jeep Cherokee Classic?
The specs and key features of the Jeep XJ Classic are listed below.
What Would A Jeep Cherokee Classic Cost?
While the prices of a classic Jeep Cherokee tend to fluctuate with the season, the value of the Jeep Cherokee Classic trim levels is rising. A review of online websites offered a few choices, ranging from $1000 to $16,995, (depending on the condition). One example is a 1999 Classic with around 200k miles, which was offered for $4500.
For a listing of the best 50 Jeep XJ Cherokee Classics available for sale, check out autolist.com’s website.
Why Did Chrysler Stop Making the Jeep Cherokee?
In 2001, the Jeep XJ Cherokee production was discontinued, and the nameplate became the Liberty (KJ). The small SUV continued to be marketed overseas as the “Jeep Cherokee” for a few years afterward, but Jeep shifted its primary attention to the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee (both of which have continued to the present day).
Initially, the Liberty sold pretty well, but it had less power and not nearly enough amenities to satisfy suburbanites who were quickly becoming enthralled with the likes of Honda, Toyota, and upstart South Korean maker Hyundai. In the last year of the Liberty’s production, Honda was outselling Chrysler’s Jeep Liberty nearly three to one.
Eventually, the Cherokee would make another appearance in 2014 with a much smaller frame and less rugged look. While the newer models had a 45% better fuel economy than the older Jeep Liberty it replaced, Americans hated the new design. Many Jeep owners failed to see anything positive about the Cherokee (which looked more like a Honda CR-V than the old staunch Jeeps of the past). Jeep pressed on with the redesign, refining the front end in 2018 and continuing to offer the Cherokee until late 2023, when the nameplate was retired for the second time.
About THE AUTHOR
My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.Read More About Matt Lane