The Evolution of the Jeep Cherokee

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The Jeep Cherokee has long been one of the most popular models at Jeep dealers throughout the country.

But the Jeep Cherokee you see at dealerships today is markedly different from the Jeep Cherokee that the respected off-roading brand first put out in 1974. In fact, the Jeep Cherokee has gone through five iterations in the decades since its introduction, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee has included four iterations.

To truly understand how the design of the Jeep Cherokee as you currently see it came to be, you need to look back at the evolution of this popular SUV. You can see traces of the current Cherokee even in the first model produced more than 40 years ago.

Here’s a look back at the evolution of this popular Jeep:

Jeep Cherokee SJ

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The Jeep Cherokee SJ was produced between 1974 and 1983. It was based on the Jeep Grand Wagoneer (introduced over a decade earlier), and that’s clear the moment you look at it.

The boxy body looks like a pickup truck with a camper fused to its back. Yet there is a back row that provides more passenger space than a pickup. The Cherokee SJ was first introduced as a two-door model, but a four-door option was added in 1977.

The original marketing materials for the Jeep Cherokee SJ called it a “Jeep and a half,” and that’s an apt description.
The original sales copy also first introduced the term “sport utility vehicle. The Cherokee was a cross between a great off-road vehicle and a comfortable family vehicle.

The Cherokee wasn’t a pretty vehicle, but it offered a spacious interior that created a comfortable ride, and it had enough power under the hood for some weekend off-roading or to have more control on the road.

The first model was introduced with a choice of an AMC Inline 6 or a V8 engine, with output ranging from 110 horse power to 215 horse power. The transmission choices were a simple four-speed manual or three-speed automatic. When you look back at these specs from today’s perspective, they may seem paltry. However, the Jeep Cherokee SJ could outperform most other 4×4 vehicles in its class.

The Jeep Cherokee was marketed around the world, and it was successful right out of the gate. The first year, it won the “Achievement Award” from Four Wheeler Magazine (later to be known as the “Four Wheeler of the Year” award).

Jeep Cherokee XJ

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The next iteration of the Jeep Cherokee was the XJ, which was produced between 1984 and 2001. This was the longest-running Jeep Cherokee model, and it bears a strong resemblance to the Cherokee that is currently produced.

The most notable change between the XJ and the SJ was the more “compact” body size. The XJ is still an SUV, but it doesn’t have that longer back end that’s reminiscent of a pickup truck. While that means that there was a little less cargo space at the back than what the SJ offered, it also means that the XJ got better fuel efficiency and was a little easier for most drivers to handle.

The Jeep Cherokee XJ maintained the boxy look, but it was a bit more sculpted and stylized than its predecessor. The front fascia included wide-set, round head lights and the vertical, slotted grille that is unique to Jeep and can be seen in some iteration on most models. A contrasting color ran along the bottom of the body, creating definition.

The XJ received a design makeover in 1997 that included a slightly shorter body, more rounded-off edges, and a more pronounced slotted grille.

Throughout the XJ’s run, two- and four-door options were made available, as were a number of drive trains. In fact, two-wheel drive was introduced for the first time in 1985.

The first Cherokee XJ came with a 2.5-liter engine that put out 105 horse power and 132 pounds per feet of torque. A 2.8-liter V6 option was also available that put out 115 horse power and 145 pounds per feet of torque.

The most powerful engine offered in the XJ’s entire run was 4.0-liter AMC Inline 6 engine that put out 190 horse power and 225 pounds per feet of torque.

Twelve trim levels and special editions were made available over the life of the XJ, offering a number of cutting-edge options to improve the ride. The XJ was a continual success, with Automobile magazine calling it one of the “20 greatest cars of all time” and Kiplinger calling it one of the “10 cars that refuse to die. The Jeep Cherokee XJ was so popular that it actually spawned strong competitors including the Ford Explorer

Jeep Cherokee KJ

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The Jeep Cherokee KJ was also known as the Jeep Liberty, and it ran from 2002 to 2007.

The KJ took on a decidedly more “toyish” look than what the Cherokee previously sported. Not a flat edge could be found, and the proportions were a bit blown out. The body appeared much taller, and the KJ had an overall “bubbly” appearance.

The slotted grille was well-defined, and the round head lights were raised slightly above it. A contrasting bar ran down the side panels, and contrasting edges lined the front fascia and wheel wells.

Even if the KJ looked softer and more playful, it didn’t disappoint as far as performance. The Liberty was the first in Jeep’s lineup to use the new Powertech engine. It came with either a 2.4-liter that put out 150 horse power or a 3.7-liter V6 that put out 210 horse power.

The KJ also included two four-wheel drive systems that provided drivers plenty of options for navigating challenging terrain.

Sales were a bit weak when the KJ was introduced in 2001, but they doubled by the following year and remained strong for the rest of the run.

Jeep Cherokee KK

Also known as the Jeep Liberty, the Jeep Cherokee KK ran from 2008 to 2013. In fact, you can still find many of these models at Jeep dealerships in South Florida.

Where the KJ made all the edges soft and bubbly, the KK completely reversed track. Designers went through and accentuated every edge, even creating a square covering around the wheel wells. The front fascia has a lot more muscle, and the rear is a strong cube. There are no aerodynamic lines on this SUV, which may not be best for reaching top speeds but does provide more interior space for passengers and cargo.

The power train offered either a 2.8-liter turbo diesel Inline 4 engine or a 3.7-liter PowerTech V6 gas engine. Three transmissions were available: a four-speed automatic, five-speed automatic or six-speed manual.

The new Jeep Cherokee KJ was also upgraded with plenty of features that are now standard, such as side airbags, rain-sensing wipers, a navigation system, satellite radio, Bluetooth capability, and more.

The Liberty KJ was eventually discontinued to make way for a new compact Cherokee.

Jeep Cherokee KL

The Jeep Cherokee KL is the current model, and it was just introduced last year. This is the primary model you will see when you shop Jeep dealerships in South Florida right now.

The newest Jeep Cherokee has received a major redesign for a more luxury look. The Cherokee is more aerodynamic, and it has a sleeker and more sophisticated look. You’ll still see the slotted grille, but the rounded head lights have been slitted and drawn back. The body sculpting is a cross between a strong, boxy look and a more toned-down, refined look.

The new Cherokee looks as good as it drives. It comes with a powerful engine, a four-wheel drive system, and advanced mechanical features that help it navigate all types of terrain effortlessly. It is also stocked with advanced convenience and safety features, making it an enjoyable ride.

Visit your local Jeep dealerships in South Florida to learn more about the newest Cherokee or to shop for used versions of past, popular Cherokee models.