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Ranking Used Jeep XJ Cherokee Models by Year—Best to Worst

XJ Cherokee Jeep Cherokee Jeep SUV 4.0L Jeep

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#1 rrogers



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Posted 26 June 2013 - 09:09 AM

I'm looking at Jeep XJ Cherokees for a possible build-up and light four-wheeling.  Jp Magazine (May 2013 issue) rates used Cherokees from best to worst.  Here is their ranking:


'98 - '991/2

'00 and '01 with a manual





Do others agree with this?

#2 Moses Ludel

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 10:14 AM

Haven't seen the article, so I'm unaware of the "why".  Shooting from the hip, here's my take:  We have a ’99, and it’s the best 4.0L engine, PCM, overall package.  Later have coil-on-plug ignition and a less desirable cylinder head, earlier '96 and '97 have transition from OBD to OBD II electronics.  ’91-’94 would be acceptable, some 4.0L sixes in this era have piston noise issues (typically when cold) from block core shift, not necessarily a reliability issue, more a nuisance…’87-’90 is the Renix EFI/MPI, older technology and a less efficient cylinder head, not terrible, just a totally different troubleshooting and diagnostics approach that makes the '91-up Chrysler MPI/EFI system attractive.  Of course, for home diagnostics, OBD II is superior and more accessible to an inexpensive code reader or scan tool.


’96 takes the hit for transition from OBD to OBD II issues in the electrical and electronic circuits, some carry to '97.  If you notice, there is no "1996" YJ Wrangler, and the first TJ (1997) bursts on the scene with OBD II circuits incorporated.  XJ Cherokee sales projections for 1996 were too strong to skip a model year, so haphazard OBD II wiring, electronics and an OBD II type PCM strategy went into place on this model. 


Though they do not list '84-'86 XJ Cherokee models (as most won't), these vehicles are okay with the 2.5L four (if you like four-cylinder power), better yet the 1986-90 2.5L four with TBI.  If stuck with a 2.8L V-6, consider a G.M. 3.4L bolt-in V-6 crate motor replacement that eliminates the weak small journal crankshaft, rear main seal leaks and other quirks with the early design 2.8L V-6.  


As an historical point of interest, AMC got stuck with this early version 2.8L V-6 engine through 1986, even though G.M. vehicles went to a better/bigger journal crankshaft and rear main design in the 1985 2.8L V-6.  If the 3.4L V-6 crate engine is still in the G.M. parts inventory, listed as a direct replacement for the 2.8L V-6, you can get respectable performance and have a carbureted V-6 that actually works.  I would expect to pay a song for any '84-'87 XJ Cherokee, the only incentive for buying one.


I’d say the Jp assessment is reasonable.  There are quirks with any of the XJ Cherokee model year groups, and items like the vacuum disconnect front axle come to mind for earlier years—the ’98-’99 might have the least foibles.  Overall, the XJ Cherokee offers an inexpensive price of admission and often matches the Toyota 300K Mile Club for reliability and longevity.  I might add that it's much easier to service and restore an XJ Cherokee than any Toyota truck in that year range!



#3 Rocket Doctor

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 10:59 PM

My first XJ was an 87 with the 4.0/Renix and the AW4.  The single biggest reliability issue I had with the rig was the cooling system bottle.  Got to the point where I carried TWO in the vehicle, with extra coolant, water, and tools to replace it, and there was more than one trip where I limped home on a leaking second bottle!  The only other real problem I had with it was that going uphill, especially at interstate speed, it would start running like it was a Briggs and Stratton instead of a six cylinder.  I found that the guts had busted loose inside the catalytic converter, and they would occasionally slide back and choke the exhaust off.  I won't swear that the converter got replaced, but the exhaust got 'fixed' and ran till the coolant bottle blew apart again.

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#4 Moses Ludel

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Posted 05 January 2014 - 11:04 AM

I wrote a lot for OFF-ROAD Magazine during the '80s and '90s, the pre-SIM era when Argus was the publisher. In 1987, a spanking new 4.0L EFI XJ Cherokee became available to participate in the Jeep Cup Rally regional competition near Placerville, California.  A 4.2L advocate for years with a light truck (fleet mechanic) background, I was excited to test the new, high output Renix EFI 4.0L.  Chuck Williams and I were assigned the vehicle, and we round tripped from the San Diego Area to the Sierra foothills to compete.


Despite the 4.0L's substantially higher horsepower rating than the emission constrained and carbureted 4.2L inline six that powered the new YJ Wrangler, the 4.0L six immediately struck me as lacking low-end torque. In fact, while the 4.2L had a torque rise like a diesel, peaking at or below 2000 rpm depending upon model year, the inline six 4.0L multi-point EFI's torque seemed nowhere to be found! Overdrive in the wonderfully reliable AW4 felt ridiculously sluggish. 


Also apparent with that new '87 model was AMC's inability to isolate the upper radiator hose from engine accessories and rough edges. The three lasting memories for most owners were 1) the maze of cooling hoses and appearance of an "engine transplant", with the 4.0L shoehorned into the engine bay, 2) the "burping technique" required for bleeding air out of that early cooling system and its reservoir and 3) the engine's weird power curve and the need to keep rpm up to realize any torque.


That said, the XJ Cherokee has more than proven itself. This remarkable, utilitarian platform lasted from 1984-2001 in the same basic configuration, delivering extraordinary reliability, longevity and offering respectable power from 1987-up with the 4.0L AMC seven-main bearing six. The XJ was the right combination of parts, squarely pieced together from a traditional Jeep powertrain layout, with the added link-and-coil front end that revolutionized Jeep 4WD ride quality for beam axles—and paved the way for four-wheel Quadra-Coil suspension on the Grand Cherokee and '97-up Jeep TJ Wrangler.


A milestone, a bulletproof vehicle despite the ever-waging controversy about a unitized body/chassis, the XJ Cherokee is likely the best, surely the most popular in sheer numbers, Jeep SUV built to date...That's why we have one, and lucky for us, our '99 is among the best model years!



Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: XJ Cherokee, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep SUV, 4.0L Jeep

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