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Used 4x4s: XJ Cherokee Versus a Grand Cherokee or a Nissan Pathfinder

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Your advise has been very valuable in narrowing my search for a used CJ or YJ.  Now I find myself also interested in Cherokees although I am not sure if I like the unibody platform.  Again you have helped me narrow my search as far as what years to consider and which ones to avoid.


I do have another question:  What is the difference between the Cherokee and the Grand Cherokee other than the obvious body style and trim? Also, I am glad to see the forum expanding to include Nissan because while looking at Cherokees I have found myself considering a used Pathfinder. As always your insight and experience would be most appreciated. Thanks for a great magazine!


Rich R.

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The Grand Cherokee ZJ and WJ were each “upscale” with more accessories and even V-8 options.  A 'Grand is slightly longer wheelbase and weighs more than an XJ Cherokee.  This makes the base 4.0L inline six engine less attractive in the ZJ or WJ, as it works harder than in an XJ. 


Through the WJ Grand Cherokee, the model has a uni-frame body and beam axles front and rear like the XJ Cherokee.  The beam axles are a big plus for both longevity and service needs.  Rear axles can be a Dana 30 or a 44 (aluminum center section) on the V-8 models. 


If I were considering a Grand Cherokee, my preference is the 1999-2004 WJ model.  That said, repairs and parts can be more expensive for the Grand Cherokee than an XJ Cherokee, and there’s typically more to go wrong at higher mileage. 


A used, higher mileage Nissan Pathfinder could eat you out of house and home—very expensive parts and service, definitely a challenge to work on yourself…Compared to the fundamental design of an XJ Cherokee 4x4, a V-6 Pathfinder with high mileage would be more like a European car—something to avoid at high mileage.


The XJ Cherokee, it turns out, is the most utilitarian 4x4 SUV ever built—for functionality, reliability and from a maintenance or repair point of view...This is the "Volkswagen Beetle" (air-cooled era) myth come to life: The XJ Cherokee will actually run 250K-300K miles if maintained properly. 


By contrast, an air-cooled Bug was lucky to see 100K miles without new cylinders, head and valve work plus lower end engine bearings—not to mention chronic replacement of chassis-length wire control cables, a Solex carburetor that would drop its discharge tube down the carb throat and take out valves and a piston, or the braided fuel hoses that baked under the rear deck until they split and spewed fuel onto a scorching hot, "fan cooled" engine with an oil cooler—and set the car on fire. 


Need I say more?  (I could describe the VW Type II bus and Type III hatchback and fastback frailties.)  Better we should be happy that AMC/Jeep designed and produced the XJ Cherokee 4x4 compact SUV.



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I concur with everything that Moses has posted here, and I'll add few comments of my own. When you consider TCO (total cost of ownership), the XJ Cherokee is unbeatable and unmatched. It's perhaps the smartest choice on the planet when considering a used SUV. The track record for these vehicles as far as maintenance and repair has been widely chronicled. This may seem to be a bold statement, but no vehicle in the history of the automobile can parallel the XJ when you consider all of it's attributes. The 4.0L, beam axles, Dana rears, rugged interiors, an abundace of OEM parts and a huge aftermarket industry surrounding it, all combine to make the XJ one of the best values ever. You would be hard pressed to find any vehicle, made anywhere in the world, with it's longevity and TCO credentials. Owners love them, and garage guys hate them because they can't make money off of their repair.


I agree with Moses on the Nissan Pathfinder. Your money is better spent considering the Jeeps. I can see why you would have interest in them. At first glance, and at face value, they seem like decent vehicles. However the enjoyment will stop when the bank account runs dry. I'm not picking on it as I'm as open to, and have interest in, many vehicles. Just consider the overall value and what you're getting for your dollar in the long run. TCO for the Pathfinder would be much higher that that of the XJ Cherokee, and even the Grand Cherokee.


If you have your heart set on on a Grand Cherokee, I would consider a ZJ or a WJ as Moses points out. If you want a ZJ, focus on the later 96 through 98 model years as they have the best track record. I have an uncle who put almost 350,000 miles on his before going to the WJ. In my opinion, the WJ Grand Cherokee is the best and most reliable 'Grand' built to date. The WJ had the benefit of all that was experienced in the ZJ. It offered a slightly roomier and more efficient cabin, and still maintained all of the proven drive train goodies that made the ZJ so attractive.


I'd be interested in how you make out. Let us know what you decided on and we wish you the best of luck with whatever you purchase.


Tim Swank

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Well stated and factual, Tim!...Thanks much for jumping into the discussion, Rich will benefit from your excellent points! 


I'm partial to the WJ for all the same reasons, and the 4.7L V-8 has much better fitment in the chassis.  The 4.0L inline six also does an admirable job, the body styling is contemporary.  Find a good one and enjoy the last front and rear beam axle Grand Cherokee.  The WJ Grand Cherokee is the "last of the fundamental 4x4" SUVs...Expect WJs to see more trail time as the price of access continues to drop for these 1999-2004 models.


This week, I posted glowingly about wife Donna's all time favorite FSJ, the Grand Wagoneer...A V-8 Jeep WJ Grand Cherokee would be the closest contemporary ride quality, performance and stable "feel"...The WJ lives up to the "Grand" moniker better than any other Jeep SUV built since 1992.  Donna would enjoy driving one—and I'd like it, too!



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