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by Matt/Bob Hagin


SEE ALSO: Jeep Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 20,460
Price As Tested                                    $ 27,210
Engine Type                             4.0 Liter I6 w/MFI*
Engine Size                                242 cid/ 3958 cc
Horsepower                                   190 @ 4600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               225 @ 3000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  101.4"/67.9"/167.5"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3176 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  20.2 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P225/75R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
Domestic Content                                 76 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.51


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            15/21/18
0-60 MPH                                       10.6 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     17.7 seconds @ 80.5 mph
Top speed                                           105 mph
     * Multipoint Fuel Injection

(In 1974, Jeep sanitized its bone-jarring image of producing only rock-crushing off-road vehicles and brought out its now-famous Cherokee sport/utility vehicle. Bob Hagin found the new version technically interesting and son Matt found that the price structure was right.)

BOB - Having been an unwilling chauffeur of a '54 M38 Jeep for 11 months, I was interested and amused to see that battle-scared veteran rehabilitated into a quasi-family vehicle 20 years later. Then as now, the Jeep Cherokee couldn't hide its military bearing and I think that is part of its charm. Buyers of the '97 Cherokee are buying a part of American history whether they know it or not.

MATT - Most of them probably don't care, Dad, and what may impress them lots more is the fact that the price of the base SE model Cherokee two door, two-wheel drive "stripper" is down around $15K. This allows first-time buyers to own a new vehicle relatively inexpensively and still be part of the "with-it" SUV crowd. It would be pretty basic with the little 2.5 liter four-banger engine and a five-speed stick-shift but the other necessary options like sound and a/c would have to be added on. Tom Stallkamp is Chrysler's VP in charge of purchasing and he recently said that by keeping the present design going and trimming extras, the company has amortized a lot of the Cherokee tooling and has been able to hold the price line.

BOB - The Cherokee Sport four-door that we got wasn't a "stripper" and I'm happy it wasn't. Its Up Country suspension option included a Trac-Loc differential in the rear axle, a couple of skid plates underneath in case the new buyer gets frisky in the rock pile, heavier duty shock absorbers, a bigger radiator and taller springs that give it a little more ground clearance. The ABS that came with it is an option too, as is the four-speed automatic and the full-time four-wheel drive system. You can't buy a stick-shift in the Sport trim unless you go with two-wheel-drive which would make that Cherokee a fancy family station wagon rather than a go-anywhere SUV. But maybe that isn't so bad considering the fact that statistically over 90 percent of the SUVs sold here never see any rougher duty than the pot holes in city streets.

MATT - Our Sport version has lots more power too, Dad. It came with the venerable pushrod 4.0 liter straight-six and while it doesn't have the muscle of the V8 that's available in its big brother, the Grand Cherokee, it doesn't do badly with the 190 horses that it has. The 26E option package included a/c, a tilt steering wheel, a roof rack, and powered side mirrors that can be folded flat against the doors if the driver elects to push through the underbrush and doesn't want to tear them off. Jeep has done away with the vent wings that the Cherokee had in the front doors last year and I think that it was a bad move. I liked that feature. You could direct outside air through the interior without having to turn on the inside ventilation system.

BOB - It was probably part of that price-holding amortizing Tom Stallkamp was talking about, Matt, along with sticking with a solid front axle on 4X4 versions as well as on the two-wheel drive model. The interior of the Cherokee is pretty comfortable but a bit cramped for guys as big as your brother Brendan and he'd probably have a tough time getting into the rear seat since the back doors are a little restricted on swing. Your other brother Tom would find the Cherokee towing capacity pretty hefty at 5000 pounds and well capable of pulling his ski boat. The towing kit also includes an auxiliary transmission fluid cooler which should go a long way in increasing the longevity of the automatic gearbox.

MATT - That item alone makes the towing package a worthwhile option since a failed automatic transmission adds up to a big repair bill when a vehicle gets up into the high-mileage range. Did they have automatic transmissions on those Jeeps you drove 45 years ago, Dad?.

BOB - Matt, those military Jeeps were so primitive that the gasoline-fired Southwind heaters and the canvas top and doors were considered luxuries when the snow got axle-deep.