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New Car/Review

1997 Jeep Cherokee Country

by John Heilig


ENGINE:             4.0-liter inline six
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  190hp @ 4,600 rpm/225 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:       Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:       15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, 14.7 mpg test
WHEELBASE:          101.4 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:     167.5 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:     64.0 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:      67.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT:        3,153 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:      20.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:   34.1/71.0 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down)
TIRES:              P225/70R15
INSTRUMENTS:        Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                    water temperature, oil pressure, 
                    battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:          Power windows, power door locks, 
                    power mirrors, power driver's seat, 
                    trailer tow hitch, heavy-duty suspension, 
                    skid plates, cruise control, 
                    air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                    with cassette and in-dash CD, 
                    anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:      $27,970

How long has the Jeep Cherokee been the desired sport utility vehicle? It's hard to tell. The Cherokee has been popular ever since it first came out, shortly after World War II.

Styling has not changed a whole lot in that time. The Grand Cherokee was redesigned to present a more aerodynamic face to the wind, but the Cherokee has remained fairly boxy. But as they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And Chrysler sells a lot of Jeep Cherokees.

Our Jeep Cherokee Country was powered by a four-liter inline six-cylinder engine that was rated at 190 horsepower. In normal form it drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. But we had the option of driving in four-wheel drive low, four-wheel drive high, or full-time all-wheel drive through the use of an extra lever on the console. Since our use of the vehicle did not include much off-roading, we didn't use four-wheel drive that often, but when we did shift, the performance was quiet and purposeful.

For the majority of our trip we used the Cherokee as a utility vehicle, eschewing the "sport" of its title. We had a bridal shower to prepare for and ended up using the Cherokee to carry chairs from one location to another. When we finished delivering the chairs and had all the women together, we used the Cherokee to carry golf clubs for the male side of the shower.

Folding the rear seats requires pulling the rear bench forward and tilting the backs of the rear seats. Cargo capacity increases from 34 to 71 cubic feet with an almost flat floor. Even the 34 cubic feet is about what we used to carry in a full-sized station wagon.

Rear seat legroom is exceptional, about the best we've seen. The only person who might have a complaint is the one who would be stuck in the center because of the transmission hump.

Front legroom is equally as good. We found the seats, while firm, offered decent side support and comfort.

There were some nice features in the Cherokee that I liked. Cruise control controls were on the steering wheel and were very easy to use. There was an extra power outlet for cell phones and computers. and there were two permanent cupholders in the console for the driver and passenger. They were two different sizes to accommodate different cups, and both had cutouts to clear cup handles.

Cubbyholes were located all over the interior for stowing little objects, and the glove box was a decent size.

The feature that impressed me the most about the Cherokee was its solidity. You feel very safe in a Cherokee, about as safe as you can feel in any sport utility. One of the reasons given for the popularity of SUVs is that you ride higher than in a car. But you get more in the Cherokee. It's very comfortable and secure. Maybe it's the Volvo-like squareness, but I'm not sure.

It's not the most aerodynamic vehicle and you don't get great fuel economy. In addition, the controls have firm detents and a solid feel. The gear lever is a simple T shape and isn't overly fancy. And the air conditioner was probably too good because it made the car cooler than we wanted, even in hot weather.

Under the hood, the dipsticks and fluid containers are clearly marked and easy to find for owner preventive maintenance.

There's very little not to like about the Jeep Cherokee Country. It was fully loaded and had a bottom line of $27,970, which isn't a bad price for a vehicle of this type with all it has to offer.