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1997 Jeep Country

New Car/Review

1997 Jeep Cherokee Country

by Nick Hromiak

SEE ALSO: Jeep Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            4.0L OHV 6-cylinder
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 190-hp and 225 ft/lbs of torque at 3,000 rpm 
TRANSMISSION:      4-speed electronically controlled automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      15 city, 21 highway mpg
WHEELBASE:         101.4 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    167.5 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     67.9 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    64.0 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3,153 lbs. (4-door)
FUEL CAPACITY:     20.0 gals.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  34.06/71 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down)
TIRES:             P225/75R15 Goodyear Wrangler RT/S 
INSTRUMENTATION:   Uncluttered, easy to read with large dials 
                   for HVAC 
EQUIPMENT:         Leather/vinyl seats power driver seat, 
                   Country package includes A/C, tilt wheel, 
                   cruise control, trailer towing group, 
                   full size spare, skid plates, HD radiator, 
                   special shocks, Track-Lok Differential, 
                   4-wheel ABS, overhead console, Select-Trac 4WD,  
                   sunscreen glass, rear window defroster, 
                   dual power heated mirrors, fog lamps, 
                   AM/FM stereo cassette/CD, six premium 
                   Infinity speakers.
STICKER PRICE:     $27,970 

Back in 1993 when Jeep's Grand Cherokee debuted, the original Cherokee model was expected to be dropped. But popularity and price positioning kept it in the lineup. It's been a big seller overseas where one of every three manufactured are sold outside North America.

Last year, when it was announced a newer and most costly model would be introduced, a sales surge occurred. Dealers sold as many of the classic Cherokees as Chrysler could make up until changeover for the new models. With Cherokee Sports selling for an average of $22,000, folks snapped them up as they rolled off the trucks.

For those who waited for the '97s, the prices increased slightly but the vehicle has many improvements. For one, a passenger side airbag is now standard. Added too was an all new modular instrument panel, steering wheel and column with cruise controls embedded within, a center stack with large rotary knobs for HVAC controls and an overhead console with temperature and compass readouts.

A redesigned HVAC system vastly improves air distribution and reduces interior noise. I found the cabin to be relatively quiet with only some slight tire hum from semi-aggressive tire treads.

Seating hasn't changed much. Offered are cloth bucket seats or leather-vinyl on the Country model. Both provide excellent lateral support and firm comfort. I was disappointed to see that Jeep stayed with the straight-back folding rear seat rather than a split folding as on the Grand Cherokee. But then if they did, there would be a lesser need to buy the more expensive (and more profitable for Chrysler) Grand Cherokee. Same goes for the one-piece liftgate. A two -piece would be nice for stowing small items and extending lengthy items out the rear.

With those nuances in mind, the Cherokee does not offer a car-like ride as does the Grand Cherokee. This classic is a pure unadulterated 4X4 that excels off road more than it does on road. But it's still a pleasurable trip. It does, however, share the same ample undercarriage clearance and traditional low step-in height that most of the competition has yet to duplicate.

Cherokees are available in SE, Sport and Country, the latter being the top-of-the-line and my test vehicle, which was equipped with the Up Country Suspension Group. As such, the able sport ute came with leather faced seats, sturdier underpinnings, Trac-Lok Rear Differential, skid plates, fancy wheels and trim.

Power comes from either a 2.5L four cylinder with 125 hp, or inline six -cylinder with 190 hp. The four is standard on the SE, the six standard on the others and optional on the SE. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on SE and Sport, optional otherwise. The Country comes only with the automatic. For '97, both engines use new aluminum pistons and revised camshaft profiles.

Most Cherokee owners opt for the six as it is a powerful, proven engine. Although the four cylinder is rated as one of the most powerful fours in the SUV market, the six is preferred for those who plan on doing any serious towing - whether it be a boat, jet skis, snowmobiles or camper.

And when the going gets tough, Cherokee's four-wheel drive capabilities are legend. Two variations are offered: Command Trac and Select Trac Full-Time 4WD, the latter optionally installed ($395) in my test Country. It offers 2WD, 4-Part-time, 4-Full-time and 4-Low modes. A choice among these is selectable upon driving conditions by merely moving a dog-leg shifter nestled port of the transmission gear-shift.

Ride quality is comfortable, yet it's not as smooth and gentle as the Grand Cherokee. Cherokee really excels off-road where a tight rigid suspension soaks up harsh terrain like a sponge. The turning radius is also tight and the vehicle is extremely stable in high winds and cross-winds, and when passed by a speeding 18-wheeler. For '97, additional sound deadening and damping was added for a relatively quiet interior. There is loads of leg and head room fore and aft and visibility is expansive in all directions.

One impressive trait Cherokee has always been popular for is its low step-in height of 22 inches. Yet undercarriage clearance is 8.3 inches with approach/departure angles of 38/32 degrees respectively. My Cherokee Country rode on aggressive P225/75R15 Goodyear Wrangler RT/S tires. This combination provides sure-footed maneuverability over normal off-road obstacles, deep snow and mud.

Cargo area is adequate but somewhat restrictive due to the full-size spare that comes standard on the Country. With the spare, cargo volume is 34.06 cubic feet with the seat up, 71 with it folded. About 8 1/2 inches of width is eaten up by the spare.

Overall, the '97 Cherokee is a completely adequate sport utility that has been around since 1984. It has a tough, aggressive look with comfortable accommodations, all for a sensible price well below that of its "grander" sister vehicle.