The Jeep Cherokee (XJ) is a unibody (monocoque) compact SUV. It shared the name of the original full-size SJ model, but without a body-on-frame chassis, it set the stage for the modern SUV. Its innovative appearance and sales popularity spawned important imitators as other automakers began to notice that this model began replacing regular cars. It was built in Toledo, Ohio, in Beijing, China, in Ferreyra, Argentina and Valencia, Venezuela. The XJ platform provided the mechanical basis for the MJ-series Jeep Comanche pickup.
The XJ was selected by Robert Cumberford of Automobile magazine as one of the 20 greatest cars of all time, calling it "possibly the best SUV shape of all time, it is the paradigmatic model to which other designers have since aspired".
Designs of the XJ Cherokee date back to 1978 when a team of American Motors (AMC) and Renault engineers drew several sketches. A few clay models were based on the existing SJ Cherokee. Early sketches of the XJ Cherokee had a European influence, and most of the styling cues were done by AMC engineers under the direction of Richard A. Teague, Vice President of Design. This was a "masterpiece" design and paradigmatic model.
Noticing that General Motors was developing a new two-door S-10-based Blazer, AMC decided to design an entirely new four-door model. AMC's Vice President of Engineering, Roy Lunn, designed what is known as the Quadra-Link suspension that limited rollovers. Renault's François Castaing developed the drivetrain using a much smaller engine than normally found in 4WD vehicles and reduced the weight of the new model.
The XJ Cherokee introduced for the 1984 model year was the first Jeep with a ladder-boxed chassis integrated into a single monocoque unit rather than the traditional separate body-on-frame construction. The design was rigid and sturdy, "yet wonderfully lightweight, [the] Uniframe permitted outstanding performance even with AMC's new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine."
Both two- and four-door versions of the XJ Cherokee were offered throughout its lifetime, each having exactly the same track and wheelbase measurements. Two-door models, however, received longer doors and front seats that could fold forward to assist in rear passenger entry and exit. This was in addition to extended-length rear windows that did not open, although an optional rear vent window was available on some models.
A variation on the Cherokee from 1984 through 1990 was the Jeep Wagoneer. These were unrelated to the similarly named full-sized Grand Wagoneer models that had carried the Wagoneer name before this point. The compact XJ Wagoneer was available in two trim levels: the "Wagoneer" and the "Wagoneer Limited". Both Wagoneers were distinguished from the Cherokee models by their two vertically arranged headlights on each side of the grille. The Wagoneer Limited came with vinyl wood trim on the sides and leather seats embossed with "Limited."
This version was the first to be sold in Europe; it was launched in 1992 in some markets, 1993 for the United Kingdom. Early versions had the 4.0 L (242 CID) six-cylinder engine only; the 2.5 L (150 CID) engine did not arrive in Europe until 1995.
In mid-1985, a two-wheel-drive version of the Cherokee was added to the lineup. This marked the first time any Jeep product was offered with two-wheel drive since 1967, and was done in the hopes of attracting a few more buyers who did not need (or want to pay for) four-wheel drive. When the XJ Cherokee-based Comanche (MJ) truck was introduced, it was also available in two- and four-wheel drive. The new two-wheel-drive models shared the front suspension with four-wheel-drive models. Jeep simply used a single axle tube from hub to hub with no differential between, resulting in a low added cost front suspension.
American Motors's compact XJ Cherokee was to be replaced by a new and larger model known as the ZJ (later named the Jeep Grand Cherokee when introduced in 1993) that was under development by AMC. However, the smaller model's continuing popularity caused Chrysler executives to rethink this decision, and while the ZJ models were introduced in 1993, the XJ models were retained until 2001. The Jeep XJ has remained a popular choice by off-roading enthusiasts due to its potent off-roading capability in stock form. Its popularity has resulted in strong ongoing aftermarket support in the form of a wide variety of products and upgrade availability.
In the early- to mid-1990s, the Jeep Cherokee started becoming popular for government and police use. The Cherokee AHB police package was introduced during the 1992 model year. In response, for 1996, Jeep released a special version of the XJ Cherokee SE for police and fleet use. It featured no interior rear door handles and the 4.0L "Power-Tech" High-Output inline six-cylinder engine with 190 horsepower.