The Jeep Comanche (designated MJ) is a pickup truck version of the Cherokee compact SUV that was produced from 1985 (and was marketed as a 1986 model year) to 1992. Rear wheel (RWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) models were available, as well as two cargo box lengths of six-feet (1.83 metres) or seven-feet (2.13 metres).
During the mid-1980s, according to AMC Chairman W. Paul Tippett Jr.: "People are finding trucks a reasonable and sophisticated alternative to cars." To satisfy the demand and to compete with Japanese competitors, both AMC and Chrysler were preparing pickups for the 1986 and 1987 model years (respectively). Also at this time the financial health of AMC was poor and the automaker was in need of cash as it was preparing a new line of midsize vehicles (the Eagle Premier) scheduled to be produced at a factory being built in Canada (Brampton Assembly), but the best thing the company had going for it was its popular line of Jeeps and introducing a compact Jeep pickup truck in the fall of 1985 was expected to help.
The new Jeep Comanche was introduced mid-August 1985, at a lavish event staged at the ballroom of the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (currently Bally's Las Vegas) for AMC's over 1,500 North American dealers. American Motors included Chinese officials as part of the negotiations establishing Beijing Jeep (now Beijing Benz). The goal was to produce and sell Comanches in China through this joint venture.
The new trucks were unveiled by Jose Dedeurwaerder, an engineer and international business executive with 23 years of experience with Renault, and now appointed as AMC's new President. The base price of the two-wheel drive model was $7,049 (adjusted only for inflation equal to US$15,232 in 2012 dollars), making it the lowest priced Jeep model for the 1986 model year.
American Motors' Jeep designers based the Comanche body, styling, engineering, and drivetrain on the Cherokee XJ, which had been introduced for the 1984 model year.
The Comanche featured a monocoque (unibody) vehicle, an unusual form of truck design, similar to the Volkswagen Rabbit pickup and Dodge Rampage (though the Comanche has a more conventional removable cargo box, and the Rabbit and Rampage are technically coupe utilities, not trucks).
AMC's Jeep engineering staff designed a subframe that connected to the modified Cherokee unibody structure to support the cargo box. Two such subframes were designed; one for the 7-foot long-bed model, which appeared first in 1985, and a second, shorter version for the 6-foot cargo bed, which debuted for the 1987 model year.
From 1985 to 1987, the Jeep Comanche grille had ten slots in a similar configuration to the 1984-1987 Cherokee XJ, while from 1988 to 1992, this configuration changed to eight slots to match with the SUV.A new "4x4" badge, similar to those found on the Cherokee and Wagoneer models was affixed to the upper rear of the cargo box on all the four-wheel drive models.
After the Chrysler buyout of American Motors for $1.5 billion on March 9, 1987, designed to capture "the highly profitable Jeep vehicles ... and 1,400 additional dealers" the Jeep Comanche, like the similar Cherokee, received only minor changes. These were primarily to improve reliability and parts interchangeability with other Chrysler-built vehicles.
The Comanche uses the compact XJ Cherokee's front suspension, with coil springs and upper and lower control arms. The Cherokee and Comanche were the first Jeeps to use this new "Quadra-Link" suspension. It was argued that the coil springs allowed for greater ride comfort and axle articulation during off-road excursions. A track bar (Panhard rod) is used to keep the axle centered under the truck. Modified versions of this same basic suspension system were later used on the 1993-2004 Grand Cherokee, 1996 and newer TJ Wrangler and 1994 and newer Dodge Ram.
For the rear suspension, the truck uses leaf springs that are considerably longer than on Cherokees, which give Comanches good load-carrying capacity. There was also a heavy duty "Big Ton" package (known as the "Metric Ton" package outside the U.S.) for the long-bed models. The package included heavier-duty leaf springs and wheels, larger tires and an upgraded rear axle to a Dana 44 instead of a Dana 35, which increased the stock payload (cargo) capacity from 1,400 to 2,205 pounds (640 to 1,000 kg), well above that of any other truck similar to the Comanche's size. The Metric Ton Comanche's payload rating was higher than that of many larger pickups.
The inaugural 1986 model year Comanches could be equipped with one of three engines. The AMC 150 2.5 L, 150 CID I4, The General Motors LR2 2.8 L V6, or the Renault 2.1 L I4 turbo diesel were all offered from the start.
The V6 engine, which was the same basic unit used in the first generation Chevrolet S-10, had 7 horsepower (5.2 kW) less than the base four-cylinder, only slightly more torque, and was equipped with a two-barrel carburetor instead of the four-cylinder's electronic TBI fuel injection.
Changes to the engine lineup happened in the truck's second year on the market. For 1987, the 2.8 L V6 was replaced by the new fuel-injected 4.0 L, 242 CID AMC 242 inline-six that delivered 173 hp (129 kW), or 63 more hp than the previously outsourced V6. The new six-cylinder was also more fuel-efficient. The slow-selling turbodiesel was dropped during the model year.
Other changes under the hood occurred in 1991, when Chrysler adopted their own engine control electronics to replace the original Renix systems. One effect of this change was that the 4.0 L, 242 CID, I-6 engine gained 17 hp (to 190 hp (142 kW), having already gained 4 hp (3 kW) in 1988), while the 2.5 L, 150 CID, I4 engine jumped from 117 hp (87 kW) to 130 hp (97 kW).
During the production life of the Comanche, six different transmissions were offered, manufactured by Aisin, Chrysler, and Peugeot. Aisin provided the AX-4 (four-speed), AX-5 and AX-15 (five-speed overdrive) manual transmissions, along with the AW-4 four-speed automatic that was used beginning in 1987. This is the same Warner transmission used in early to mid-nineties Toyota 4Runners with the 3.0 and some 22re 4wd. The AX-15 was phased in to replace the Peugeot BA-10/5 five-speed that had been used from 1987 until mid-1989 behind the 4.0 L I6 engine. The Comanche came equipped with weight sensing rear brake proportioning valve.
Although Chrysler purchased AMC in 1987, only one Chrysler transmission was ever used in the Comanche, and that was prior to the takeover. 1986 models equipped with the 2.5 L I4 or 2.8 L V6 were offered with Chrysler's three-speed TorqueFlite A904 automatic. Throughout the Comanche's production run, Chrysler would continue AMC's practice of purchasing Aisin automatic transmissions.
The decision to phaseout the Jeep Comanche "came from a combination of two factors— low sales and Chrysler's attempts to make the Jeep brand fit into the Chrysler hierarchy of Plymouth, Dodge, and Chrysler models" with Jeep housing SUVs and Dodge making trucks.
As sales dropped, the Comanche was planned for discontinuation. In 1990, the National Council of Jeep/Eagle dealers asked Chrysler to discontinue the Comanche, and allow them to sell a version of the Dodge Dakota pickup.
The company chose to cancel the Comanche on June 12, 1992, after only a few thousand trucks had rolled off the Toledo, Ohio assembly line.