Old Gold Top Gear: Jeep Cherokee XJ

You’re watching BBC Two. Over on BBC One now, Carol Smillie is back for a new series of Changing Rooms before Michael Buerk presents the nine o’clock news. But stay with us on BBC Two because it’s Thursday night and it’s 8.30, which can only mean one thing. That’s right, strap yourself in and start your engines – it’s time for PetrolBlog’s Old Gold Top Gear.

It’s been a while since Old Gold Top Gear graced the screens of PetrolBlog, but then we knew it was impossible to compete with the popularity of Splash!. But circumstances at PBHQ took us to YouTube where we stumbled across this gem from the Top Gear archives. It’s got everything you’d want from a classic episode – music from the Pet Shop Boys and The Boss, a reference to the Spice Girls, plenty of long pauses and of course, the warranty man himself, Mr Quentin Willson.

But just what circumstances led to the discovery of this video? Well my interest in American cars seems to be increasing and, with one eye looking out for a low cost 4×4 (notice I didn’t use the word ‘cheap’), I was inevitably led down the well trodden path to the Jeep Cherokee.

1997 Jeep CherokeeI’ve always had a soft spot for the Jeep Cherokee and I’d say most petrolheads have. There’s something uniquely American about it. When I think of the XJ model in particular, the image that springs to mind is of a Cherokee heading down an American highway, double yellow line running down the centre, the sun setting behind a tree-lined mountain top and Country and Western music playing on the stereo. Naturally the driver is wearing a check shirt.

The reality is it’s probably stuck in traffic on the outskirts of Ilford, surrounded by grey buildings with an equally grey sky behind them. But hey, it’s my image and I’m sticking with it.

For me, the Cherokee XJ is the archetypal 4×4. An unashamedly boxy exterior, a deliciously retro interior and with the 4.0-litre engine, a wonderful soundtrack to go with it. Like the Land Rover Defender, it has stood the test of time better than any other 4×4, which isn’t bad considering they started planning it in the late ’70s, released it in 1984 and only got round to overhauling it in 2002. At which point they ruined it.

New Jeep Cherokee 4.0 LimitedIt arrived in the UK in 1993 when the 4.0-litre Limited was launched. Such is their thirst many have been converted to LPG or can be seen crawling along dual-carriageways at a steady 56mph. It was later offered with a 2.5-litre petrol which provided only marginally better fuel economy but none of the benefits of the 4.0-litre. The 2.5-litre diesel was the only real choice if you wanted to stand some chance of not making friends for life with the people at your local filling station.

So I sit here genuinely pondering the prospect of Cherokee ownership. I really fancy an early one (say 1993-1995), but I know these suffer terribly from rust. The smart money is on a later, galvanised SJ. Then there’s the engine. Many of the good Cherokees in the small ads are 4.0-litre with their reputation for having a drink problem keeping prices low. The 2.5TD would be a more sensible choice, but this is PetrolBlog and sense rarely comes into it. Besides, the 4.0-litre engine would have seen the least stress, so if it’s carefully maintained, it should last a lifetime.*

Quentin doesn’t help. Back in 1997 he waxed lyrical about the Cherokee and remembering things like this are dangerous when you head off to see a prospective new car. The head has to rule the heart, in which case a first generation Honda CR-V would be the more logical choice. And yes, I’ve always fancied one of them too.

But owning a Cherokee is an itch that needs scratching. I want to drive to Petsmart, Illinois, fill up the trunk with 10kg bags of Blue Wilderness dog food and drive back down the highway singing along to the greatest hits of Garth Brooks. And for the record, I don’t own a dog and can’t bring to mind anything ever recorded by Mr Brooks.

Put it this way. When you’re recounting your history of past motors to your grandchildren, what’s going to sound better? A Honda CR-V, a Nissan Terrano or a Jeep Cherokee? Exactly.

And you can gloss over the bit about rust, sagging rear springs and the fact you didn’t eat for a week after filling it up with fuel for the family holiday. To me, the Jeep Cherokee XJ is a true icon and there aren’t many cars you can genuinely say that about.

Oh and one final word. Can I just say that I find this black and white photo of a 1993 Jeep Cherokee fantastically alluring? Twenty years on and it looks better than ever.

1993 Jeep Cherokee

Right, so while I’ll take a cold shower and go for a lie down, I’ll leave you with old greased-back himself. Look out for the interior – it was horrendously dated back in 1993, so paradoxically it has aged better than just about any of its rivals from the 1990s.


*Or 250,000 miles anyway.

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. February 8, 2013
    Simon Hingston

    You really should get a 6 pack of Bud, rip the arms of your denim jacket and buy a Wrangler instead Gav.

  2. February 12, 2013

    ^^Great comment!

    I like these too but would also be more scared of rust than the MPG!

  3. February 13, 2013
    Dogknob1 (@Dogknob1)

    We had one of those as the first family wagon,it was actually a 1992 LHD 4ltr. Bloody good car. Every one said the rear axles exploded on contact with any kind of surface, ours did whine from when we got it but nothing happened in the 80K we put on it! Liked the odd drop of oil,loved petrol. Home serviced as much as I could buying bits from the States as Jeep UK where just silly. Drove in a classical vague American way but once again nothing terrible. If you remembered your in a 4×4 & not a car it could be hustled along nicely with a throaty grumble from the exhaust. Interior space suffered from the reverse Tardis effect! Cream leather looked lovely unlike the cream plastic trim! it was only replaced because we literally outgrow it! struggled to fit numerous babies & stupidly large dogs. Chosen Vehicle was it’s bigger second cousin Ford Exlpoder.

    Foot note: This Cherokee is/was famous as it spent a day at Pinewood being an automotive extra. Came back valeted with a full tank of gas and £200! real result, unfortunately we never did find out what film though :-/

    So go and grab yourself a piece of American pie Gavin you wont regret it*
    YeaHaa Dogknob

    *I hold no responsibility for the amount of regret you may or may not feel

  4. February 14, 2013

    Hi Gavin,

    As a reasonably fresh Cherokee owner I share your enthousiasm about the only SUV you can drive without shame (unless you are rich and can afford a Range Rover obviously). Go get yourself a pre-1997 one if you want that boxy look and the typical American square looking interior. Get a post 1997 one if you want a slightly more ergonomical interior and slightly rounded exterior. But first please change the SJ in your article to XJ. Although really nice looking too, SJ’s are the older Cherokee and Wagoneer predecessors of the 2,5l and 4.0l Jeeps Cherokee you are referring to in your blog.

    • February 14, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Well spotted. I’m going to have to fire the proofreader (i.e. me!). Not sure how the SJ reference crept in.

      Out of interest, which Cherokee do you have?

      I’d definitely prefer the early one with that retro interior!

      • February 14, 2013

        I have a Moss Green early 1997, 4.0 Limited, which causes confusion when ordering parts, since it still is the 1996 model. So it does have the retro look, but also the driver’s airbag and ABS, cruise control etc.. I bought it last November and It still is in very good shape. I needed to replace the springs for the boot door and I recently replaced the starter. One of the nice things about this car is the fact that you can do a lot of repairs yourself. There’s tons of info online and parts are available in abundance. Looks wise I prefer the late eighties Wagoneer model with the double headlights, chrome details and the vinyl wood trim sides. Check out http://www.jpmagazine.com/ for a lot of useful info.
        I would definitely go for the 4 litre engine. It is virtually indestructible and very powerful. Yes it’s a gas guzzler, but that’s why LPG conversion was invented. It doesn’t make it more economical, just less expensive and you can fool yourself into thinking LPG is a touch more environmentally friendly. It will be the next job on the list for my Cherokee. Here in Holland the price difference between petrol and LPG is still such that, despite the higher tax rate the conversion pays itself back within a year 🙂

  5. February 14, 2013

    You’re talking about my first car. Absolutely loved it. A ’91 Sport with neither traction control, ABS nor weight on the rear wheels, it made me a much better driver than I would’ve otherwise been as a teenager. I should also add that the left rear drum brake would lock up when it rained. That’s how I learned to steer into skids.

    It had an interesting ownership history, too. Its first owner was an emergency room doctor in Boston who kept it as a winter car—his daughter was a year ahead of me in high school. The second owner was a kid in my hometown who went to a rival prep school and against whom I had played football. Owner number three was yours truly. And little did I know that when I drove to school each morning, I would pass by a family friend’s daughter who always took note of it. Lo and behold, she eventually became the fourth owner.

    That old Cherokee was followed by a string of other Jeeps, all Wranglers. And though the Wrangler was always my dream car, I can’t help but have a special place in my heart for the Cherokee. It was my first—you never forget your first.

  6. February 18, 2013
    Arvid Linde (@kensingtongreen)

    I’m not supposed to like a Cherokee because I’m a Land Rover person but the way you’ve put it, I’m actually tempted to test-drive one (just to feed my curiosity).

  7. July 14, 2015

    I’m actually a landrover guy to. But budget and reliability wise I altered to this even more boxy shaped cherokee.
    I actually bought one this year and I feel no regrets.

    Key points for me;
    – 6 in line and 4.0 liters of waftability, this kind of comfort and relaxing you can hardly find in today cars
    – I bougth the XJ to augment my mechanical skills with learning-by doing. Lots of info online and the simplicity make it a true DIY car.
    – it can be an investment on the long run


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