Old Gold Top Gear: Jeep Cherokee XJ

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It's time for some Old Gold Top Gear, featuring the music of Bruce Springsteen and the venerable Jeep Cherokee. Americana on PetrolBlog.

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 4x4 (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 4x4. 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 4x4, 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.