When the original Jeep Cherokee appeared for the 1984 model year, it was a ground-breaking concept, combining the best features of a 4x4 truck and a compact 4-door wagon. Nowadays, the Cherokee serves as a stalwart, entry-level alternative to Jeep’s increasingly cosmopolitan products. But just because a dog’s getting old doesn’t mean it can’t learn a few new tricks.
In fact, there are some 40 new “tricks” for ‘97. Although it would be far more accurate to call them “treats,” because these improvements make the revised ‘97 Jeep Cherokee a far more appealing sport-ute than last year.
Still available in SE, Sport, and Country trim, with two or four doors, and in either 2-wheel or 4-wheel-drive, Cherokee exterior styling gets its first significant changes in 13 years. This slightly softer, more rounded look features a 7-slot grille with integral headlamps, new Grand Cherokee-style wraparound bumpers with low-mounted fog lamps, and wheel flares that now almost blend into the bumper ends.
Standard on Sport and Country-grade Cherokees is a 4-liter, in-line 6-cylinder that received extensive modifications in 1996 to reduce noise and vibrations. It produces 190 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque. Enough power to move our 3100-pound, 4-door Sport from 0 to 60 in a quick 8.5 seconds.
Our drivers were also impressed with the Cherokee’s behavior through the slalom. Compared to other sport-utes, body roll is minimal. But we weren’t as pleased with the front disc/rear drum brakes. Even with optional anti-lock, stability wasn’t up to par. Though the 128-foot stopping distance from 60 is okay, there was progressive fade from stop to stop.
Cherokee’s cabin was completely updated for ‘97 and now features a modular dash with dual air bags. Our Sport’s new front bucket seats are borrowed from the Grand Cherokee. They are wider than before with more support. The rear seat is still somewhat cramped for adult passengers, but can quickly be folded out of the way to create extra cargo space.
Prices for a base 4-cylinder, SE-grade, 2-door Cherokee start at $15,825. Four-door Sports begin at $19,475, and our loaded, 4-wheel-drive test truck stickered at $27,330.
And it’s reasonable prices like these that have kept the Jeep Cherokee at the top of so many budget-conscious buyers’ shopping lists. With all its latest improvements, this is one old dog that will hunt for a long time to come.
Engine: 4.0-Liter, In-line 6-Cylinder
Torque: 225 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.5 Seconds
60-0 MPH: 128 Feet