1996 JEEP CHEROKEE COUNTRY
Used Truck - 1996 Jeep Cherokee Country in Florence, Al
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1996 Jeep Cherokee ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Quite possibly the best buy in the business.
If you've been shopping midsize sport-utility vehicles lately, you've probably noticed that they're not getting any cheaper. No big surprise there, right? That obviously applies to the Jeep Cherokee, too, but there's an important footnote. It may not be getting any cheaper, but its annual price hikes aren't keeping pace with the rest of this size class.
As a result, this solid old performer is one of the best buys in its class. You'd have to check all the option boxes to get the price beyond $25,000, even for a loaded 4-wheel drive Country model, the top of the Cherokee line. Check all the boxes for a Ford Explorer, Chevy Blazer or Jeep Grand Cherokee and you'll find yourself crossing the $30,000 frontier.
This is one of the vehicles that launched America on its current love affair with trucks back in 1984, and it hasn't changed much since. The squarish lines look dated compared to the rounded corners we're seeing on more recent designs.
On the other hand, sport-utility buyers regularly tell product planners that it's important for these vehicles to look tough, so if the Cherokee's exterior design isn't exactly au courant, it's still appropriate.
As in '95, Jeep offers the Cherokee in three trim levels--the basic SE (starting at $14,645), the mid-level Sport (from $16,999) and the uptown Country (from $20,462). All are available in 2- or 4-door editions, with a choice of 2-wheel drive (standard across the board) or two different 4-wheel drive systems, Jeep's on-demand Command-Trac system, with shift-on-the-fly capability, or Selec-Trac, which operates full-time.
The base powertrain in the SE is Jeep's veteran 2.5-liter 4-cyl. engine with a 5-speed manual transmission. This time-honored workhorse is also employed in the new Jeep Wrangler, and it's been given refinements for '96 to reduce noise and improve its torque band. One of the few 4-cyl. engines left in the sport-utility realm, it's thrifty and durable, but it doesn't have much muscle left over for heavy loads.
Sport and Country models come with Jeep's 4.0-liter inline 6-cyl. engine, which produces 190 hp and far more torque. Available as an option on the SE ($812), the 6-cyl. is a much more pleasant engine to live with and also increases the Cherokee's towing capability to 5000 lbs. It's definitely the better choice if you want the optional 4-speed automatic transmission, our tester was a Command-Trac Sport model, with a 5-speed manual transmission.
The Cherokee's unibody design was a departure from tradition when it was introduced, and it's still a distinction today, although the Grand Cherokee and Nissan's new Pathfinder also use this approach. Most others use body-on-frame construction.
Body-on-frame is the way all vehicles were made at one time, and it's still standard for all pickup trucks. The body is assembled as a separate unit, then bolted to a ladder-type frame. The strength of this technique is its inherent durability. It's very good at absorbing heavy duty punishment. But it's also heavy.
In unibody vehicles, the body and chassis are assembled as one piece, and the body shell serves as a stressed member of the chassis, which saves a lot of weight. Our Sport tester, for example, weighed in at less than 3100 lbs., complete with 4wd. That's about a thousand pounds less than, say, a comparably equipped Chevy Blazer, which pays off every time you buy fuel.
On the other hand, the Cherokee might not stand up to the rigors of rough roads, or no roads, as well as some of its competitors. If your driving menu includes lots of rough stuff, be prepared for squeaks and rattles as the miles accumulate.
Like its exterior, the Cherokee's interior hasn't had much updating over the years. The instrument panel is a collection of squarish shapes, and there's only one airbag, mounted in the steering wheel hub. Thanks to the long steering column, that hub winds up a little closer to the driver's sternum than we'd like, and we found it difficult to orchestrate the seat adjustment and tilt wheel into a comfortable driving position.
The Cherokee's reclining front seats--high-back buckets in our tester--were adequate, but not on a par with newer sport-utilities, particularly in terms of lateral support.
This is a smaller vehicle than the Explorer and Jimmy/Blazer, and it's not as roomy behind the front seats, although front seat legroom is fine. We also found the rear door openings to be a bit narrow, which combined with a relatively high step-in (a function of the Cherokee's 8.3-in. ground clearance) to make climbing in or out of the rear seat a little awkward.
On the other hand, our Cherokee Sport got good marks for interior storage, with several bins and cubbies up front and map pockets molded into the door panels. The cupholders are mounted just to the right of the shifter, a location that's great for the front seat passenger but a bit of a stretch for the driver.
There's a fair-sized cargo compartment behind the rear seats, and like all midsize sport-utilities the Cherokee's rear seat folds flat to expand cargo volume.
The basic SE includes an AM/FM radio but other civilizing features cost extra.
Aside from the absence of a passenger's airbag, safety features are adequate. Jeep added door beams and reinforced the upper body structure for better rollover protection a couple years back, and 4-door models have child safety rear door locks. ABS is optional ($599) on all models, but is not available on the 4-cyl. SE.
Other options of the comfort and convenience variety abound, particularly for the Sport and Country models. You'll obviously make your own choices here, but we do recommend the Up Country suspension package--which includes high-pressure gas shock absorbers, stiffer springs and underbody skid plates--if you're planning to take your Cherokee into the wilds. Prices for this package vary by model--$1048 on the SE, $733 for the Sport, $645 for the Country.
While the Cherokee lacks the refinement of its newer competitors, 6-cyl. versions can definitely hold their own in traffic. The combination of low curb weight and plentiful power gave our Cherokee brisk acceleration that still compares favorably with all but the Grand Cherokee V8.
It's also surprisingly agile in the handling department, another area where low weight pays dividends. Our Cherokee Sport changed directions quickly, without excessive body roll, at least by sport-utility standards.
Similarly, we found that the Cherokee's braking performance measured up quite well compared to vehicles that weigh in at almost two tons.
Ride quality was another story, however. This is a stiff setup, and it doesn't do much to take the hard edge off bumps, potholes and broken pavement.
We also found the Cherokee's interior noise levels to be high compared to most of the competition, another area where this vehicle is showing its age.
The Cherokee has been around for 12 years now, and its popularity still seems to be going strong. This has to be gratifying to Jeep, which has long since amortized the major tooling connected with Cherokee production.
However, the nature of the popularity has evolved.
At one point, the Cherokee was a fashionable pacesetter, and certain versions--the old Cherokee Limited, for example--were image machines that commanded a premium price.
But those days are gone, and the Grand Cherokee has taken over the high profile business. Today the Cherokee figures as the bargain buy in the midsize sport-utility realm, very much as the boxy old Isuzu Trooper once did.
As mainstream sport-utilities become increasingly car-like, no one would call a Cherokee refined or trendy today. But it does offer a full range of sport-utility capabilities, including proven 4-wheel drive systems, good off-road performance and basic durability.
With the 6-cyl. engine, the Cherokee's all-around pavement performance is still surprisingly lively. And its safety features are at least adequate.
We should also note once again that ordering a Cherokee doesn't necessarily have to mean committing yourself to the automotive equivalent of a cheap motel. There are plenty of options to make the going more pleasant.
But the Cherokee's fundamental attraction today is basic sport-utility competence at a very attractive price. And that's an attraction that lasts a long time.
Options As Tested
Command-Trac 4wd, ABS, air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette sound system, power mirrors, intermittent wipers, rear wiper/defogger, rear heater ducts.
4wd Sport 4-door.
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