The Ultimate Guide to the Jeep Cherokee Generations

March 20th, 2020 by

A silver 1978 Jeep Cherokee is parked on a dirt road.

Searching for used cars in Colorado Springs can seem like a daunting task, but there is one vehicle that deserves your attention. The Jeep Cherokee has been around since 1974, so the company has had plenty of time to perfect this mid-size SUV. With 46 years of production underway, you could ask what are the generations of the Jeep Cherokee and get a novel-length answer. We won’t do that here. We’ve put together a short and sweet ultimate guide to understanding the evolution of this American icon. Let’s dive right in!

The First Generation – 1974 to 1983

Taking inspiration from the Jeep Wagoneer, the Cherokee was first introduced to the market in 1974 as a two-door sport utility vehicle. Eliminating the Wagoneer’s C-pillar windows and using a D-pillar with long, fixed back side windows with a section that flipped out, the innovative Cherokee was designed to appeal to a younger audience instead of families. It was also available in ten trim levels, including the base model plus the S (Sport), Chief, Golden Eagle, Golden Hawk, Limited, Classic, Sport, Pioneer, and the top-tier Laredo. This entire generation was known as the SJ.

By the time 1977 rolled around, the company released the Cherokee in a four-door version. It was marketed as a full-size SUV until 1983 when the second generation made its appearance.

The Second Generation – 1984 – 2001

The unveiling of the second generation (XJ) changed the game completely. Due to an oil embargo, the 1980s were a time of confusion for many automakers. Scrambling to come up with more fuel-efficient models to meet federal government requirements, many auto brands were scraping vehicles from left to right. As for the Jeep Cherokee, the company decided to downsize from a full-size SUV to a compact crossover. Eliminating the conventional body-on-frame chassis, the second generation of Cherokee models featured a unibody light-weight design to improve the estimated fuel economy and appease the government regulations.

While other automakers were trying to force various new engines that ended up exploding, Jeep took the easy way and simply made their model smaller and lighter. In fact, this ingenious move is what spawned the compact crossover movement. Essentially, Jeep created an all-new class, and American drivers loved it. Watching the Cherokee replace traditional cars on the road, competitors began spitting out compact crossovers as quickly as they could manufacture them. However, nothing was going to deter the momentum built up by the Jeep Cherokee.

Some consider the second-generation Cherokee to be a key turning point in the evolution of off-loading models and vehicles using 4WD. It was gaining such popularity that Jeep decided to take things to the next level and released the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The Third Generation – 2002 – 2013

A red 2010 Jeep Liberty is facing left in front of rocks, The Cherokee was rebranded in this generation.

By 2001, the third-generation (KJ) Cherokee was unveiled for the 2002 production year. In the United States, it was rebranded as the Jeep Liberty, but internationally it still held its name. Jeep was afraid that buyers wouldn’t be able to differentiate between the flagship model and the Grand Cherokee, so they experimented with a new name.

As the smallest SUV in Jeep’s lineup, this petite crossover was available with a four-door body style and unibody construction like the second generation. It featured rack and pinion steering for a smoother driving experience, and it was also the first Jeep model to be powered by the PowerTech engines. First was a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that pushed out 150 hp, and the second was a 3.7-liter V6 engine that generated 210 hp.

The Fourth Generation – 2008 – 2014

In 2008, still under the guise of the Jeep Liberty, the fourth-generation (KK) Cherokee started to get some major refreshments. Now that Jeep had released the Compass and the Patriot; these subcompact crossovers pushed the Cherokee into the mid-size segment. This switch was magnified when Jeep eliminated the 4-cylinder engine option from the Cherokee lineup, leaving only the robust V6 engine for this production year. The diesel option was also discontinued due to the current direct-injection system not lining up with federal emissions regulations. However, the V6 proved to be a good choice to move forward with as it had a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. Hauling a trailer or boat was a breeze with this model. Drivers also had the option of choosing between a 6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission.

Major changes could be seen in the standard and optional features. Side airbags were a given along with antilock brakes, brake assist, traction control, roll mitigation, and electronic stability control. All of these new safety features were a step forward for Jeep, which had been known for its lack of safety features on its most popular vehicle––the Wrangler. Since the Cherokee was morphing back into a family-friendly vehicle, additional measures had to be taken to ensure safer driving.

Enhancements to the interior tech gadgets were also notable at this time. Optional features included rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation system, and satellite radio. The MyGig infotainment system from Chrysler was put to good use inside the fourth-generation model, and it also came with 30GB of hard drive space.

The Fifth Generation – 2014 to Present

A red 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is driving over rocks outside Colorado Springs, CO.

Currently in its fifth-generation (KL), the Cherokee finally took its name back in 2013. Unveiled at the New York Auto Show, this mid-size model was back and better than ever before. Co-developed by Chrysler and Fiat, this vehicle was the first Jeep model to be constructed on the Fiat Compact platform.

What made this version of the Cherokee so spectacular was its fuel efficiency. It was 45% better than its predecessor. With an estimated highway rating of 31 MPG, drivers would be spending much less time and money at the gas station. By 2019, the new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine was introduced. Generating 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, it was a welcomed addition.

Even better interior features have become standard on the fifth-generation Cherokee models, and the Trailhawk trim level gave buyers an extreme off-roading option. Equipped with an advanced AWD system known as Drive Train II, the Cherokee Trailhawk was fitted with all-terrain tires, 17-inch wheels, skid plates, a locking rear differential, and a suspension system tuned for enhanced off-roading. The ground clearance was also raised to help with driving over rocks and rough terrain. Higher trim levels got luxurious features such as heated and cooled leather seats, sophisticated wood accents, and advanced safety systems such as adaptive cruise control and automated parking. The old infotainment system was replaced by a touchscreen interface that was either 5 or 8.4-inches, depending on the trim level. Needless to say, the fifth generation took things to a whole new level.

Buying a Used Jeep Cherokee

If you are searching for a pre-owned Jeep Cherokee, there are plenty out there. For your next new (or new-to-you) model, visit us at The Faricy Boys in Colorado Springs, we’ll help you find the perfect model that suits your needs and your style. You’ll get cruising around town or hitting the wild outdoors in no time!