Jeep Cherokee XJ exterior

Jeep Cherokee XJ | Cars that were ahead of their time

Jeep Cherokee XJ | Cars that were ahead of their time

The Nissan Qashqai might be credited with being the world’s first crossover, but arguably, the Jeep Cherokee XJ – which preceded the Nissan by more than two decades – is more deserving of the title.

In 1984, guided by market research, Jeep realised that new-car buyers wanted a smaller SUV with car-like handling and improved efficiency next to a full-sized off-roader like the company’s Wagoneer of the time.

The resulting Cherokee XJ, a testament to innovation, was 500mm shorter, 150mm narrower, 100mm lower and more than 450kg lighter than its big brother. Its surprisingly roomy interior was made possible by the monocoque underpinnings, a revolutionary departure from the bulky ladder frame chassis that had been an element of off-roaders up to that point.

Jeep offered the Cherokee as a three- or five-door car with fuel-saving rear-wheel drive. Buyers could also choose from two different four-wheel-drive options – a part-time system and permanent four-wheel drive – allowing them to get a perfect car for their exacting needs.

Jeep even decided against fitting a powerful V8 engine – potentially sacrilegious in the USA. Instead, you chose from a 2.8-litre V6 laterally replaced with the venerable 4.0-litre straight-six or two 2.5-litre engines running on either petrol or diesel.

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With its monocoque chassis serving up surprisingly nimble handling, the Jeep proved to be an instant hit. Its success across the pond carried over to the UK, where it appealed to buyers who had enough of the poor build quality and wayward handling of their Land Rover Discovery’s.

Even today, the XJ remains a popular model. Its blocky looks translate into a timeless design, and the car has developed a reputation for being incredibly tough and, by modern standards, easy to fix.

So the next time someone waxes lyrical about the Qashqai’s transformative effect on the UK’s new car market, remind them that – actually – it was Jeep’s idea.

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