In 1984, the Jeep Cherokee nameplate was lifted from the aging J10 platform (a la Wagoneer) and dropped on an all-new XJ unibody structure. Similar in size to the S series Blazer and Jimmy from GM, Jeep engineers never guessed that its new go-anywhere/do-anything vehicle would appeal to so many buyers. Sales skyrocketed and, at minimum, held steady for a decade and a half. Ceasing production this year--replaced by the all-new Liberty--the third-generation Cherokee Classic ('97-'01) represents genuine Jeep-ness, solid off-road capability, and a good value.

Using our '98 model as an example, base SEs receive a 2.5L/125-hp I-4 mated to a five-speed manual; a three-speed auto also is available. A 4.0L/190-hp I-6 and four-speed automatic is optional--and recommended. Value-positioned Sport, upscale Classic, and top-line Limited all receive the torquey straight-six with slushbox, though a manual gearbox is standard on the Sport. All are available with either two- or four-wheel drive--the shift-on-the-fly, part-time Command-Trac 4x4 system may be had on all versions but the Limited, which receives Jeep's Selec-Trac full-time 4WD. Selec-Trac is an option on Sport and Classics.

Utilitarian and boxy by design, four adults fit comfortably inside with adequate head and shoulder room. Rear legroom is lacking, however, and entry to the aft cabin is constrained due to the narrow door opening. The Cherokee is relatively refined on the road, with a sporty feel and good cornering capabilities, though the platform shows its age. It's certainly in its best element off the pavement.

A sport/utility value, SEs are available under 10-grand, while newer Limiteds command prices in the $20K range. Engines run forever, though some of the plastic interior bits won't. Insurance can be pricey, as this is a thief's favorite. But for those who want solid daily transportation with best-in-class off-roadability, the Cherokee is an excellent buy.

WHAT'S HOT
• Excellent off-roader
• Good overall value; low parts cost
• Tough, torquey I-6 powerplant

WHAT'S NOT
• Four-cylinder anemic at best
• Tight back seat
• High theft rating


1998 Jeep Cherokee SE
Body type Sport/utility
DrivetrainFront engine, 4WD
Airbag Driver/pass
Base curb weight, lb 2979
Base engine2.5L/125-hp I-4
Optional engine 4.0L/190-hp I-6
Brakes, f/rDisc/drum, ABS opt (4.0L engine only)
Price range,'98 model, whsl/rtl $8625-$11,905/ $13,225-$17,065 (Kelly Blue Book)
Recalls Fuel-gauge sender, airbag impact sensor, seatbelt anch?ors, disc brakes prone to corrode
NHTSA frntl-imp, drv/pass 3 stars/3 stars