MODEL MAKING
The bookend models bracketing the Laredo are the Base ZJ at the entry-level price of $18,980, and the current top-of-the-line Limited, base-priced in the stratosphere at $27,433. At the end of 1992 or the beginning of 1993, Jeep will introduce a fourth edition, a new ZJ-derived Grand Wagoneer equipped with Chrysler's 5.2-liter V-8. That will push the top ZJ price to or beyond $30,000.

The differences between old and new Cherokees may seem small at first glance, but they aren't -- certainly not in terms of dollars. At $3138, the difference between suggested retail pricing of Base XJ and Base ZJ four-doors is the greatest of the lines, but the Jeepsters pumped new value into the ZJ Grand Cherokee by adding important formerly optional equipment to the vehicle's standard-equipment list.

Where the basic XJ Cherokee offered four-wheel anti-lock brakes as an option, for one important example, the basic ZJ Grand Cherokee has the ABS system as standard issue. The considerably important concern of standard powertrain is another prime example of differences between old and new. The basic XJ came out of the box with a five-speed manual bolted to Chrysler's 130-horsepower 2.5-liter four-banger; the ZJ Grand Cherokee throughout its range offers only one powertrain, a five-speed stick and Jeep's 190-horsepower 4.0-liter inline six. A smaller example of upgrading is the rear-window wiper, a genuine necessity for retention of clear aft vision in both XJ and ZJ models when there's any precipitation at all. It was optional in the old Base Cherokee and now is standard equipment in the new truck.

At the current top end, the suggested retail base-price difference between the XJ Limited and the ZJ Limited is only $1464, but in terms of standard equipment, how much more of "everything" can you stand? The ZJ Limited model has all the bells and whistles, including fourspeed automatic transmission and Quadra-Trac full-time all-wheel drive, automatic climate control, 15x7.0-inch gold-accented aluminum wheels and 225/70R15 Goodyear Eagle GA tires, leather-trimmed and power-operated reclining driver and passenger bucket seats, conventional spare, dual heated power mirrors, six-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo with power antenna, and on and on.

Last but by no means least, don't forget the Grand Cherokee's airbag. The XJ Cherokee didn't offer one at all, and the ZJ Grand Cherokee has standard driver-side airbags in every model, regardless of trim level. Jeep is the first manufacturer -- and so far the only one -- to offer an airbag in a sport/utility vehicle.