1997 Jeep Cherokee Review

1997 Jeep Cherokee - Practical punch.


The revamped Jeep Cherokee offers the enviable one-two punch of practicality and driving fun.

The Cherokee helped launch the sport/utility craze when it debuted in late 1983--further giving the Jeep name incredibly high equity in the sport/ute market.

Here was the first compact sport/ute with the convenience of four doors and a size that made it manageable to drive in urban environments. Finally, the average person could get an affordable, user-friendly sport/utility.

The always-popular Cherokee has sorely needed updating for years, so Chrysler Corp. spent $215 million--a modest sum in the car business--to improve the 1997 model.

While it looks much like the 1996 Cherokee, the new $15,300-$23,420 version has a more rounded appearance, new interior with better climate controls, more sound insulation and a tighter feel.

Importantly, the Cherokee benefits from new manufacturing process changes that result in higher quality and fit-and-finish improvements.

Most would want this vehicle with the 4-liter, 190-horsepower six-cylinder because the 2.5-liter, 125-horsepower four-cylinder lacks the juice to give good performance.

The ``six'' is not a V-6, but rather an in-line unit--with cylinders all in a row. Tall and narrow, it looks like a classic car engine. But the fairly quiet motor provides good performance up to 70 m.p.h. Above that, acceleration slows noticeably--although 75 m.p.h. cruising is no problem.

Expect to get about 15 m.p.g. in the city and 20 to 21 on highways with the popular six-cylinder/automatic transmission combination and four-wheel drive.

The automatic upshifts nicely and downshifts crisply.

The quiet interior easily handles four 6-footers--or five in a pinch--unless a tall driver shoves his seat back; then, a tall person behind him will find leg room has become tight.

Also, narrow rear door openings make it difficult to get in or out of the back seat.

The Cherokee, which continues to be a superb off-road vehicle when equipped with Jeep's excellent four-wheel drive, stands high for good ground clearance during off-road motoring.

So don't let its compact size fool you into thinking you can slide into it as if it were a car; the Cherokee is nearly as high as the larger Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The modern dashboard offers easily read gauges and smooth-working, conveniently located climate controls. And all four side windows roll all the way down.

The cargo floor is easily reached by the wide, user-friendly tailgate. But that floor is rather high and has a spare tire that eats into room. However, cargo space can be enlarged considerably by folding the rear seat forward.

Handling is good, especially with the optional ($750) Up Country Suspension package that has special shock absorbers.

But the precise power steering is a bit too light at highway speeds, and the brake pedal should offer a more reassuring feel.

The Cherokee has a short 101.4-inch wheelbase and stiff suspension, so it rides just like what it is--a truck.

Still, the ride is decent most of the time--at least for front-seat passengers. Those in the back sit almost squarely over the rear axle, so they feel bumps more than occupants up front.

Options can cause a Cherokee's base price to soar. The bottom line of my top-line $23,420 Cherokee Country model totaled $27,970 after a $775 ``Jeep Discount''--due to items such as a $1,240 Country Package that included air conditioning, tilt wheel and speed control, $600 anti-lock brakes, $410 sound system and $835 leather upholstery.

Still, the new Cherokee is a significant improvement over its predecessor.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

For more reviews from Dan, visit Facebook.