In their original incarnation, SUVs were chiefly owned by folks who valued “utility” above “sport.” A four-wheel-drive, station wagon-like vehicle was just the thing to transport five (or more) adults to remote areas, handle bad-weather driving or pull heavy trailers.
Trouble was, they required the skill of a limo driver to park in the city and a gas card with a generous limit to keep them moving. Consumers who wanted something more reasonable in terms of size and fuel usage were out of luck.
That changed with the 1984 arrival of the Jeep Cherokee. Though there was a trim level of the ’70s-era full-size Wagoneer called Cherokee, this new model was completely different. Its compact dimensions, unibody (as opposed to heavier body-on-frame) architecture and classic styling made this junior Jeep an immediate success.
The Cherokee was discontinued when Jeep introduced the Liberty, but even on the used market, it remains one of Jeep’s most popular products. With minimal changes, it had a nearly 20-year production run, and plenty of Cherokees are still on the road today. Many have been modified with the usual off-roading upgrades, such as bigger tires, brush guards and lifted suspensions.
Although the Jeep Cherokee’s relatively tidy dimensions make it great for negotiating a tight trail, dicing with rush-hour traffic and parallel-parking, there are some sacrifices made for this nimble nature. Getting in and out is tricky due to the high step-up and small doors, and the rear seat is cramped. Nor is this Jeep particularly refined. Shoppers interested in a late ’90s or early 2000s small SUV for mostly urban runabout duty might be happier with car-based competitors (Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4) of similar vintage.