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If you’re under the age of 20, chances are the TJ Wrangler is out of your reach financially. We know how you feel since we’ve been there before. However, pretty much everyone can afford an XJ Cherokee.

We know a lot of older Jeepers don’t really like the Cherokee. It’s not what many consider a “real” Jeep. We totally get that, but put your prejudices aside for a moment and allow us to explain why the XJ Cherokee so good. Let’s get started, shall we? Here are three reasons why the XJ Cherokee is awesome:

Size/Lightweight

The XJ Cherokee weighs around 3,200 pounds depending on the model, which is super light by SUV standards. This makes the XJ Cherokee super fun to drive on the street and surprisingly fast. The low weight also helps easily out wheel heavier trucks. The Cherokee is so light thanks to its unibody construction which isn’t without its flaws.

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The XJ Cherokee is also arguably the best size for an off-road vehicle. The super small wheelbase of the Wrangler makes it more maneuverable. But, that small wheelbase isn’t the best for wheeling. The Cherokee’s 101” wheelbase is perfect for wheeling, and it’s still relatively small. It’s a perfect balance between short wheelbase handling and long wheelbase articulation. If you get really into crawling you could even stretch the factory wheelbase. This is pretty easy to do with some adjustable control arms and it really improves articulation.

The XJ is the perfect size for plenty of trails while still being able to fit four people comfortably.

The Cherokee just big enough for four doors and enough room to carry all your gear. It’s also just small enough to be maneuverable on trails. This is super important because many trails can get pretty tight sometimes and you need a relatively small vehicle. The size of the Cherokee is pretty much perfect.

Price

The XJ Cherokee is often referred to as the “disposable hero” because of its extremely low price. You can build one up, wheel it to death, then buy another one, and swap all the good parts over. You can even buy a long arm, locked, and exo-caged XJ Cherokee for less than the average TJ Wrangler. The price and off-road performance is nearly off the charts for the Cherokee.

There are 3 more XJs in the backyard.

There are 3 more XJs in the backyard.

My first XJ was purchased off of a guy in northern Arizona for $1,400. It was extremely reliable up until it was traded for a Mustang. My second XJ was purchased for $1,000 off a guy in AZ4x4Club. Although the second XJ had axle related issues on multiple occasions (Dana 35 kept exploding) it was fairly reliable.

My first Jeep in Sedona, Arizona (left) and the day I bought my second XJ (right).

Aftermarket parts are also pretty cheap since there are so many parts manufacturers for Jeeps. This means you can pretty easily buy and build a nice little XJ for around $2,000 or less. This makes the XJ extremely attractive to the younger buyer who might not be able to afford a TJ Wrangler.

4.0-liter Engine

If you’ve already owned a Jeep than you know how awesome the 4.0-liter is. If you haven’t owned a Jeep before, let me reiterate: the AMC 4.0-liter is one of the best engines ever put in a production vehicle.

Seriously, it’s like the Chevy 350 of the Jeep world. Your engine could be running way below the correct operating temperature, running on five cylinders, and it’ll still get you all the way home (ask how we know). Plus it makes 190 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque which makes the Cherokee surprisingly fast and fun to drive.

XJ Crawler stretching its legs.

XJ Crawler stretching its legs.

Personally, we think that the reliability comes from the fact that the AMC inline-6 started out as a tractor engine. As you might imagine tractor engines basically have to work in all conditions.

They quite literally “just keep chugging along” no matter what. It’s not unheard of for a 4.0-liter to do 200,000 miles without a sweat. They seem to have major engine failures at 300k miles or higher. AMC developed new inline-6 engines over time, but the AMC 4.0-liter’s oldest ancestor is a tractor engine.

Summary

So, if you can’t afford a Wrangler have no fear, the XJ is here. Seriously though, not only is the XJ the perfect size, it’s also dirt cheap and super reliable. If you’re still not convinced that the XJ Cherokee isn’t awesome then you just need to go wheel one.

They’re so much fun to drive both on and off-road thanks to the torquey 4.0-liter and the lightweight unibody construction. What do you think makes the XJ Cherokee awesome? Let me know in the comments below!