Although the first Toyota RAV4 that came out in 1994 is widely regarded as the first SUV, there’s a chance that the revolution has its roots a bit earlier, as designs for the Jeep Cherokee XJ date back to the late 1970s, when AMC and Renault engineers teamed up in order to put together something truly special.
Just how special? Well, Doug DeMuro argues that the Cherokee XJ was the first automobile of its kind, completely unlike other off-roaders such as the larger Cherokee SJ, Chevy Blazer or Ford Bronco.
This is a very simple vehicle, every which way you look at it. The styling, already iconic, is something you really don’t come across anymore, unless you look at other icons such as the Jeep Wrangler or the Mercedes G-Class, who also continue to employ boxy designs.
Inside, there are plenty of quirks, despite the rather basic nature of the cabin. For example, there are no rear headrests, but what you do get are dimmers for the sun visor lights – what a strange combination of simplicity and thoughtfulness.
Another thing worth pointing out about this car is just how little room you have in the back. In the 1980s, a compact crossover was truly compact. The Cherokee XJ was over a foot shorter than a modern-day Honda Civic, for example.
Even so, DeMuro enjoyed spending time with the car, especially behind the wheel, where he praised it for its excellent visibility, heavy and surprisingly non-vague steering. The engine noise however did penetrate the cabin and made for a slightly unpleasant experience.