The history of the original SUV in a bite-size video

The Jeep Cherokee is easily one of the most recognizable names in the world of SUVs, broadly considered as the first modern SUV, one that offered practicality, off-road ability, and luxury, all in one package.

The Cherokee brand is over 40 years old now and still going strong. Born as a cheaper, more compact version of the Wagoneer, the Cherokee was actually the first vehicle which was referred to as a "sport-utility vehicle" in the manufacturer brochures. Since then, the Cherokee has grown larger, and nowadays, you can choose either the compact Cherokee or the mid-size Grand Cherokee.

An American Classic

The Jeep Cherokee, first launched in 1974 as a two-door version of the hefty Wagoneer, was offered for Jeep’s younger customer base looking for a smaller, more fuel-efficient, but still rugged truck.

Although it wasn't the first two-door 4x4 truck of its kind, with the Ford Bronco, the International Harvester Scout, and the Chevrolet Blazer all preceding it, Jeep was the company that coined the term "SUV".

While the first Cherokee (SJ) didn’t fully meet the criteria we now look at when talking about SUVs, the second generation defined the term and made it its own. Known as the Cherokee XJ, it saw the light of day a full decade after the original Cherokee and featured a completely new design, which became the archetypal appearance for a compact SUV thereafter.

Donut Media Dives Deep on the Jeep Cherokee: Video
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Money from both AMC and Renault helped found the innovative project, which featured a number of firsts in its class.

The most important is the unibody construction, rivaling manufacturers all coming with the conventional - yet heavy - body-on-frame architecture. In fact, the XJ was some 1,200 pounds lighter than the original Cherokee and little over 20 inches shorter.

The unibody design also meant that the XJ was more comfortable, but still very capable when taken off-road. All of this transformed the Cherokee into a crowd favorite, leading to the surge in popularity of the class itself. People started deciding against buying station-wagons, instead of going for roomier SUVs. The XJ’s customer appeal didn’t fade for years, Jeep keeping it in production even as the third generation Cherokee was introduced.

For the full story on how the Cherokee came to be and why is it such an important page in the U.S. automotive industry’s history, check the Donut video above. It’s guaranteed to not bore you - just like an old-school rugged Cherokee XJ.

Further Reading

2019 Jeep Cherokee
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Read our full review on the 2019 Jeep Cherokee.

2015 Jeep Cherokee - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full driven review on the 2015 Jeep Cherokee.

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert -
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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