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The Very First Crossover Was ... the Jeep Cherokee?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2016

These days, people buy crossovers for everything. They get them because they carry kids. They get them because they carry dogs. They get them because they carry fast food home from the drive-thru. But when the Jeep Cherokee came out back in the 1980s, there weren't any crossovers -- except for the Jeep Cherokee.

Yes, that's right: Today is the day I'm going to call the boxy, off-road, highly capable, rough-and-tumble 1980s Jeep Cherokee a crossover. Today is also the day I'm going to lose all my Cherokee-owning readers. Goodbye, Cherokee owners! Good luck with your crankshaft-position sensors!

Here's my reasoning: If you look at the definition of a crossover compared to an SUV, you'll find that a crossover is a vehicle with unibody, rather than body-on-frame, construction -- much like most modern cars. Hence the term "crossover": The vehicle crosses over between a car and an SUV. There's not a lot of ingenuity in the naming of automotive segments (midsize, for instance).

Examples of true body-on-frame SUVs? The Chevy Tahoe. The Dodge Ramcharger. The Toyota Land Cruiser. The Nissan Armada. The Toyota 4Runner. The Jeep Wrangler.

Absent from that list? The Jeep Cherokee.

That's because the Cherokee has used unibody construction since the first day it came out in 1984, like a crossover, but unlike most of its off-roading pals. And not just the newest Cherokee, which is obviously a crossover with its car-based platform and car engines, but the 1980s Cherokee, the XJ Cherokee, the one people like to lift up and fit with huge tires and drive into bogs where they can slam down the accelerator until there's mud coming in through the sunroof.

In other words, from a production point of view, the Cherokee -- heralded off-road king of the trails -- shares more with the Toyota RAV4 than the Jeep Wrangler. Admittedly, this does nothing to take away from the Cherokee's off-road prowess, but it is an interesting fact. It is not, however, a fact that you should bring up with Cherokee owners -- especially if you're stuck on a trail and need to get pulled out.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Very First Crossover Was ... the Jeep Cherokee? - Autotrader