A dozen folks have sent me a recent video showing legendary British car journalist Harry Metcalfe realizing—ostensibly for the first time—just how incredible the Jeep Cherokee XJ is. It’s a beautiful moment caught on film, and you should all watch it.
To many Americans, it’s a well known fact that the Jeep Cherokee XJ—the AMC-designed unibody SUV that launched for the 1984 model year and played a huge role in shaping the modern car market—is such a great SUV that it may be the very best of all time (and in my view, there’s no question). It’s lightweight, powerful, spacious for its compact size, reasonably comfortable, quick, relatively nimble, incredibly off-road capable, and the list of positive attributes goes on and on.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a video of someone truly discovering the joys of the XJ on their own, free from outside influences—it’s just them and the boxy vehicle whose praises the world has been singing. Will it live up to the hype?
Harry Metcalfe, founder of Evo Magazine, and also a farmer and YouTuber, got his hands on one of the most fascinating examples of the Jeep Cherokee XJ: The Wagoneer Limited. (That’s the one from the 1980s that came with the faux wood trim, wacky grille, amazing stacked headlights, and nice leather interior). And not just any Wagoneer Limited. As Metcalfe tells it, this 1989 vehicle was chosen specifically as a runabout for a rich guy’s ski chalet in St. Moritz, Switzerland. “It was basically the very first example to come to Europe,” the Harry’s Garage host says, before saying the Jeep, which actually wasn’t officially sold in Great Britain until the 1990s but was sold in Europe in the mid 1980s, used to sit next to a Swiss Monteverdi Coupe sports car.
Look at the Harry’s Garage YouTube channel (see screenshot below), and you’ll see that Metcalfe tends to focus primarily on European cars. So in many ways, this Jeep XJ is a bit out of his usual wheelhouse. But I think that’s what makes the video so great.
Clearly, Metcalfe isn’t particularly well-versed on the Cherokee, calling it the “Wagoner” in the beginning, and expressing his interest in the fact that the transfer case offers a two-wheel drive setting (which was pretty normal on Jeeps since the beginning of Jeep-dom in 1941). But that means Harry can look at the Cherokee with a truly fresh set of eyes, and tell us how he—someone extremely knowledgeable about cars, but still new to the XJ world—feels about a vehicle that has gained legendary status, especially in the U.S.
The Jeep wins Metcalfe’s heart. He loves the fact that it weighs only ~3,400 pounds—he actually weighed it himself. He applauds the small SUV’s decent quickness, noting that the Jeep was measured by Autocar in 1993 to do zero to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds compared to 12.9 seconds for a V8 Land Rover Discovery. Metcalfe also loves the Jeep’s ride comfort, he’s a fan of its visibility, he likes the handling, and finds the interior to be roomy enough. Plus, of course, the Jeep’s off-road chops impress the auto journalist as he bombs through the green fields of the rural Cotswold Hills region of England.
“It feels like a mini Range Rover. That’s the only way to describe it,” he concludes.
Correction May 1, 2020 3:30 P.M.: This story initially echoed Harry’s point that this vehicle was the first XJ sold in Europe. Per my knowledge, there were XJs sold in Europe in the mid 1980s. XJs weren’t, however, sold in Great Britain until the 1990s.