Project Recycled Green Part 1 [Video]
Long before the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited was dominating the trail, if you wanted a capable four-door SUV that you could daily drive and ‘wheel, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the Jeep Cherokee XJ. While it’s been 18 years since the last XJ rolled off of the assembly line, the midsized SUV remains an extremely popular build platform. Part of its popularity is centered on cost. For a few grand, you can grab up one in decent shape.
Given the 4.0L inline-six engine is known for lasting over 300,000 miles, buyers can squeeze many years of trouble-free service out of the Cherokee. It was with this knowledge that our friend picked up a ’00 Cherokee Sport with the intention of transforming it into a double-duty SUV. Though this particular XJ needed a little TLC (something that was reflected in the purchase price), it was largely rust free and mechanically solid.
With a well-worn 18-year-old original suspension, ball joints that were long overdue for replacement, and tires nearly bald, there was no question that these areas would be the first to get attention. Thankfully, the XJ has an amazing amount of aftermarket support, with one of the biggest XJ outfitters being Rusty’s Off-Road. Rusty’s has a tremendous catalog of XJ components and a great reputation for quality parts and low prices.
This made them an excellent fit for this XJ build we’ve dubbed Recycled Green. For this first installment, we’ll be refreshing the suspension entirely with a complete 3-inch Advanced Kit suspension from Rusty’s. Coupled with a fresh set of 32-inch-tall Nitto Ridge Grapplers, we’re starting this XJ project off on the right foot, without spending a ton of cash. While the video above highlights the transformation, we’re breaking down even more details of the setup in the article below.
This big draw to the Advanced series 3-inch is the fact that it includes new upper and lower control arms. While the tubular arms are significantly stronger than stock, each is fit with OE-style rubber bushings, so you don’t have to worry about joint longevity. Rusty’s also gives you two spring rate options for those XJ’s equipped with aftermarket winch bumpers.
One option that is always worth having are sway bar disconnects. These Rusty’s links are adjustable, so they can grow with the Jeep if you decided to lift it more in the future. Disconnecting with just a pull of a pin, it’s a great way to free up articulation and smooth out the ride off-road. For you keen-eyed readers, you may notice that the OE bumpstops are missing. Unfortunately, they disintegrated from old age, but there is a replacement set on the way.
This particular XJ is fit with the AW4 automatic and NP231 transfer case. To allow the stock rear driveline to remain with the new lift height, this XJ owner opted for the Trail Tested Rusty’s crossmember. This lowered the transfer case by 1-inch, but retains better ground clearance over a more conventional crossmember drop.
Out back, the original leaf springs were shot. Thankfully, the Advanced series kit comes with a full-replacement spring pack. These are fit with five leafs, which create a very smooth ride and negate the need for a lift block or different shackle. Like the front, Rusty’s Hydro series shocks are used along with all-new extended brake lines.
To dial in the front suspension, a Rusty’s adjustable track bar is used. This unit bolts in the stock location. Ensuring the front end was properly refreshed, Low Range 4x4 installed new ball joints, steering links, and a steering stabilizer from Rusty’s.
This Jeep will see more dirt than most as the owner lives and works on a nearly 500 acre farm. As such, he opted for one of the most versatile tires in Nitto’s portfolio—the Ridge Grappler. Not quite a mud terrain and not quite an all-terrain, the Ridge Grappler fits nicely in the middle.
The 265/70R17 Ridge Grapplers were paired with a set of 17-inch Rubicon JK wheels that were picked up on the cheap. While a set of 1.5-inch wheel adapters were required to adapt the 5-on-4.5 wheel bolt pattern to the 5-on-5 wheels, it was a modest investment overall. One thing worth noting is that the 32x10.50 tires did require a bit of front bumper trimming to properly clear.
With a more suitable stance for off-road duties, and a fresh set of legs under the XJ, it’s amazing at how much better this Jeep performs. While the added tires were a noticeable power hit to the Jeep, it’s not something that will necessitate a gear ratio change at this moment.
We are experienced with building XJs and knew that this size tire with 3-inches of unchecked (not bumped) lift would likely rub at full articulation. The next upgrade will take care of this problem as well as address a few cosmetic issues on the Jeep.