Jeep Cherokee XJ
‘Just right’ car design
There are many qualities a design might aspire to, one of the less frequently expressed being that of ‘just rightness’: the kissing cousin of bland or normal, but one that is massively valuable as well as being hard to attain and hard to recognise without the benefit of hindsight.
To be a normal design is to approximate to ‘averaging out’ the designs of that genre, but to be a design that is ‘just right’ requires being clearly distinct — to never be confused with others — as well as having the universal acceptability of a normal design, and this is a very hard combination to realise. It is also a subjective attribute hard to be wholly sure of except for those designs that have long been surrounded by the gentle echo of positive reinforcement; the 1983 Jeep Cherokee XJ is just such as design and one of the best exemplars of ‘just right’ car design.
In its day it was quite a departure from the norm being way lower and more car-like than other SUVs, yet it wasn’t and still isn’t a design with either much elan or strong theme; it is a simple, utilitarian car. Over time this prescient design came to be less different to others as SUVs in its macro proportions as they became more car-like, its design distinction transfering from proportion to form as it neared the end of its long eighteen year life and found itself square of form in a Crossover sea of more rounded forms. This evolving distinction, its prescience that aligned it progressively with normal SUVs, combined with its perfect stance and micro proportions and fine resolution to make the XJ more and more clearly a ‘just right’ car design.
Other designs also hit the sweet spot of ‘just right’, but very few. And in the ever more important realm of SUVs / Crossovers, the XJ might just be THE ONE.