The Jeep Liberty
arrived as a 2002 model and was sleeker, taller, wider, longer and roomier than its Jeep
Cherokee predecessor, which was so dated it almost had become a classic.
However, the compact Cherokee--introduced in 1984--was the first user-friendly four-door sport-utility vehicle. It did very well during tough off-road driving, and Jeep
wanted the Liberty
to have the same reputation. Jeep
thus calls the Liberty
a "tough truck,'' not a "cute-ute'' such as the car-based Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V.
The Cherokee was among the most boxy looking sport-utes, but the compact Liberty
has smooth styling and a front end appearance seemingly taken directly from the U.S. Army manual. It can't be mistaken for anything but a Jeep
Despite its off-road prowess, the $17,360-$23,810 Liberty
is more comfortable than the Cherokee for on-road driving because Jeep
wants the Liberty
to outsell the Cherokee.
Admirable off-road abilities make the compact Liberty
ride more stiffly than compact car-based sport-utes. But the ride isn't uncomfortable, partly because there is a carlike independent coil-spring front suspension. New shock absorbers, springs and jounce bumpers provide a slightly better ride. Jeep
has reduced the Liberty
's formerly high steering effort for improved maneuverability and given it a lower ride height to improve handling. Body lean still is pronounced in curves, although it doesn't affect stability. Drivers should just keep in mind that this is no disguised sports sedan.
comes as entry Sport, mid-range Limited Edition and top-line Renegade versions. All have four doors and a tailgate with a pop-up glass panel.
The tailgate swings open to the left, away from the curb, to allow easier curbside loading and carries an outside-mounted spare tire.
The Sport has a moderate amount of equipment, while the Limited Edition has a lot more stuff, including air conditioning.
The Renegade is the sexiest looking model, with special appearance features such as a roof light bar, fender arches with a bolt-on look and unique alloy wheels. Liberty
models are available with either rear-drive or a choice of two four-wheel-drive systems with low-range gearing for demanding off-road driving. The Command-Trac four-wheel-drive system must be disengaged on dry roads, but the SelecTrack system can be left engaged on dry roads.
is powered by either a 2.4-liter, 150-horsepower four-cylinder engine or a 3.7-liter, 210-horsepower V-6, which is standard for the Limited Edition and Renegade and an $850 option for the Sport.
The sophisticated dual-overhead-camshaft, 16-valve four-cylinder engine comes only with a five-speed manual transmission and provides surprisingly lively acceleration.
The smoother single-overhead-camshaft V-6 provides quicker merging and passing. It loafs at 2,200 rpm at 65 mph and can be had with the manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic generally performs well, but should provide slightly quicker downshifts.
Estimated fuel economy of the four-cylinder engine is generally good for the Liberty
, which is fairly heavy with that engine at 3,648 pounds: 20 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway. But economy isn't so good with the V-6, which delivers about 16 and 22 with the manual and 16 and 20 with the automatic. The V-6 models are heavier, weighing 3,846-3,898 pounds, and that can be felt during emergency maneuvers.
There is a new overhead console and new cubby bin in the dash area. And an available six-disc in-dash CD player replaces the remote CD changer previously put in the rear cargo area. But the main new feature for 2003 is the addition of four-wheel disc brakes for greater stopping efficiency. The brake pedal has a nice linear action for smooth stops. Anti-lock brakes cost $600, but you must order the V-6 to get them on the Sport.
As for safety, standard multi-stage front air bags deploy at different levels, depending on the severity of an impact. Available side curtain air bags provide more protection for both front and rear outboard occupants.
feels strong. It has "uniframe'' construction, which is said to incorporate all the strength and durability of a body-on-frame construction into a unitized construction.
It calls for extra effort to get in and out of the Liberty
's rich-looking interior, but occupants sit high with a good view of surroundings. However, the driver's seat needs to slide back more, and front and rear seats should be larger, with more thigh support.
There's decent room in the rather narrow interior for four 6-footers, as long as the driver doesn't tilt his seat back too far. Rear door openings should be wider. Outside door handles allow quick entry, and the funky loop-style inside handles are OK once occupants become accustomed to them.
Gauges are easy to read quickly. The smooth climate controls are large, but sound system controls are small. Plenty of large "eyeball'' dashboard vents enhance ventilation. But power window controls are inconveniently put near the rear of the front console, and door-mounted power lock buttons easily can be mistaken for those controls.
Rear windows roll down all the way but have rather odd fixed glass areas at the back of the doors. Those doors have beverage holders, while front doors have storage pockets.
There is good cargo room with the rear seat in its normal position, and impressive cargo space with the rear seat flipped forward, although seatback cushions don't lie entirely flat.
The hood swings up smoothly on struts, which eliminate an old-fashioned prop rod, and fluid filler areas are easily reached.
generally is a charmer, with plenty of muscle to back up its good looks.
Stylish. Solid. Refined. Quick with V-6. Rich-looking interior.
Mediocre V-6 fuel economy. Larger seats needed. Narrow rear door openings.