The Liberty joined the Jeep family in 2002, replacing the old, but well-loved Cherokee. While the Liberty brought new buyers to Jeep with its softer styling, diehards decried the ‘cute ute’ looks. In 2008, Jeep redesigned the Liberty, with a more squared-off appearance. Now in its second year, the second generation Liberty is a true small SUV existing in sea of crossovers. Is the Liberty still relevant today, or is it obsolete against its crossover competition? Read on…
The Liberty certainly looks the part of small, tough SUV. Liberty owners will instantly recognize a similar silhouette, but the rounded curves have given way to sharper edges that make the Liberty look far more serious than the previous model. Our test car was the top-spec Limited model, which adds some chrome bits that add an air of elegance to the Liberty without the dreaded ‘bling’ stigma. Kudos to Jeep for knowing when to say when. Special mention goes to the attractive Inferno Red crystal pearl coat paint that drew many positive compliments, and I agree-the color makes the car.
Inside, the Liberty offers a simple, utilitarian cockpit. Gauges are clear, and easy to read. Controls are easy to decipher. Hard plastics dominate the interior, and the quality of materials are, unfortunately, a few steps behind the competition’s. Thankfully, the leather, while not particularly rich in feel, certainly felt durable, as befits a Jeep. The soft touches of the leather save the day, without a doubt. Still, I was confounded that the boot for the emergency brake was in leather, but the brake handle-the part that you actually touch, was rock-hard plastic. Ã‚Â The flat seats provide decent seat comfort over extended drives, and I had no trouble finding a comfortable driving position. The Infinity stereo, with Sirius satellite radio provided decent sound quality, but the tiny fonts and basic display lag behind the slick displays seen in other cars.
The sole drivetrain for the Liberty is the familiar 3.7L V-6, rated at 210hp, coupled to a four-speed automatic. The Liberty is available in two and four-wheel drive. For most people, the Liberty offers adequate power, and merging onto highways is not a cause for concern. But the Liberty is not fleet of foot, and in passing, it feels slow. The engine sounds terrible nearing redline. But around town and in normal cruising, the engine is silent-you simply don’t notice it. Gas mileage is not great-15mpg city, and 21 highway put the Liberty well behind its contemporaries. To its credit, the Liberty destroys its rivals in towing ability, able to handle up to 5,000 lbs.
The Liberty is easy to drive around town, but you just need to remember, this is a truck, and it steers, handles and brakes like one. If you are expecting handling characteristics of a Honda CR-V, you are in for a shock. But the Liberty has a soft ride, and is perfectly at ease cruising at 80mph on the highway, while wearing the Trail Rated badge. The Liberty is always in 2WD mode, but a simple rocker switch on the center console can switch you to all-wheel drive on the fly. Other goodies like Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control give credence to the Liberty’s off road ability.
Our Liberty was equipped with the optional Sky Slider full-open roof. With the push of a button, the roof, which is made of a canvas like you would find in a convertible, slides all the way back to the cargo area, allowing all passengers to enjoy the outdoors. When closed, and at speed, the well insulated top keeps the Liberty fairly quiet. Even fully open, the interior remains calm enough for conversation. The Sky Slider roof definitely adds a fun element to the Liberty that I enjoyed frequently, and it’s a feature you will not find anywhere else. Before you check that option box, just be warned that you lose the roof rails.
Our Liberty was fully optioned, with the exception of navigation. MSRP was $32,710USD.
But back to our question-how does the Liberty fit in today’s small SUV market? No CRV, RAV4 or Equinox can hit the trail like a Liberty can, and none can offer the towing capability. Only the Nissan XTerra shows itself as a true competitor. Even in posh Limited trim, the Liberty is a little rough around the edges. But what the Liberty lacks in refinement, it more than makes up for in personality and character. It is that trait-an emotional connection to a car that allows one to forgive some glaring shortcomings. On a sunny, spring day, with the roof fully open, classic rock on the stereo, the smile on my face was enough to make me forget the faults of the Liberty.