A few months back I had the opportunity to off road the new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, the modern version of the Jeep icon. I was impressed not only with the Wrangler’s off road prowess, but with the way designers have incorporated the Jeep DNA into the package to give the truck an authentic look & feel. With the launch of the all new 2008 Jeep Liberty, the Jeep team has once again brought that evolutionary feel to the vehicle in a way that ensures this vehicle can’t be mistaken for anything but a Jeep.
Our tester was a Limited model with every toy available, wearing a classic dark blue coat that looked stunning on the straight sided Liberty. Those straight surfaces are in keeping with the shape of the Wrangler and even more so the big brother Grand Cherokee. So much so that many observers commented that the Liberty looked more like a Cherokee than a Liberty and meant it as a compliment. The exterior looks rugged yet elegant.
Inside, the Liberty shares many of the same styling elements as the Wrangler although in a slightly more upscale package. The center of the dash is dominated by a strong center stack with metallic trim, similar to the one in the Wrangler. Atop this stack is a rubber lined, recessed ledge that is perfect for keeping ones sunglasses close at hand.
All the controls are basic and easy to figure out. Given the early arrival of winter this year, it’s nice to find heater controls that are simple and easy to operate with a gloved hand. An even nicer surprise was location of the windshield wiper controls on their own, right side steering column stalk where they belong. Overall, the controls look and feel like nice quality pieces. The only exception to this is the chrome top of the shifter, which feels like a cheap chrome plated plastic bit which is mere moments away from coming off in the driver’s hand. Such a small thing, but it is out of character with the rest of the interior. The 2wd to 4wd shifter is a simple switch that even the most scattered soccer mom should be able to figure out.
Fun in the sun has always been part of that Jeep image and the Liberty takes the sunroof to new places to keep things fun. The entire roof is a retractable canvas affair that looks more like a convertible top than a sunroof. It can retract from the front or back to let all passengers feel the summer air. As cool as the roof is, things were far from sunny and warm during our time with the Liberty so the roof didn’t get used other than to show it off to the boys. On the road, it is quieter than a typical convertible, even on the highway talking on the hands free wasn’t an issue. In a heavy cross wind, it buffets a little but sound levels are still within reason. Through the touch free car wash, there wasn’t a hint of a moisture.
Open air motoring wouldn’t be complete without tunes and the Liberty doesn’t disappoint. An am-fm cd mp3 deck comes complete with an aux in jack for mp3 input and Sirius satellite radio. I’m becoming addicted to Sirius these days. Santa, are you listening?
The seats are clad in two toned leather that looks elegant, yet is still easy to wipe clean after the inevitable spill that younger members of the family may incur. The two stage front seat heaters get the buns toasty within a block of driving, so the cold weather frozen bum normally associated with leather doesn’t apply here.
The previous Liberty was quite narrow and friends who drive one have complained that there just isn’t as much cargo area as they would like. The 08 Liberty suited our family just fine, passing the 3 hockey bag test with ease. Of course the rear seats fold down for bigger loads, but when you’ve got a family of 5, it’s what’s behind the seats that counts. Below the cargo bay floor there is a useful hidden storage compartment. Not only is it a safe hiding spot, but it is also rubber lined and would make a great place to throw those wet bathing suits on the way home from the beach.
Next up, we’ll examine how the 2008 Jeep Liberty handles life on the road in an Ontario winter.