The Cherokee is retired - long live the Liberty, although maybe not as long as its predecessor. The Jeep Liberty is labeled a 2002. It is offered in two series, Sport and Limited, both four-doors. Each can be set up as either a 2-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive machine, and there's a choice of engines and transmissions on the Sport. I was given a Limited to test. It had the 6-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. The Limited, for a base price close to $5,000 more than Sport, has almost all of the niceties you could graft onto the lesser series - stuff like air conditioning, premium stereo, alloy wheels, the big engine, automatic transmission, power locks and windows, and suchlike. The Limited's exterior design features a monochromatic treatment, while the Sport has deep charcoal bumpers, fender flares and side-protective rub strips. On the Sport, you can get an automatic for about a grand more than the standard 5-speed transmission. Upgrading the engine from four cylinders to six will run about $850. The cheapest Liberty you can get, a Sport 2WD, goes for $17,035, with freight. From the outside, the Liberty somehow seems tiny - a tribute, perhaps, to the well-integrated styling - although in every dimension it is bigger than the Cherokee it replaces. For instance: Wheelbase, 104.3 inches vs. 101.4; Overall length, 174.2, vs. 167.5; Height, 73.2 vs. 64, Weight (Limited 4WD), 4,115, vs. 3,355. Yes, it has become, in its most elaborate form, a two-ton transporter, rather a bit for a midsize SUV - about 800 pounds more than a loaded Honda CR-V, 1,000 heftier than a Toyota RAV4. There are several reasons for the mass, which is nearly that of the Grand Cherokee. For openers, the Liberty is more ruggedly constructed than its competitors, being meant, in Jeep tradition, as a true off-road machine, not a "cute ute". Part of the preproduction shakedown (2 million road miles' worth) was done on the notorious Rubicon Trail, to make sure Liberty wouldn't embarrass its siblings, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. It passed quite nicely, DaimlerChrysler propaganda says. Neither the Honda nor the Toyota would make it past the first rock slide. And they're not supposed to. They are all-wheel-drive machines, meant for light-to-medium-duty nasty weather work and comfortable cruising. They would handle dirt roads okay, so long as they were really roads. The Liberty, by contrast, is a true four-wheel-drive machine, complete with a low-range transfer case, lacking on the AWD machines. Invaluable for serious off-roading, low range is seldom needed on paved roads, although I have found it useful for crawling down an icy driveway when even antilock brakes might induce a skid. Considering its ready-to-rumble construction, the Liberty was quite comfortable traversing paved surfaces. Filtering of harsh obstacles was near-perfect and both powertrain and suspension noises were kept outside the cabin in large measu re. Taking a smooth but undulant road rather fast, I thought the springing felt a touch over-aggressive, but that's to be expected from a dual-mission machine. The Liberty has a new, independent front suspension, which lets it shrug off non-planar surfaces and keeps roll well under control. The rear suspension is similar to the Grand Cherokee's, a solid axle with anti-roll member and coil springs. It got predictably flustered when bouncing along through a curve, but was never unnerving. The base engine might do for a 2WD Liberty, but if you mean to tow (up to 5,000 pounds) or do much four-wheelin', better opt for the six. The four-banger displaces 2.4 liters, and provides 150 hp and 165 foot-pounds of torque. The V-6 makes 210 hp and 235 foot-pounds of torque. Yes, it's a V, which is quite a departure for Jeep, which has long used inline designs, but needed the compactness of a 90-degree V. The 3.7-liter engine is essentially 3/4 of the V-8 used on Grand Cherokees, so tooling c were constrained. The engine has 12 valves and a single overhead camshaft. It ran to its 5,200-rpm power peak and beyond with gusto. It felt a bit lethargic under 2,500 rpm, resulting in a deceptively languid launch feel, although it could dash to 60 in under 9 seconds. The 235/70/16 Goodyear Wrangler RSA tires laid down a good contact patch, and whined a bit well before reaching their limit in hard cornering. The steering seemed a bit heavy, but that's appropriate for an off-road-capable vehicle. It gave a good sense of the road and was reasonably quick. The automatic transmission is much like Grand Cherokee's, with four forward speeds, but different second-gear ratios for upshifts and downshifts. That sounds too tricky, but has not proven a problem on Grands. It shifted quite smoothly and fairly quickly. Top gear is a 0.75:1 overdrive for relaxed cruising and economy. The transfer case, used for selecting among rear-drive, 4WD and AWD modes, as well as low range, was a model of efficiency. The console-mounted lever is light in actuation and switching modes was nearly instantaneous and almost imperceptible. In four-wheel mode, the torque split is a constant 48:52 front-rear ratio. The low range, accessed from a stop in neutral, affords a 2.52:1 multiplication factor. Brakes are ventilated discs front, drums rear. They produced satisfyingly short stops from elevated velocities, with excellent pedal feel. The antilock purred as it efficiently carried out its task. The Liberty's air conditioner, on maximum setting, was enough to run me out on a day that featured 90-degree temperatures and wilting humidity. The stereo, despite being heavily upgraded, was fairly mediocre. Be sure to ear-test one before popping for the upgrade. The instruments were well-placed and legible. They'd be even better if the background for the black markings were white instead of beige, which seemed discordant. The full-size spare is carried on the rear door. No problema, because when you unlatch the door to swing it to the left, the rear window flips up automatically - very nice touch. I'm a little concerned about the rear-window defroster wires, which seemed awfully taut when the window was open. The moonroof controller is a single switch with an embedded push button. The switch controls slide action, the button, tilt, and the two cooperate intelligently. Very nicely done, considering that it can be used at night without looking. EPA estimates for the V-6/automatic combo are 16 mpg city, 20 highway, using regular unleaded. I tallied 16.9 with a bit of mud-moving thrown in. Neither the government nor the insurance folks have crash-tested a Liberty. Even though a Limited comes heavily loaded with luxury and convenience items, many temptations remain on the options list, to say nothing of what aftermarket entrepreneurs will offer. The sacrificial machine had antilock brakes (these should be included on the Limited), for $600; side driver/passenger air bags, $390; overhead console with trip computer and garage door opener, $300; Selec-Trac full-time 4WD system, $395; deep-tinted glass, $270; power moonroof, $700; power driver's seat, $300; cassette player, $100; premium 6-speaker Infinity system with steering-wheel-mounted controls, $475; and six-disc remote CD changer, $415. Starting at $22,720, the Limited wound up costing, with freight, $27,250. (Edmunds notes that real-world transaction prices are within a couple of hundred bucks of sticker, not surprising with such an appealing debutante.) Payments on that one would be $552, assuming 20 percent down, 10 percent financing and 48 coupons. The Liberty is assembled at DaimlerChrysler's new North Toledo plant, and build quality was excellent. "The Gannett News Service"
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||April 15, 2002|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||September 28, 2001|
|Alan Vonderhaar||Cincinnati.com||August 25, 2001|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||August 18, 2001|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||July 5, 2001|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||July 1, 2001|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||June 16, 2001|
|Matt Nauman||TheMercuryNews.com||May 18, 2001|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||May 13, 2001|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||May 6, 2001|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||May 5, 2001|
|Anita Lienert||The Detroit News||May 2, 2001|
|Jason Stein||August 27, 2001|
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