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Expert Reviews 1 of 3
By Jim Flammang
April 29, 2003
Posted on 12/9/02 Vehicle Overview After 18 years on the market, the venerable Jeep Cherokee was showing its age. So for 2002, the Jeep division of DaimlerChrysler created a slightly larger sport utility vehicle, called the Liberty, as the Cherokees replacement. The Liberty is built at a new plant in Toledo, Ohio, and it was claimed to be the stiffest Jeep ever 45 percent better in bending than the Cherokee and 30 percent improved in torsional rigidity. It was also the first Jeep with rack-and-pinion steering.
The Sport and Limited Edition are two of the available models in the Liberty lineup. The Limited went on sale in late spring 2001 and contains a V-6 engine rather than a four-cylinder. A Renegade model was added later, and it is also equipped with V-6 power. Hoping to attract a whole new kind of Jeep buyer without losing the traditional hard-core enthusiasts, Jeep General Manager Tom Sidlik called the 2002 Liberty a new Jeep for a new adventure. Developers sought a refined highway experience as well as offroad capabilities.
Rivals of the Liberty include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Xterra and Toyota RAV4. Details on changes for the 2003 model year have not yet been released.
The Libertys styling evolved from two concept vehicles that were created by the Chrysler design staff: the 1997 Dakar and the 1998 Jeepster. Pronounced trapezoidal wheel flares are integrated into the body, and a traditional Jeep seven-slot grille is installed. Making the vehicle lower in front and higher at the rear is intended to impart a sense of forward motion. Short front and rear overhangs allow 38-degree approach and 32-degree departure angles for effective off-roading, which is considered to be any Jeeps traditional skill. Product Design Director Ralph Giles says the taillights make a statement with their bug-eyed appearance, and the headlights are elliptically shaped.
The Liberty rides a 104.3-inch wheelbase, measures 174.7 inches long overall and stands 70.9 inches tall. The spare tire is mounted externally on an innovative swing-out tailgate that features flipper glass. The tailgates design is said to ease access to the cargo area. Sport models get contrasting (molded-in-color) fascias, fender flares and bodyside moldings, while the Limited Edition has a monochromatic appearance and standard fog lamps. The tires measure 16 inches in diameter; aluminum wheels equip the Limited Edition. Available skid plates cover the fuel tank and transfer case, and an optional Trailer-Towing Package with a 5,000-pound capacity includes a heavy-duty cooling system.
The Liberty seats five occupants. It has a 65/35-split rear seat that can be folded down with one hand. The door panels consist of a series of arcs. Round-dialed instruments with black-on-beige graphics sit in a cluster. The Sport model includes a cassette stereo, tachometer, and rear defroster with a wiper and washer. The Limited Edition gets a CD player, air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, a cargo-area cover, and power windows and door locks.
Under the Hood
Four-cylinder and V-6 engines are available for the Liberty. A 150-horsepower, 2.4-liter Power Tech four-cylinder is standard in the Sport model. A 210-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 produces 235 pounds-feet of torque and comes standard in the Limited and Renegade models and optional in the Sport. Each engine teams with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission and with one of two four-wheel-drive (4WD) systems standard part-time Command-Trac or optional full-time Selec-Trac.
Dual front airbags are standard. Antilock brakes and curtain-type airbags that protect front and rear occupants are offered as optional equipment.
Jeep took a big leap forward by developing the Liberty. This SUV reaches well beyond the ever-popular but largely outmoded Cherokee in civility and refinement. Better yet, it does so without losing any of the character and on-road and offroad proficiency of its predecessor. The Liberty is solidly constructed and tight throughout, and it offers quick, precise steering both on and off the road with moderate effort and a pleasant feel. The ride is lovely on smooth roads, and it doesnt deteriorate much when the pavement ends or gets rough.
The Libertys offroad running is utterly amazing. A trek through dusty, gnarled, gravel paths seems almost like a Sunday drive on a paved parkway at least when you compare it to the jostling thats produced in plenty of the Libertys competitors. Undulations are more noticeable in the backseat, but the ride is fine up front. The SUV copes effortlessly with every obstacle, and nothing seems capable of slowing it down.
The Libertys performance is more than adequate with the V-6 and automatic transmission, but some drivers may crave a bit more power. Its plenty energetic off-road, but on the highway, its not quite as powerful; this is a result of the occasional awkward downshifting at low speeds. The firm yet comfortable seats have short bottoms, but they offer excellent support and ample headroom and elbowroom in the front and back. In addition to emitting only modest engine noise, the Liberty is nearly devoid of 4WD drone in Low range.