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By Jim Flammang
August 27, 2003
Vehicle Overview Two seasons back, the Jeep division of DaimlerChrysler replaced the old Cherokee with a slightly larger sport utility vehicle called the Liberty. Built at a new plant in Toledo, Ohio, the Liberty was claimed to be the stiffest Jeep ever and the first with rack-and-pinion steering.
Three Liberty trim levels are available: Sport, Limited Edition and Renegade. The Limited Edition and Renegade are powered by a V-6 engine, while the Sport comes standard with a four-cylinder; the V-6 is optional.
Safety features are the big news for 2004, as the Liberty gains a tire-pressure monitor and a BeltAlert reminder. A new Enhanced Accident Response System automatically unlocks the doors and then illuminates the courtesy lights 5 seconds after the deployment of an airbag, and the fuel pump shuts off immediately. All models add a passenger-side dashboard-mounted grab handle. The Renegade gains Rock Rail Protection and black bodyside moldings.
Exterior Pronounced trapezoidal wheel flares are integrated into the body, and a traditional seven-slot Jeep grille highlights the front. Making the vehicle lower in front and higher at the rear aimed to impart a sense of forward motion. Short front and rear overhangs allow 36-degree approach and 31.5-degree departure angles for effective off-roading.
The Liberty rides a 104.3-inch wheelbase, measures 174.4 inches long overall and stands just over 70 inches tall. The spare tire is mounted externally on an innovative swing-out tailgate that features “flipper” glass. The tires measure 16 inches in diameter. Available skid plates cover the fuel tank and transfer case, and an optional Trailer-Towing Package yields a 5,000-pound capacity.
Interior The Liberty seats five people. A 65/35-split rear seat can be folded down with one hand, and door panels consist of a series of arcs. Round-dialed instruments with black-on-beige graphics sit in a cluster. All models now have a CD player, and the Limited Edition gets air conditioning, cruise control, a cargo-area cover, and power windows and locks.
Under the Hood A 150-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard in the Sport model. A 210-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 that produces 235 pounds-feet of torque is standard in the Limited Edition and Renegade models and optional in the Sport. Each engine teams with a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission and with one of two four-wheel-drive systems: standard part-time Command-Trac or optional full-time Selec-Trac.
Safety Dual front airbags are standard. Antilock brakes and side curtain-type airbags are offered as optional equipment.
Driving Impressions Jeep took a big leap forward by developing the Liberty, without losing the character and proficiency of its predecessor. The Liberty is solidly constructed, offers quick, precise steering with moderate effort and features a pleasant feel. The ride is lovely on smooth roads, and it doesn’t deteriorate much when the pavement gets rough.
Offroad runs are utterly amazing. Gnarled gravel paths seem almost like a Sunday drive on a paved parkway, but undulations are more noticeable in the backseat.
Performance is more than adequate, but not exceptional, with the V-6 engine and automatic transmission. At low highway speeds, the Liberty exhibits occasionally awkward downshifting. Firm yet comfortable seats offer excellent support and ample headroom and legroom. In addition to emitting only modest engine noise, this SUV is nearly devoid of four-wheel-drive drone in Low range.