In 2002, the Jeep division of DaimlerChrysler replaced the old Cherokee with a slightly larger sport utility vehicle called the Liberty. For 2005, Liberty models received a freshened exterior, and a diesel engine became available for Sport and Limited models equipped with four-wheel drive.
For 2006, Jeep has dropped the four-cylinder gasoline engine. An Electronic Stability Program and a tire-pressure-monitoring system are standard.
Pronounced trapezoidal wheel flares are integrated into the body, and a traditional seven-slot Jeep grille highlights the front. Short front and rear overhangs allow 36-degree approach and 31.5-degree departure angles for effective offroad driving.
Liberty SUVs have a coil-spring independent front suspension and a solid rear axle with coil springs. The spare tire is mounted externally on a swing-out tailgate with flip-up glass. Wheels are 16 inches in diameter (17 inches on the Limited). Available skid plates cover the fuel tank and transfer case, and an optional Trailer Tow Group yields a 5,000-pound towing capacity.
Renegade models feature a flatter hood, taller grille, offroad fog lamps and taillight guards. Four skid plates are installed.
Each Liberty seats up to five people. A 65/35-split rear seat can be folded down with one hand. The instrument panel features round gauges. All models have a CD player. Renegade and Limited models can be fitted with a DVD-based GPS navigation radio.
Under the Hood
The sole gasoline engine is a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 that produces 235 pounds-feet of torque. It teams with either a six-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmission. The 2.8-liter four-cylinder common-rail diesel engine produces 160 hp and 295 pounds-feet of torque. It drives a five-speed-automatic transmission. The Liberty is offered with either rear- or four-wheel drive.
Antilock brakes and an Electronic Stability Program are standard. Side curtain-type airbags are optional.
Solidly constructed, the Liberty offers quick, precise steering with moderate effort and produces a pleasant overall feel. The ride is surprisingly easygoing on smooth roads, and it doesn't deteriorate much when the pavement gets rough.
Offroad runs are amazing. Gnarled gravel paths seem almost like a paved parkway, though undulations may be more noticeable in the backseat.
Though not exceptional, performance is more than adequate with the V-6 engine and automatic transmission. At low highway speeds, the Liberty occasionally exhibits awkward downshifting. Firm yet comfortable seats offer excellent support, and there is ample headroom and legroom. This SUV is nearly devoid of four-wheel-drive drone in Low range.
Noise is the biggest issue with the diesel engine, which exhibits an intrusive rattle. Though the diesel-powered Liberty accelerates with ease at lower speeds, it's milder at highway velocities.
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