When you're driving around in an SUV, it's a good bet that you're not going to get the best mileage numbers. My test drive of the 2009 Jeep Liberty just happened to fall on Earth Day, which made me even more aware of its 15/21 mpg city/highway rating.
While I was driving, I kept an eye on the Liberty's trip computer and hoped for a surprising mileage outcome. It didn't happen. The best fuel consumption average I achieved was 18.7 mpg on my wide, open country roads. Needless to say, I immediately called my waste management company and added recycling to my trash service. Next, I drove to the grocery store and purchased a variety of earth-friendly cleaning products. Ahhh, that's better.
While the Liberty isn't as environmentally friendly as I'd like it to be, it did spur an urge to get outdoors and enjoy the environment. The Liberty has many Wrangler-inspired features, like four-wheel drive and large tires (17-inchers are standard and 18-inch wheels are available); you can take the Liberty from car pool to tide pools with confidence.
The Liberty is truck-like in its maneuverability, and it even seemed sluggish and had difficulty accelerating when I switched out of four-wheel drive. Its four-wheel drive didn't perform nearly as well as I expected on the muddy river that's normally my street.
Inside and out, I appreciated the rugged nature of the Liberty's looks. However, the Liberty should have given me more features, more storage space and a better ride despite its somewhat modest price tag.
I love the clean, boxy, rugged look of the Liberty. From its big, round headlights to its chunky tires, the Liberty screams "Jeep." Its abrupt exterior angles contribute to the Liberty's no-nonsense appeal.
Second-row passengers, especially kids, will find it impossible to get in and out of the Liberty without rubbing up against the dirty exterior. I suggest purchasing the optional side steps - available in either of two packages, for $795 or $1,090 - to get around this messy problem. I'd love to see Jeep offer fully integrated rocker panels or running boards as an option; these features would help passengers get into the Liberty easily and cleanly. My 3-year-old had some major issues in this department (see video below).
I had some problems with the Liberty's windshield, too. It's set at a more vertical angle than most cars', which is cool-looking, but it seems to catch and trap raindrops and bugs (ewww!), noticeably reducing visibility even when the wipers are in full swing.
The rear hatch window pops open separately from the liftgate, and it also can be lowered with a button on the key fob. My dog and I both loved that! The Liberty didn't have a power liftgate, which would have been helpful because the cargo door was heavy and difficult to close.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
The Liberty is comfortable to sit in, albeit a little too rough and tumble for my taste once we started moving. I enjoyed the heated leather seats as well as the funky-looking carrying case for the owner's manual. It could easily double as a casual clutch (the purse, not the pedal!).
My family was in awe of the optional Sky Slider canvas roof that completely reveals the heavens to both first- and second-row passengers (see video below). It's leak-proof, and the soft fabric folds on itself as it opens. Feel the breeze! However, we all noticed a strong chemical odor that infiltrated the cabin whenever we opened or closed this panel. Not knowing what was causing this stench, I opted to keep the panel closed to avoid any kind of exposure.
In the second row, the Latch connectors were easy to spot and use, and there's plenty of room back there for all child-safety seat types. The cupholders are in the back of the center console, which places drinks completely out of my kids' reach. Fortunately, our booster seats have built-in cupholders, so we weren't dependent on the Liberty for this convenience. I sometimes wonder what would happen if auto manufacturers let kids in on the design-and-development process. Youngsters tend to speak their minds freely, and I know my kids would have no problem telling designers where to put everything and what to add to make their rides more enjoyable.
Although my test car came with leather seats, the Liberty is also available with Stain Repel cloth seats. This material is stain-, odor- and static-resistant. It's intriguing. If it works, it could save many consumers from paying for optional leather seats (part of a $995 option package), which are easier to clean than regular cloth seats.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
One thing I really missed in the Liberty was a backup camera; it comes with an optional parking assist system, which includes a sonar-based warning system with audio and visual alerts. For a smaller SUV, the Liberty is still tall. If one of my children were standing behind it, there's no way I could see them because the rear window is too high off the ground.
The Liberty comes with four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, stability control and traction control. It also comes with front-impact and side curtain airbags for both rows, but there are no side-impact airbags for front passengers.
The Liberty received a Good rating in frontal-offset crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, it only scored a Marginal in side-impact testing and a Poor in the rear crash test. Yikes! While the Liberty appears to deliver a solid, tank-like ride, I'd say this little SUV needs to head back to boot camp for additional safety training!
In Diapers: There's plenty of room for all types of child-safety seats and baby gear.
In School: Kids will probably get dirty when they climb in, but there's plenty of space in the backseat for them.
Teens: This is a cool-looking car with plenty of fun features - Sky Slider - to play with.