At some point, most people I know have wanted a Jeep. These people usually mean a Wrangler when picturing their dream Jeep, but many parents have asked me whether the Liberty is a better option for their teen driver. The short answer is no.

An off-road SUV, the 2012 Jeep Liberty is best left to experienced drivers who can handle its rough suspension and unforgiving manner; its less-than stellar crash-test ratings should give parents pause, too.

The Liberty's rough ride wore on me during my weeklong test drive. Yes, it's an off-roading SUV so a bouncy ride is to be expected, but it was so jarring that I found it exhausting. Its tiny turning radius had me questioning whether the Liberty came with power steering.

The standard V-6 engine has decent pickup at lower speeds, but it had to work a bit at higher speeds. Add to that the EPA-estimated 15/21 mpg city/highway and my wanderlust started to wander off.

The 2012 Jeep Liberty has a starting price of $24,320, including a $925 destination charge. My test car, a Liberty Sport base with four-wheel drive, rang up at $27,110.

EXTERIOR


The Liberty has a boxy look that screams it's a Jeep from afar. It's longer than its Wrangler sibling, offering a traditional SUV shape with an adequate cargo area.

As expected, the Liberty has a high step-in height. Little ones will need help not just getting in, but with the push-button door handles, too, though adults should have no problems. Despite that, they most likely will love riding up high and bouncing all over the place (even when strapped into their child-safety seats).

The Liberty's cargo floor is so high that it was the same height as a grocery cart handle. That high lift floor didn't bother me during my weeklong test drive, but it might get old over time.

The Liberty has a standard 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine with a four-speed automatic transmission. It uses regular gas. My test car also had hill start assist. The Liberty has a choice of two optional four-wheel-drive systems: Command-Trac II, a part-time system, and the full-time Selec-Trac system. When properly equipped with the trailer package ($545), the Liberty can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

SENSE AND STYLE


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some-Good Times

INTERIOR


The Liberty's interior is hyper-utilitarian. My test SUV's interior was dark gray, and all the surfaces were a hard plastic. No soft-touch here.

The cloth seats were incredibly comfortable, and I enjoyed my elevated view of the road from the driver's seat. All the instruments and buttons were clearly marked and easy to use. I appreciate utilitarian elements; I don't like to get bogged down in complicated systems. For this, the Liberty made me happy.

As far as storage goes, there's a shallow glove box, a deep center console and bins in the doors. The front cupholders are large, and there's a small tray next to them to hold something, though I'm not sure what. The backseat's cupholders are just shallow wells that are at the rear of the front row's center console. This location can be hard to reach, especially for kids in child-safety seats.

Passenger legroom in the Liberty is strange. In the front, the passenger side has a hump coming from the gearshift that intrudes into the footwell. In the rear, the legroom isn't deep from front to back. I was surprised by how much I had to move the front passenger seat forward to get an infant seat to fit.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

SAFETY


The 2012 Liberty has two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats. The anchors sit in the open and are easy to use. Fitting a rear-facing infant-safety seat into the Liberty wasn't easy. I had to move the front passenger seat forward significantly to create enough room for the car seat. A booster seat fit well in this SUV, but the seat belt buckles are floppy, which can be tricky to grasp for smaller hands.

Some of the 2012 Liberty's crash-test ratings are less than desirable. In tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Liberty received the highest score of Good in front and roof-strength crash tests, the second-highest score of Acceptable in the rear crash test and the second-lowest score of Marginal in the side-impact test. In crash-tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2012 Liberty scored three stars of five overall. It also earned three stars in the rollover crash test, four stars in the side-impact crash test and two stars in the frontal test.

The Liberty has standard rear-wheel drive, antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with anti-roll control and traction control, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. Four-wheel drive is optional.

Get more safety information about the 2012 Jeep Liberty here.