Someone looking for a small SUV that thrives on rough terrain and steep hills
Comparable models in this class:
Chevrolet Tracker, Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Nissan Xterra, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Kia Sportage
Whena Jeep goes by, even people who don't care one wit about cars will recognizewhat it is. Jeep styling has that elusive family identity that automobilemanufacturers long for but so rarely achieve. And Chrysler is justbeginning to tap into that brand identity with beautiful concept cars thatcapture the imagination of adventurers and outdoorsmen everywhere. Hereare a couple of examples of the styling directions that Jeep has beenexperimenting with.
Jeep has always been known for its off-road prowess and this new Liberty isno exception. In a world that is becoming increasingly filled withcar-based SUVs that look the part, but dare not venture too far off thepavement, this new Jeep remains true to its heritage. Despite the factthat there is an all-new independent front suspension instead of the traditionalsolid front axle (to improve the on-road ride and handling), this new Jeep handles the rough stufflike a mountain goat.
Available in two trim levels, Sport & Limited, this new wheels-at-the-corner off-roader will replace the Cherokee in the Jeep lineup. Tom Sidlik, General Manager of Jeep Operations, told us that Chrysler designed the Liberty "for the road less traveled" and believes that it will be able to drive over the bones of the "Cute-Utes" that have been dotting the landscape. Fighting words for sure, but it looks to me like they are well armed for this battle.
Daimler Chrysler will be building the Liberty at a new Toledo Ohio plant which will have the capacity to produce up to 200,000 units a year. They believe that this new Jeep will satisfy their core Jeep enthusiasts who want a serious off-road vehicle to handle the toughest terrain, but not at the expense of smooth highway manners.
Ourtop-of-the-line Limited had an inviting cockpit with good visibility allaround. The instrument cluster had white-faced gauges with black numbersand red pointers and was quite readable. In typical Chrysler fashion, thegauges are dark at night and the numbers light up blue-green. The onlytime this setup becomes a problem is during twilight when the lights are on, theilluminated numbers appear washed-out on the white background.
The six-way power driver's seat was small but fairly comfortable and I wasable to find a good seating position. My opinion of the seat didn't changeafter a three hour trip. The steering wheel had cruise controlbuttons on the front of the spokes and radio controls on the back of thespokes. Since you can't see the radio buttons, you have to memorize thereoperation after reading the owners manual or do what I did and use trial anderror until you master them. Once you learn them, they become quiteconvenient.
The 3.7 liter V6 engine had plenty of power, but I found it to be somewhatnoisy. Around town, I noticed more road noise than usual, but on thehighway it was reasonably quiet with well controlled wind noise. Steeringwas fairly crisp and stable and there was no side-to-side rocking duringlow-speed maneuvers that is so typical of some truck-based SUV's.
Since this is a Jeepthat, Chrysler tells us, will carry on the tradition that has been built since the first Jeeps appeared on the battlefields of World War II, we had to get it out in the rough to seewhether this new found civility will affect its off-road capabilities. I'mhappy to report that this is a real Jeep that loves to go mountain climbing withthe best of them.
Our tester came equipped with the optional Selec-Trac full time 4-Wheel Drive system,which includes a high and low 4WD setting as well as a part-time 4WD and a 2WDposition. All positions are available through a mechanical shifthandle. Normal driving is done in 2WD mode or, if you are concerned aboutthe weather, part-time 4WD. In the boondocks, you'll want to keep it inHigh 4WD. If you pull the handle all the way up into Low 4WD, this puppy willwant to climb the side of a building. In this position with the transmission selector in Low, the engine will wind out at somewhere around 15 mph. Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds with the V6 automatic.
Another off-road advantageis its extremely short frontand rear overhangs, which allow for steep approach and departure angles of 38.2degrees for the front, and 32.4 degrees for the rear. The ground clearancefor the 4WD version is a generous 9.6 inches. Remember though, a highground clearance means a tougher time for some less physically fit people toclimb in and out. That goes for any of the current crop of SUV's, so ifyou don't usually drive off road, consider the disadvantages of this type ofvehicle and how it will affect the members of your family who may be calledupon to climb into it.
As we mentioned earlier, Jeep has decided to break with tradition and incorporate an all-new independent front suspension with cast-iron lower and forged steel upper controlarms that allow a full 8 inches of suspension travel. The rear suspension is a solid axle design with two trailing lower arms,and an A-shaped upper arm. There are coil springs all around along with frontand rear stabilizer bars and low-pressure gas-charged shock absorbers. Steering is power rack-and-pinion.
Despitethe fact that the Liberty is a small SUV, there is a reasonable amount ofstorage space behind the rear seats. With the rear seats up there is 29.0cubic feet of space back there. With the back seats folded down, spacegrows to 69.0 cubic feet. The spare tire is mounted on the tailgate toconserve space inside the vehicle.
Speaking of the rear gate, there is a novel feature worth noting. Pullon the handle to open the gate and the glass flips up while the door swings outto the left allowing easy curb-side access. To close it, swing the gate shut, then reach up and pull theglass down. If I had any nits to pick, it would be that the glass requireda pretty forceful slam to latch the window down which was made somewhat moreawkward by the position of the spare tire.
Some up-market features found on our fairly well equipped Limited modelincluded: heated outside mirrors, seat heaters with HI/LO setting, Overheadconsole with a universal HomeLink garage door opener and mini tripcomputer. One problem that I found was that the optional seat heaterswitches on the side of the front seats were easy to accidentally bump,sometimes activating the heaters without realizing it. The only way that you become aware of this is when your bum starts feelinguncomfortably toasty. I also didn't like the fact that the power windowswitches were positioned on the center console for both the front and rearseats. Power door lock buttons are on the front doors and are atarget for front seat passengers trying to open their window.
If all you plan to do is drive on the highways and byways and only gooff-road to pull into your driveway, you would probably be happier with one ofthe car-based SUVs, but if you are an active outdoors person who likes to getdown and dirty once in a while, then this new Jeep will become a trusted friend.