2002 Jeep Liberty
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The Jeep Liberty sport-utility vehicle has arrived as an early 2002 model at a time when its Jeep Cherokee predecessor has become so old it almost has classic status.
The Liberty is considerably taller, wider, longer, roomier and more stylish—inside and out—than the Cherokee. It has sharper steering and a suppler ride. And it's more powerful than the Cherokee with a new V6 that replaces the Cherokee's venerable inline six.
But give credit to the Cherokee, which debuted as a 1984 model. It was the first user -friendly sport-utility vehicle with four doors and generally is credited with kicking off the sport-utility trend. General Motors and Ford didn't offer a comparable 4-door sport ute until years later.
Liberty Easily Tops Cherokee
In fact, while executives at DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes division fear vehicles from its U.S. division, including the Jeep, may hurt the reputation of Mercedes vehicles, the under-$23,000 Liberty looks, feels and generally drives better than the $35,800 Mercedes ML320 sport utility.
Good Off-Road Prowess
DaimlerChrysler wasn't about to lose any of the Cherokee's reputation for toughness with the Liberty, which isn't car-based. Popular auto-based rivals such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are too fragile to keep up with Liberty during punishing off-road jaunts.
As for on-road manners, the Liberty has a new coil-spring independent front suspension that gives it car-like handling. There's no independent rear suspension, but the Liberty's link-coil rear suspension works well.
The brake pedal has a nice progressive feel and stopping distances are reasonably short, although you can feel the Liberty's considerable weight during panic stops.
Too "Cute" For a Jeep?
The Liberty is some 400 pounds heavier than the Cherokee—or about 4,000 pounds with the V6. That engine is standard in the top-line Limited Edition model and $825 to $850 extra for the Sport.
Four-Cylinder Comes Later
The smooth, new 3.7-liter 210-horsepower V6 is derived from the Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility's 4.7-liter V8 and provides lively acceleration. The 4-speed automatic transmission that is standard in the Limited Edition upshifts smoothly, but hesitates a bit before downshifting.
Low Fuel Economy
Liberty comes with rear drive or two 4-wheel-drive systems. The part-time Command Trac isn't for dry roads, but the full-time Selec Trac 4-wheel-drive system can be left engaged on such roads. Selec Trac is a $395 option only for a Liberty with the V6 and automatic transmission.
Base prices of the 4-cylinder Sport range from $16,450 to $17,960. The Limited Edition V6 costs from $21,210 to $22,720 and has a monochromatic exterior and show-car interior with such items as satin chrome highlights.
Liberty has high levels of quality and refinement. It feels as if DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes division helped develop it, which is not the case.
A low floor makes it pretty easy to get in and out, although rear door openings are narrow. A driver sits high and the quiet interior has an inviting, retro design expected in a much more expensive vehicle.
The windows slide all the way down in the rear doors, which contain deep cupholders. Front cupholders are nicely designed and front doors have storage pockets.
But the front power window controls are awkwardly put near the rear of the console. And the ignition switch isn't on the dashboard—a driver must grope for it on the steering column.
Good Cargo Room
Liberty has clever design features. For instance, pull the handle to open the tailgate and the flip-up glass window opens automatically.
DaimlerChrysler has lots riding on Liberty, but it has an accomplished design and probably will do quite well.