2004 Jeep Liberty

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2003 Jeep Liberty

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2007.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

The attractive Liberty is rugged, refined and fairly quick.
Pros:
  • Stylish
  • Fast and refined
  • Off-road prowess
Cons:
  • Mediocre V6 fuel economy
  • Smallish seats
  • Narrow rear door openings

The Jeep Liberty debuted as an early 2002 model to replace the almost classic Jeep Cherokee, which was the first user-friendly four-door sport-utility vehicle.

The Cherokee arrived for 1984—years ahead of rivals, but was on the market basically unchanged for way too long. The Liberty made up for the fact that it was long overdue because it was taller, wider, longer, roomier and far more refined than the Cherokee.

While sleeker than the boxy Cherokee, the Liberty still looked very much like a Jeep. That's largely because the grille—flanked by traditional Jeep round headlight bezels—looked as if taken from the U.S. Army manual.

Off-Road Prowess Kept
Compared to the Cherokee, the Liberty sacrificed some on-road comfort to allow it to have the off-road prowess for which Jeep long was famous. Jeep thus called the Liberty a "tough truck," not a "cute-ute" such as the car-based Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

However, a new coil spring independent front suspension helped give the Liberty almost carlike handling and a decent ride.

Lower Steering Effort
High steering effort of the 2002 model has been reduced. And new shock absorbers, springs and jounce bumpers give the Liberty a slightly better ride and lower height to improve handling.

Body lean still is rather pronounced when sweeping through curves, but that doesn't affect stability. There's no independent rear suspension, but a link-coil rear suspension with gas-charged shock absorbers works reasonably well.

New Features
New for 2003 are standard 4-wheel disc brakes. And there's also a new overhead console that includes an interface which allows you to program operation of convenience and safety items. For instance, an owner can personalize features, including which door unlocks with the first press of the remote keyless entry unlock button.

Also new are a cubby bin in the dashboard area and an available 6-disc in-dash CD player to replace the remote CD changer previously put in the rear cargo area.

Anti-lock brakes cost $600, and you must order a V6 engine to get them on the entry Sport trim.

Safety Features
Other safety features are multi-stage front airbags that deploy at different levels, depending on the severity of an impact. Available side curtain airbags provide more protection for front and rear outboard occupants.

The competitively priced $17,360-$23,820 Liberty comes as the Sport, mid-range Limited Edition and the top-line Renegade, which has been added to the 2003 Liberty line.

Two Engines
The Liberty has either a 2.4-liter 150-horsepower 4-cylinder engine or a 3.7-liter 210-horsepower V6, which is standard for the Limited Edition and Renegade.

The V6 is an $825 option for the Sport, which needs it to get the $825 automatic transmission (and those anti-lock brakes).

The Sport has only a moderate amount of standard equipment. The luxury oriented Limited Edition gets the V6 and standard 4-speed automatic transmission—optional for the other two trims—and far more equipment than the Sport.

The Renegade is the sportiest trim. It adds design cues from the Jeep Dakar concept vehicle, which inspired the Liberty's original design. The Renegade has a roof light bar, fender arches with a bolt-on look, removable side steps and unique alloy wheels.

All trims have four doors and a tailgate with a convenient pop-up glass panel. The tailgate swings open to the left, away from the curb, to allow better curbside loading and carries an outside-mounted spare tire.

The Liberty is offered with either rear-drive or a choice of two proven 4-wheel-drive systems, with part-time 4-wheel-drive trims costing about $1,500 more than rear-drive ones.

The part-time Command Trac system must be disengaged on dry roads, while the Selec Trac system can be used on dry pavement and adds $395 to the price. Selec Trac still calls for intial driver activation, while some competitors have all-wheel-drive systems that don't need any driver involvement.

Don't sniff at the sophisticated dual-overhead-camshaft, 16-valve 4-cylinder, although the V6 is smoother and more potent; I drove a Sport with that engine and its decent manual transmission on DaimlerChrysler's Michigan proving grounds and found it to be surprisingly lively.

Heavy Sport-Ute
However, the Liberty is heavy at 3,648-3,898 pounds and does perform best with the V6, providing quicker merging and passing. The V6 loafs at highway speeds, although the automatic transmission should provide slightly quicker downshifts.

No surprise here, but the best estimated fuel economy is with the 4-cylinder engine and manual gearbox: 20 in the city and 24 on the highway.

Economy is mediocre with the V6—about 16 city and 20-22 highway. The Liberty is classified as a compact sport-utility, and the rival compact CR-V and RAV4 get higher estimated fuel economy—although neither has a V6.

Larger Seats Needed
Getting in and out of the Liberty calls for more effort than you'll find with a car, but occupants sit high for a good view or surroundings. However, the driver's seat needs to slide back more, and front and rear seats should be larger, with more thigh support.

The quiet, upscale-looking interior is rather narrow, but still comfortably accommodates four 6-footers—as long as a driver doesn't tilt his or her seat back too far. Outside door handles allow quick entry, but rear door openings are narrow. The funky loop-style inside door handles are OK, once occupants become accustomed to them.

Gauges can be easily read, and the smooth climate controls are large. However, radio controls are too small. Large "eyeball" dashboard vents enhance ventilation. But power window controls are near the rear of the front console, and power door lock buttons on the driver's door can be mistaken for those controls.

The rear side windows have odd fixed glass areas at the back of the doors, but rear windows slide all the way down. Those doors have beverage holders, while front doors have storage pockets.

Spacious Cargo Area
Cargo space is good with the rear seat in its normal position—and is impressive with the rear seat flipped forward. However, seatback cushions don't lie entirely flat.

The hood swings up nicely on struts, which eliminate an awkward prop rod, and fluid filler areas can be easily reached.

The rugged but civilized Liberty is a genuine Jeep, and that should help keep it successful.

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BB03 - 9/16/2014 1:01:13 PM