2002 Jeep Liberty
This 2002 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2007.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Comfort; Controlled ride; Improved steering response; Cargo room; Updated styling.
Yes, these items received a whole lot of attention when Jeep officials designed the new, compact Liberty sporty-utility vehicle. Maybe some hardcore off-roaders don't mind compromising on-road ride and can overlook interior comfort and cargo room, but Jeep officials realized most American drivers wouldn't.
So it came as no surprise that the first thing I noticed in the test 2002 Jeep Liberty Limited with four-wheel drive was the tightly controlled and stable ride.
Sitting high up with a commanding view of what was ahead, I felt like I was driving a single piece of metal down that paved road, not an SUV that's made of thousands of parts. This is a Jeep that feels light years away from the World War II military vehicles that launched Jeep's place in SUV history.
The Liberty felt taut as it skimmed over minor road bumps. On more serious road flaws, Liberty had me bobbing up and down, but gently. That was it. No jarring. No big bouncy ride.
Jeep officials note Liberty has the stiffest body of any Jeep ever built. It's still a uniframe, which Jeep also uses in its Grand Cherokee. But technology advancements allowed improvements in both torsional and bending stiffness in Liberty's uniframe body.
And don't forget that credit for this on-road comfort is due, too, to the Liberty's very un-Jeep-like independent front suspension, and a link-coil axle rear suspension similar to what's used on the more expensive Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Standing 70.9-inches tall, Liberty edges above other compact SUVs, such as the 67-inch-tall Ford Escape, the 65.9-inch-tall Honda CR-V, even the 64-inch-tall Jeep Cherokee, which the Liberty is replacing.
The Liberty's tall profile allows generous headroom front and rear. Front headroom of 40.7 inches is better than that in the Escape, CR-V and Cherokee. Rear headroom also tops that of the Escape, CR-V and Cherokee.
The tall, upright shape of the Liberty does contribute to wind noise, however. In the test vehicle I heard it by the time I reached 50 mph. Noises from the engine and tires were not intrusive.
Note that Jeep offers different types of tires on the Liberty. One is an all-season tire that's designed primarily for on-road travel. There's an optional all-season performance tire, too. And buyers who go off-road can opt for an all-terrain tire that provides improved grip off-pavement. Tire noise may differ, depending on which set you get.
I did notice the strong stopping power of the Liberty's brakes. Jeep officials said rotors and drums are large.
No more recirculating-ball steering
All I needed to do was rubberneck over to the side of the road, and the test Liberty seemed to be headed there, too. Quickly.
Rack-and-pinion is used in cars because of the good handling characteristics, finesse and preciseness it conveys.
Two engines for U.S.
Jeep officials acknowledge this 210-horsepower powerplant is basically a six-cylinder version of the 4.7-liter Power Tech V8 that's used in the bigger Grand Cherokee.
But this 90-degree V6 has been tweaked and tailored for the Liberty. A gear-driven balance shaft and split-pin crankshaft minimize engine vibration. A composite intake manifold has individually tuned runners, for example, and there's an anti-knock sensor system to improve mid-range performance with unleaded gasoline.
In the test ride, the V6 got the rather heavy—at 4,115 pounds with automatic transmission and four-wheel drive—Liberty Limited up to speed easily, and I had no problem merging with traffic on highways and city streets.
Off-road, the engine worked well to power me up a few steep, wet hills, and I took advantage of effective engine braking to manage downhill descents. Torque is 235 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
Best of all, this engine is compact enough to fit in the Liberty's short front end and helps allow the Liberty's noteworthy 38-degree approach angle. In off-road maneuvers, I really appreciated how easily the Liberty front end navigated tight gullies without getting hung up.
Rear departure angle is equally impressive at 32.3 degrees. Both figures are for four-wheel-drive Liberty models.
A 150-horsepower 2.4-liter double overhead cam Power Tech four cylinder also will be available in the Liberty starting in fall 2001.
Neither Liberty engine is impressive in fuel economy. Mated to an automatic transmission, the 3.7-liter V6 is rated at 16 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.
Europe-bound Libertys—which will be called Cherokees, by the way, because the name Liberty already is taken over there—will be offered with a 140-horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel. But Jeep officials said there are no plans to put that engine in U.S. vehicles.
New style of Jeep
The test Liberty Limited, for example, had silver-colored door handles inside—they're intriguingly circular, too—as well as silver surrounds around the instrument gauges and on the center console. Even the big letters spelling "Jeep" in the middle of the steering wheel are silver colored.
Is it a bit much for a vehicle whose heritage is off-road ruggedness? Maybe. But today's younger buyers, whom Jeep hopes to attract to the Liberty, seem to like splashy styling.
The exterior sends mixed messages, too. Depending on your perspective, the Liberty might look toy-like. But Rick Aneiros, vice president of design, assured the media the Liberty is styled to convey a "chiseled" sense of robustness and durability.
As always, Jeep's traditional seven-vertical-slot grille is there.
Seats are supportive, but there is no lumbar adjustment in the test Liberty. Seat positions are more upright than I expected; they're purposely that way to take advantage of the available headroom and provide more legroom.
Still, the long seat tracks for the power front seats in the test vehicle intruded on rear-passenger foot room. A Jeep official said the company is looking at that issue and may make changes.
I couldn't use the Liberty's dead pedal for bracing myself during aggressive driving. The pedal was too far away from me. I would have to position the driver seat so far forward that I'd be on top of the steering wheel airbag. The Liberty's steering wheel tilts but does not telescope.
Three adults sit snugly in the back seat, but two would do fine. All three have three-point safety belts, but the middle rider doesn't have a head restraint.
Anti-lock brakes are optional on both Liberty Sport and Limited models. They're newly designed so there's less pedal pulsing against a driver's foot when the brakes are activated.
Another safety option is a side curtain airbag system that provides head protection for both front- and rear-seat riders. The Liberty is the first Jeep to offer curtain airbags.
I didn't particularly like that all the Liberty window buttons—for front and rear-seat riders—are congregated in the front-seat center console area, rather than on the doors.
And I noticed that the vertical divider between the two-part windows on the rear doors was exactly where I would look out the window from the back seat. Looking forward, I also found the sizable front seats did a good job of blocking my forward view.
It's also easy to get into the rear cargo area of the Liberty from the back of the vehicle, thanks to the new swing gate/flipper glass system that Jeep is patenting.
Take a look at the Liberty's outside mirrors. They have 25 percent more glass area than any previous Jeep and provide better views for the driver.
And check out the grocery bag hooks at the back of the rear seatbacks. They're similar to the ones in minivans, keeping plastic shopping bags from spilling their contents while you drive.