Review: 2008 Jeep Liberty
By Larry E. Hall of MSN Autos
While the first Jeep Liberty sported an almost cute exterior persona, the 2008 version heads straight for "brute-ute" country with more traditional Jeep lines. Sort of a four-fifths-scale Commander, the 2008 edition is closer to what many Jeep aficionados likely had in mind for the original.
The new version's two-box design is classic Jeep, with near-vertical body panels and windshield, seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel openings. However, Jeep abandoned the old-school aesthetics and function by moving the spare tire from the tailgate to beneath the vehicle. Though the look is cleaner, retrieving the spare is unlikely to be much fun on the side of a snow-banked highway or muddy trail.
The carryover 3.7-liter V6 is the sole engine in the new Liberty, which arrives in two configurations—Sport or the high-trim Limited. Either version is available in rear- or four-wheel drive, and there are two 4WD systems available: Command-Trac II (part-time 4WD), or the full-time Selec-Trac II. A six-speed manual is the standard transmission and a four-speed automatic is optional. The V6 is rated at 210 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque. Weighing in at a portly 4,000-plus pounds, the new Liberty needs all of its 210 ponies, and has a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.
Like most new-model offerings, the Liberty grows in size. Wheelbase (the distance between the center of the front and center of the rear wheel) is increased almost two inches to 106, while the track (the distance between left and right wheels) is now 61 inches, a one-inch increase. Inside, the most noticeable increase comes in rear-seat legroom.
Street Smarts, Off-Road Tough
Given its ready-to-rumble construction, the new Jeep never gives a truck-like feel, even over broken surfaces. The new suspension setup keeps body roll well under control, and the tweaked rack-and-pinion steering provides quick, precise steering with reasonably good road feel.
Off-road, the upgrade Selec-Trac II 4WD system provides both Hill Descent Control (HDC) and Hill Start Assist. Activated by the push of a button, HDC manages brake and throttle control on steep down slopes to maintain a speed of 1.5 mph. This leaves the driver to focus on steering, with no need to touch the brake or gas pedal. The start assist feature holds the vehicle stationary on uphill inclines for two seconds, giving you time to transition your foot from brake pedal to the accelerator.
Major Improvements Inside
Also, hoorays for the decision to move the power-window switches from the center console to the door panels. On the safety front, side-curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, brake assist, electronic stability control with rollover mitigation, all-speed traction control and tire-pressure monitoring are all standard.
At 31.2 cubic feet, the Liberty provides more rear cargo space than the Ford Escape but less than the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota RAV4. With the 60/40 split rear seats folded, the volume increases to 64.6 cu. ft. The cargo floor has a reversible carpeted surface that opens to a four-inch deep storage bin, designed to stow items like muddy boots and wet swimsuits.
Available options (most via "packages") include remote starting, rain-sensing wipers, a "Park Sense" rear backup system and a trailer-sway control system. For safari fans, there's also the huge 33 x 60-inch Sky Slider canvas roof, a $1,200 stand-alone option. Four-times the size of an average sunroof, it can be opened to several positions, including fully forward, fully rearward, or partially open to any position in-between. And if you live in northern climes, don't fret; it's been tested with 400 pounds of snow.
Also available is the feature laden MyGIG infotainment system that integrates audio, video entertainment, navigation, and communication systems with touch-screen or voice operation. A Bluetooth mobile phone interface is part of the package, and a 20-gigabyte hard drive stores downloaded music or photos.
Overall, Jeep has reduced the Liberty's starting price about $1,000, but added content, making the Liberty very competitive in its class. If you live in the sunshine belt and don't need or want 4WD, the rear-wheel-drive Sport starts at $20,330 plus $660 destination charge; the Sport 4x4 starts at $21,940. The upscale Limited carries price tags of $24,515 for the rear-wheel-drive model, and $26,125 for the 4X4.
Fuel economy might dissuade some buyers. When equipped with the manual shifter, the two-wheel-drive Liberty's estimated mileage is 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. These numbers are derived from the EPA's new, tougher standards for 2008, so be aware that competitor's window stickers may still show the higher fuel mileage numbers of the old standards.
Even with the notable improvements in road manners, additional space and sweet new options, the new Liberty may not suit you if you're an urbanite who sticks solely to city streets and interstates. But if you have any off-road adventures in mind—among the small sport-utes—the Liberty has no peers.
Larry E. Hall is editor of Northwest Auto News Service and a freelance automotive journalist based in Olympia, Wash. He has an intense interest in future automotive technology.