• Feb 8, 2011
An Aging Replacement For An Iconic SUV

2010 Jeep Liberty Sport - Click above for high-res image gallery

Cher·o·kee-itis: A disease that infects the minds, hearts and wallets of Jeep buyers who cannot accept that there was, is, or ever could be a replacement for the Cherokee, sometimes referred to as the XJ.

Yes, we just made that up, but the fictitious symptoms of Cherokeeitis do afflict a great number of SUV aficionados. After all, the original Jeep XJ was, if not the very first mid-size SUV on the market, the definitive sport utility vehicle from 1984 straight through to 2001.

Interestingly enough, Cherokeeitis seems to infect Jeep's engineers, designers and product planners as well. To wit, nearly every Jeep developed since the final XJ rolled off the line at the company's Toledo-based factories has been designed to conjure up images of the 1984 Cherokee. Such is the case with the Patriot, Grand Cherokee and the mostly forgotten Commander. Only the iconic Wrangler and hitherto unloved Compass have strayed from the XJ.

It's also true of the current Jeep Liberty, which was last restyled in 2008 to look less like a four-door Wrangler and more like the butch Cherokee it was designed to replace. Nobody ever said supplanting an icon would be easy. But just how successful was that mid-life makeover, and is the Liberty worthy of consideration for those in the market for a mid-size SUV?

Continue reading...

Photos copyright ©2011 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL

Before getting into exactly what the Jeep Liberty is, it would be helpful to spend a few moments considering what it is not: a crossover. We will not be saying things like 'smooth,' 'buttery,' 'refined' and especially not 'carlike' (whatever that means) when describing the Liberty. Those adjectives may apply to the vast majority of so-called utility vehicles available today, but the Liberty stands apart, for better or for worse, as an honest-to-Bear-Grylls SUV.

Or rather, for better and for worse.

First, The Better. The Jeep Liberty needs no fancy computer-controlled techno-wizardry to travel off the beaten path. All the essentials for off-road treks are present and accounted for: a torque-rich powerplant, low-range gearing, sturdy suspension with plenty of ground clearance (7.8 inches) and, of course, shift-on-the-fly Command-Trac II part-time four-wheel drive. We used the Liberty to ascend some rather unfriendly terrain in the mountainous deserts of Arizona, and it passed each successive test with ease. If you live in an area where the weather consistently throws a wrench in your plans, consider the Selec-Trac II full-time four-wheel-drive system. Naturally, it's Trail Rated, to use Jeep's marketing parlance.

2010 Jeep Liberty Sport side view2010 Jeep Liberty Sport front view2010 Jeep Liberty Sport rear view

For the record, that last paragraph could have been written almost verbatim a decade ago in reference to the old-guard Jeep Cherokee XJ. Taken in that context, you may think we're knocking the Liberty for being laden with old technology. In fact, we mean just the opposite; the Liberty features all tried-and-true bits built right in to tackle the fabled Rubicon Trail.

Or, you know, that one particularly nasty speed bump on the way to little Jimmy's Kindergarten class.

It's been so long since the classic sport utility vehicle was a marketplace darling that we feel the need to remind you that most of them will have absolutely zero need for all of this off-road hardware. That said, if your own personal needs do include as much time spent off roads as on, you could certainly do much worse than a proper SUV like the Liberty.

2010 Jeep Liberty Sport headlight2010 Jeep Liberty Sport wheel2010 Jeep Liberty Sport logo2010 Jeep Liberty Sport Trail Rated badge

But is the Jeep Liberty the kind of SUV you take home to Mom and Dad? Well, no... not really. It's time to consider The Worse. We'll be blunt: the 3.7-liter V6 and four-speed automatic combination isn't merely uncompetitive, it's just plain unacceptable. Worse yet, there are no other options. If you want a Jeep Liberty, this is your only drivetrain choice.

You'll have to make due with 210 horsepower, delivered at 5,200 rpm. The numbers themselves don't sound that bad... anything over 200 horses should be plenty for the daily grind, right? Sadly, it seems Chrysler managed to corral the 210 sickliest, overworked and over-the-hill ponies this side of True Grit. In part-throttle situations, you won't really notice a lack of power; problem is, a progressively stronger application of the throttle seems to have no affect at all on your overall rate of forward progress. You do, however, create quite a racket in the process.

2010 Jeep Liberty Sport engine

Perhaps these 210 ponies would be better served by a more modern automatic transmission. Four forward ratios may have cut mustard when the original Macintosh came out, but today, that's really two shy of a full stable. Not only is acceleration and highway travel compromised by the gearbox, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates the Liberty will achieve just 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 on the highway. We averaged 16 combined in our week with the brute, which, for a vehicle this size, is dismal. Eschewing four-wheel drive will earn you one additional mile per gallon in each test, but then what would be the point?

Both inside and out, the Jeep Liberty is a sport utility vehicle in the classic sense. Exterior styling was done with nothing but a compass and a protractor... though in an age of evermore swoopy and organic styling, some squared-off, broad-shouldered machinery is a welcome diversion. On the inside, there's plenty more straight edges, along with a smattering of tough-wearing cloth (leather is optional) on seats that put your body into a bus-like sit-up-and-beg driving position. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of hard plastic. On the positive side, all buttons are within easy reach and can be operated with gloves on, the gauges and digital displays are all easy to read at a glance and there's plenty of room for four occupants and their cargo. Just don't expect much style or fancy technology.

2010 Jeep Liberty Sport interior2010 Jeep Liberty Sport front seats2010 Jeep Liberty Sport gauges2010 Jeep Liberty Sport drivetrain settings

Steering is very quick and almost comically light with next to zero feel, which is not uncommon for this aging class of vehicle. As you would expect from an off-road-oriented Jeep, the turning circle is a tight 17.7 feet. The solid rear axle is great for off-road articulation, but makes its presence known on rutted, undulating surface streets, especially in gradual arcing turns at higher speeds. It's all very truck-like, both in the ride and handling department and in appearance.

Another thing to consider if you're in the market for a new Jeep: The Liberty slots in as something of a middle child below the Grand Cherokee and above the Patriot and Compass twins. Though the Sport edition starts at around $23,000 (a hair over $24K when fitted with four-wheel drive), a reasonable dosage of options (leather interior, sunroof, premium audio, premium wheels) can push the sticker up so that it nudges $30,000... and that's Grand Cherokee territory.

2010 Jeep Liberty Sport rear cargo area2010 Jeep Liberty Sport rear cargo area

If you're shopping in a Jeep showroom and your chosen Liberty crests $30K, well... maybe it's time to save a few more pennies and step up to the next rung of the Jeep ladder. It goes without saying that the Grand Cherokee, with its new Pentastar V6 and five-speed automatic, is a much better vehicle than the Liberty. Fitted with four-wheel drive, a Grand Cherokee Laredo starts at a hair under $33,000.

On the lower end, a loaded-up Patriot with all the bits and pieces to earn a Trail Rated badge can be had for the price of a much more basically equipped Liberty. The same can be said of the heavily redesigned 2011 Compass, which inherited some slick new sheetmetal designs from the Grand Cherokee. Both of these vehicles offer significantly better fuel economy (21-23 city, 26-29 highway, depending on how they're equipped) and an equal number of seats. What's more, the Patriot offers almost exactly the same amount of interior room and luggage capacity.

To put it another way, you'd have to really appreciate the Jeep Liberty's unique blend of blocky styling and off-road capabilities to drive away from the dealer in this particular SUV.

2010 Jeep Liberty Sport rear 3/4 view

It's worth mentioning that our test car was a 2010 model-year Liberty, but there aren't any significant changes that would sway our review one way or the other. Clearly, this 'ute is more than due for a replacement. One of Chrysler's recent and largely successful refreshes has not been prescribed for the Liberty. And that brings us to some potentially good news: Chrysler's new Italian parents at Fiat have promised a new mid-size SUV (which is really more likely to be a crossover of some sort) based on Fiat-bred architecture.

All of which means, if you do want a shiny new rough-and-tumble SUV wearing the coveted Jeep badge and really (really?) can't afford to spend a little bit more for a lot better Grand Cherokee, the Libery is your best (and only) choice. That said, it's certainly no XJ.

Seems we've got a minor case of Cherokeeitis ourselves...

Photos copyright ©2011 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Paulla Lynn
      • 1 Year Ago
      I love my Liberty! I have had it 2.5 years since buying it new. I also have a Cherokee. The Liberty is so much more comfortable and no issues at all. I have never slid one bit in the snow and gas mileage is just fine. I wish they did not discontinue the Liberty or the Cherokee. I will most likely buy another Jeep product.
      Steve Vandenbush
      • 3 Years Ago
      Having owned a 87 Wagonner (XJ 190k miles 4.0, yes wood panels and everything) and a 98 Cherokee (167k miles 4.0 sport) Jeep will always be the first brand I go to for an SUV. Their utilitarian approach behind the XJ is what sold me the most: Just get it done. No not the prettiest, or fastest, or most [fuel] efficient. But if you had somewhere to go or something to do, pretty sure you can do it in an XJ. So when Jeep decided to stop the XJ and start with the soccer mom style KJs I got sick and bought a Chevy Trailblazer. Bad idea. I decided to go back to Jeep, I wanted something to be like the XJs of years past. I did alot of looking around and started realizing that people who own KJ Libertys where denoting qualities that the XJs used to have primarily reliability. I looked more and realized that the KJs where now KKs resembling XJs more and staying reliable. I went and bought a CommandTrac version of the KK. So far, everywhere I went with the XJ I have gone in my KK. The truest test will be when that odometer hits 150k+, then I will be truly satisfied. Do I think its up to the challenge? I hope so.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I own a 2008 liberty. I can tow 5000 lbs effortlessly. I get 20 mpg in combined driving. I'm 6'3" and it works for me. This thing is solid. I'm telling you that this is a real vehicle. I think it's perfect.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The KJ Liberty has never sufficiently replaced the Cherokee XJ in performance or styling. IFS vs. solid front axle is especially a deal breaker when comparing the KJ and the XJ.

      With a solid front axle and better motor the Liberty coulda' been a contender. Too bad really!

      • 3 Years Ago
      As an owner of an original bodied Liberty (2006), I can tell you that the vehicle is nearly flawless. 3.7L V-6 is plenty of power (at least in mine) and I regularly get 23+ MPG on the highway. It's a blast to drive easy to park and easy on the eyes. The one drawback would be the Daimler era CHEAP ASS interior plastics. You get used to them, but Daimler was not in business to make Chrysler products better...just Mercedes better (but did they in fact do that?)
        • 3 Years Ago
        I as well drive a Liberty renegade from the same era (2005). The V-6 is plenty enough power, however I don't quite see the same mileage numbers you do (due to larger General AT2 tires) but its still a fantastic car. It bites better then any other SUV I have driven. Not to mention the repairs are fairly inexpensive. I will contest to the plastic being miserable, but its overall a really nice all around SUV to drive, and while I wouldn't buy a new one as I'm not a fan of the boxed styling, I would definitely recommend a used one over any other car in its class.
        • 3 Years Ago
        and I must add... if "Blast to drive" is for off the paved highway, then, I understand!
        • 3 Years Ago
        You have an interesting definition of "nearly." If the Liberty "nearly flawless," then a Ford Pinto is "mostly flawless."
        • 3 Years Ago
        "nearly flawless" indicates that after 4 years of ownership and 80,000+ miles, the car has only been back to the dealer once for a warranty fix (and has not needed more) and has not had any recalls issued. My ownership experience has been excellent and I would recommend it to anyone.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Man that thing looks like a turd...inside and out.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Looks like the Liberty/Nitro is the last of the Daimler era vehicles that hasn't been touched by the new management.
        • 3 Years Ago
        it must suck to be on the marketing team for this car
        • 3 Years Ago
        The Liberty, unfortunately, has the worst interior in any modern day vehicle I've ever seen. It looked like fit and finish and material quality wasn't even a consideration when designing this vehicle. The center console has a good 2" of movement when you shake it, and the thing looks like a square Rubbermaid bin. The seats are as flat as Kansas and uncomfortable as can be, adding leather doesn't help because the leather is SUPER cheap.

        At the price point that this Liberty is, it is flat out embarassing. I feel like Jeep took a step backwards compared to the first generation Liberty.

        We know Jeep is capable of doing much better....
      • 3 Years Ago
      Do I hear negative comments? Suffice to say I won't be trading in my Wrangler.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The Liberty is no Cherokee, but sadly the Cherokee isn't coming back. The crash-tests would eat the Cherokee alive, just like they killed the Ranger.

      The truth is that Jeep could make a Cherokee out of either the Patriot or Liberty, but the Liberty is less Cherokee-like in most ways. Yes, I went there. The Patriot, in spirit, is more like the Cherokee than the Lib is. The Cherokee XJ was a no-nonsense unibody wagon with off-roading capabilities. It was as far-away from the BOF heavyweights like the Grand Wagoneer as you could possibly be while still having Jeep off-road ability. Everyone loves to call the Cherokee a truck, but always forget that the Cherokee was actually fairly lightweight and small in dimension for an off-road wagon. You could even call it fuel-efficient in many trims, especially back in the early days when it had four cylinders and a lightweight manual/transfer case option.

      The '85 Cherokee, with manual, T-case, four-cylinder motor, and real four-wheel drive, with locking diffs and all, got 21 mpg. That's using EPA's new adjusted estimates, so it could even do better than that if tested today. That's the same amount as many of these unibody crossovers with none of the capability of the original. It had surprisingly good handling and drivability on-road for its time, too. That's why people liked it-combination of go-anywhere capability, reasonably genteel driving dynamics, reasonable mileage, good looks.

      Now you've got the Lib, which has the capability but none of the rest, and the Pat, which has the handling, dynamics, mileage, and most of the look down, but lacks the off-road ability. And many Patriot owners want more capability. You'd be shocked at how many people on the Patriot forums ask for solid axles and a transfer case. You can say they should buy a Wrangler all you want, but truth is what they really want is a Cherokee, and the BOF, heavy, gas-guzzling Wrangler will never match the overall likeability of the original Cherokee. Nor will the 4000-lb Liberty

      Neither Liberty nor Patriot can hold a candle to the Cherokee. Pat needs a T-case, Lib needs to lose a couple thousand pounds. But at least with one I can still get crank windows and a manual transmission and keep the price below $20K.
      • 3 Years Ago
      That interior is awful. Clearly ignored in anticipation of a total redesign.

      Give me liberty or give me death. In this case, it is not so clear cut.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I read everone's thoughts. My 2001 Cherokee LIMITED 4X4 was made on the final day of production, and was a S.O. for my wife (&I). It has 63,000 miles on it, and is in "new-car" condition throughtout. Not a single door ding, no sratchs, never eaten-in, ubber flawless. Never damaged. I was thinking of trading it in on a Liberty Limited 4x4. I just changed my mind. We never have gone Off-Road, and never will. But I have gained alot of respect (well, I always had alot of respect for it)... It has every possible option one could add on it, including heated dual power reclining seats, factory top line stereo/Cassette/CD etc. The window sticker has 27 options. Others, not factory available, I added at the dealership. i.e. oil cooler and transmission cooler. She is SilverStone in color (a silver, but a slightly darker silver, than the norm,) with charcoal grey leather interior.
      Problems: N-O-N-E ever !!! 64,000 trouble-free miles. Now on 2nd set of tires, 3rd coming in the Spring.
      I will stop looking at Liberty(s). I actually went looking for a Commander Limited. Do you all know that 2010 was the end? NO 2011 Commanders. Done. Finished. Fail.
      I have a bumper sticker on our Jeep. It says:
      thanks for waking me up to what I got! :)
      • 3 Years Ago
      The biggest thing that the XJ had and that the Liberty is missing is a solid front axle. For that reason, no real Jeep fan, nobody who likes to go off road, will ever buy one except to tackle the aforementioned speed bump. Anybody who would dare to call the Liberty (or anything else in the current Jeep lineup save for the Wrangler) off-road capable should stick to reviewing cars built for the street. The Liberty is a eunuch, a vehicle that looks like a Jeep but that is better suited for picking up groceries than driving on anything resembling a Jeep trail.

      The majority of automotive writers simply don't get it. Jeep fans don't despise the existence of the Liberty because it replaced the XJ. Jeep fans hate the thing because it represents the neutering of the brand by Daimler and Cerberus. If they had released a real, honest to goodness Jeep with two solid axles, we would have embraced it, regardless of how ugly it might be. Sadly, the knuckleheads at Chrysler seem to think that the Jeep buying public and people who might be interested in a Rav-4 are one and the same. We are not and with every successive independent suspension abomination, they drive us further and further away.

      Thank goodness for the Wrangler.
        • 3 Years Ago

        People have always cared how vehicles ride, yet the XJs sold like hotcakes in the day. I still see more of them on the road than I do the Liberties that replaced them ten years ago. That right there says something.

        Sure, the new GC may be great, but I would imagine that new suspension is significantly more expensive to repair, or modify. There is no way that thing is anywhere near as capable as a Wrangler, or even the XJs and original GCs.

        I can't see how the new all independent GC can be as capable as the tried and true solid front and rear.
        • 3 Years Ago
        "If they had released a real, honest to goodness Jeep with two solid axles, we would have embraced it"

        Nobody wants a vehicle with two solid axles aside from the HARDCORE Jeep fans which represent MAYBE 5% of the owners. Also, the KJ /KK is PLENTY capable in stock form. Not everyone is rockcrawling their way to work, or blazing new trails through the woods to pick up their kids.

        I think that people forget that manufacturers don't typically design their vehicles for the hardcore enthusiast. If they did, they won't sell many because they don't appeal to a wide audience.

        Like you said, at least you still have the Wrangler.
        • 3 Years Ago

        Most people could not care less and don't even know what is under their truck, so why not give the enthusiasts what they want, a new Jeep Cherokee with solid axles. Make it as close in dimension, weight, and appearance as possible and I bet it would sell.

        It beats calling yourself an "off-road" brand and only having one off-road capable vehicle in your lineup.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @ LUST-STANG S-197

        Most people do care about how a vehicle rides and handles, that is one of the reasons truck based SUVs are going the way of the dinosaur. Two solid axles create vehicles that drive and ride like tractors, and are about efficient as one as well.

        I think people REALLY underestimate how capable the new Grand Cherokee is. If you put some meaty tires on it with the air suspension and I'd say there are few places you couldn't go that a Wrangler can.
        • 3 Years Ago
        At least it has a solid rear axle...something the new GC doesn't have...so I suppose it's not all a loss.

      • 3 Years Ago
      "Only the iconic Wrangler and hitherto unloved Compass have strayed from the XJ."

      Umm... the wrangler strayed from the XJ? im sure the wrangler was around first.. And strays from nothing. And remains the best... kthxbye
        • 3 Years Ago
        "Best" is a strong word. While I do agree that the Wrangler is probably the best looking, and probably the best off-roader, it's also the best to steal things out of, and the best at drinking fuel. Never mind the lack of insulation weather, sound, or otherwise.
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