2011 Jeep Liberty Expert Review:Autoblog
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
New Car Test Drive
Rugged terrain capability in a compact SUV.
The Jeep Liberty is a practical SUV that doesn't hesitate to step off the pavement. True to Jeep's legendary 4x4 heritage, the Liberty offers two Jeep Trail Rated four-wheel-drive systems, giving it terrific off-road prowess. It's tall and angular, with bold, upright styling reminiscent of the rugged 1990s Jeep Cherokee. Unlike the old Cherokee, however, the Liberty rides nice and smooth. Yet it maintains the ruggedness that made Jeep famous.
The new 2011 Jeep Liberty Jet brings a unique upscale appearance to the line. The 2011 Jeep Renegade, introduced midway through the 2010 model year, is equipped with features that position it between Sport and Limited with an emphasis on off-road equipment. Renegade boasts a premium, rugged appearance and comes with skid plates, unique color fender flares, fascia and headlamps.
New for 2011, all Liberty models feature a new steering wheel with redundant controls for radio. Three new Media Centers are available on 2011 Liberty models, also.
The Jeep Liberty is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that makes 210 horsepower. A 4-speed automatic is standard. In these days of 6-speed automatics, the 4-speed is somewhat antiquated, and we don't think it gets the most out of the V6, which could use a little help. When it comes to fuel economy, the Liberty's weight and powertrain provide numbers that are on the lower end of the class: The federal Environmental Protection Agency rates Jeep Liberty 4WD 15/21 mpg City/Highway.
The two four-wheel-drive systems, Command-Trac II and Selec-Trac II, make the Jeep Liberty highly capable off road, and they are further aided by Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control.
The Liberty rides firmly, but irons out most bumps quite well and is stable on the highway. The Liberty sacrifices on-road handling for off-road prowess. The Liberty leans in turns and has a floppy feeling in quick changes of direction. Still, it's rugged and capable off road; if we were heading up a rough logging road, we'd be pleased to be in a Liberty.
Inside, the Liberty has plenty of room for five. However, we view it as not quite up to expectations in terms of materials quality and fit and finish, with a lot of hard-plastic surfaces. Still, it's not an unpleasant cockpit. Cargo room is a plus. The Liberty's second-row seats fold flat, as does the front passenger seat, to provide plenty of room for hauling boxes, bikes and life's other accessories.
With a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, rugged off-road capability and plenty of cargo space, the Jeep Liberty is a good choice for small families or couples that tow boats or go camping. If your travels don't often take you off-road, other small SUVs will deliver better fuel economy and better handling, but few will match the Liberty's capabilities.
The Jeep Liberty is offered in three trim levels. The Sport 2WD ($23,250), Sport 4WD ($24,865), Limited ($26,650), and Limited 4WD ($28,250) are available with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The Renegade ($27,250) is available only with four-wheel drive. The only engine is a 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V6, mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission.
The base four-wheel-drive system is Jeep's Command Trac, a part-time system designed for off-road use. Also offered is Selec-Trac II ($445), a full-time system that allows use of all-wheel drive on dry pavement. Both systems have low-range gearing. Liberty Sport features include cloth upholstery, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, 65/35 split folding rear seats, heated power mirrors, power locks, power windows, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo and auxiliary input jack, vehicle information center, and P225/75R16 all-season tires on aluminum wheels. Floor mats come standard. Sport options include a Sky Slider canvas sunroof ($1,200); a regular sunroof ($850); Class III towing package with trailer sway control ($545); 235/70R16 all-terrain tires; skid plates ($225). The Popular Equipment Group ($995) includes cargo compartment cover, fog lamps, roof rails, cruise control, external temperature display and compass, and deep-tinted glass.
Liberty Renegade includes skid plates for the transmission, transfer case, front suspension, and engine; transmission oil cooler; tow hooks; and fender flares. It is fitted for the more rugged off-roading experience. Options are similar to those of the Sport.
Liberty Limited comes with a 368-watt Infinity sound system with eight speakers, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio and vehicle information center controls, auto-dimming rearview mirror, roof rails, six-way power driver's seat, fold-flat front passenger seat, universal garage door opener, anti-theft alarm, fog lamps, and 235/65R17 all-season tires on aluminum wheels. Navigation systems include an AM/FM/CD/DVD system with HDD navigation, and Uconnect and a similar system with Garmin navigation. The Comfort and Convenience Group includes automatic climate control, rear park assist, and remote start ($595). The Premium Wheel Group features P235/60R18 all-season tires on 18-inch chrome clad alloy wheels ($1,125). Most of the options available for the Sport are also available for the Limited, where applicable.
Liberty Jet is an appearance package available on Sport ($995) and Limited ($1,495) models. Exterior features on the new Liberty Jet include 20-inch polished aluminum wheels fitted with P245/50R20 all-season tires; chrome lower fascia opening, body side moldings, license plate brow, roof rails and mirror caps; blacked-out headlamps; and unique Jet badging. Inside, the Jeep Liberty Jet edition boasts a 9-speaker premium audio system; a standard security system that includes supplemental side-curtain air bags and Park Sense rear park assist; available Dark Slate Gray leather seating with accent stitching; heated front seats, available with six-way power function for the driver and two-way for the passenger; leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; and one-touch up/down power windows.
(All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Safety features on all Liberty models include dual front airbags, plus head-protecting side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors, front side airbags for torso protection, and active front-seat head restraints. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes with brake assist, hill start assist, traction control, and electronic stability control with rollover mitigation. The antilock brakes have rough road detection; when rough conditions are detected, the system holds the brake pulses longer to better slow the vehicle. Hill descent control is standard on 4x4 models. Optional safety features include trailer sway control and rear obstacle detection.
The Liberty is a true Jeep, with off-road prowess and bold, upright styling. Its tall, upright, angular styling fits with the current Jeep design idiom while also recalling the 1990s Cherokee. The look is intended to attract an even split of male and female buyers. The most noticeable aspect of the front end is Jeep's characteristic seven-slot grille. The grille is body color on the Sport and chrome on the Limited. The front fascia is body color on all, and the front air dam is removable to provide more ground clearance for off-roading.
From the side, the Liberty has tall windows in a squared off greenhouse. The Limited's chrome theme extends to the side with chrome side trim and roof rails. These components are black on the Sport. In an attempt to give the Liberty the open feel of a Wrangler, Jeep offers the Sky Slider sunroof. Jeep says this canvas power sunroof is four times the size of an average sunroof.
A notable feature of the rear is the lack of an exterior spare tire. The spare is mounted inside and the rear is accessed with a liftgate with a separate opening rear glass.
The interior of the Jeep Liberty is functional, not luxurious. Most drivers will like the high seating position. Head room in the front seat is plentiful, but the tallest drivers will want more available front leg room. The side mirrors are large and the cabin has a lot of glass, making for fine rear visibility.
2011 Liberty models feature a new steering wheel with redundant controls for the radio. The gauges are easy to spot and the controls are simple to use. The climate functions are controlled by three simple knobs and the radio and other vehicle controls are straightforward. There is a useful cubby on the center of the dash top, and a sizable grab handle is located just above the smallish glove box. The center console is deep and has a removable tray on top. There is also a small tray next to the shift handle. In 4WD models, a small electronic switch replaces the previous generation's transfer case lever.
The dash is all plastic with no soft-touch surfaces. The same goes for the tops of the doors, where passengers might rest their arms. The only padded surfaces to be found here are the door armrests. The center console also has a little give to its surface, but it's not padded, either.
That said, the Limited interior includes a leather-wrapped shift knob with a chrome cap; and leather accent stitching on the console and door armrests, grab handle, and parking brake boot.
The Sky Slider sunroof is much larger than a standard sunroof. It is made of canvas and creates an open air feeling, especially for rear seat passengers. However, it also creates wind noise at highway speed when closed. That's an important point because without the Sky Slider the cabin is impressively quiet.
The second row offers lots of head room. Leg room is decent, even with the front seats all the way back. Toe space is plentiful under the seats, but there is an annoying hump on each side next to the transmission tunnel. The second-row seats aren't the most comfortable, however; they're flat and short with little thigh or shoulder support and they lack a fold-down center armrest. Getting in the second row is an easy step in, but the opening is a bit small, so it requires some ankle twisting.
Cargo space is about average for the class. The second-row seats fold flat in an easy one-step process to yield 60.9 cubic feet of cargo space. With the seats up there is 25.2 cubic feet of cargo room, which is plenty of room for hauling groceries with the kids in the vehicle. The available fold-flat front-passenger seat allows for loading long items. In back, Jeep provides a shallow under-floor storage area with a reversible cover that is carpeted on one side and formed into a plastic tray on the other. This is a useful feature for stowing muddy boots. Cargo tie-down hooks are also provided to secure loose items. The load floor is fairly low, making it easy to load heavy cargo. The rear glass panel opens separately, so groceries can be set inside without opening the tailgate.
The Jeep Liberty offers a pleasant driving experience. The ride is generally firm, but the Liberty smoothes over most bumps and is never punishing, even with the available 18-inch wheels.
When it comes to handling, the Liberty is relatively tall and heavy, so it is not as nimble as most of its compact SUV competitors. It leans more than most in turns and struggles to regain composure in quick changes of direction. Its solid axle rear suspension is designed for the more rugged chores of towing and off-road capability.
In off-road conditions, however, the Liberty is quite good. With generous approach and departure angles and low-range gearing for 4x4 models, it can crawl over large rocks and logs. Four-wheel-drive models have Hill Descent Control, which pulses the brakes through the ABS to limit the vehicle's speed when driving down steep grades. Hill Start Assist is also standard. It holds the brakes on hills when the driver releases the pedal to prevent the vehicle from sliding backward. We drove the Liberty on a technically challenging off-road trail where it performed well.
Wind noise and tire noise are well checked in the Liberty, and the engine is only noticeable under hard acceleration.
With the available towing package, the Liberty is capable of pulling a load up to 5,000 pounds. This towing capability combined with the Liberty's off-road prowess make it a good choice for families that like to camp, ski, or vacation at locations off the beaten path.
The 3.7-liter V6 is only adequate in this vehicle. It has decent pickup from a stop, but doesn't provide the willing punch to make passing easy. The 4-speed automatic transmission kicks down readily to provide what passing power there is.
With EPA fuel economy ratings of 16 mpg City and 22 Highway with 2WD and 15/21 mpg with 4WD, the Liberty is harder on fuel than most of its competitors.
The Jeep Liberty has better off-road capability and more towing capacity than most of its competitors. It offers generous cargo space and a high seating position. But it's heavy for a compact SUV, and it lacks the handling and fuel economy of most of its rivals. If off-road capability is important, the Liberty is a good choice; otherwise several rivals will handle better and go easier on gas.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Indianapolis.
Jeep Liberty Sport 2WD ($23,250), Sport 4WD ($24,865), Renegade ($27,250), Limited 2WD ($26,650), Limited 4WD ($27,250).
Options As Tested
Comfort and Convenience Group ($595), Class III towing package with trailer sway control ($545); skid plates ($225), Selec-Trac II full-time four-wheel drive ($445); Sky Slider sunroof ($1,200); Premium Wheel Group ($975).
Jeep Liberty Limited 4WD ($28,250).
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