2009 Liberty New Car Test Drive
The Jeep Liberty is quite capable off road, one of the best in its class. Compared to the Jeep Patriot and Compass, the Liberty is more of a true Jeep, with off-road prowess and bold, upright styling.
The Jeep Liberty was all-new for 2008, and is further improved for 2009, with refinements to its suspension, steering, and brakes.
The 2008-2009 Liberty is taller and more angular than the 2002-2007 models, reminiscent of the much-loved, rugged but crude 1990s Jeep Cherokee. The current model is bigger than the previous generation: 2.5 inches longer overall, and 2.0 inches longer in wheelbase. It rides smoother, too; but it maintains the ruggedness of the previous version.
All Liberty models come with a 3.7-liter V6 that makes 210 horsepower. For 2009, a four-speed automatic is now standard; but in these days of six-speed automatics, the four-speed is somewhat antiquated, and we don't think it gets the most out of the 3.7-liter V6, an engine that 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.
Jeep has made an effort to refine the Liberty and add premium options. Snow Belt drivers will appreciate the full-time all-wheel drive system available in addition to the part-time system. Both four-wheel-drive systems make the Liberty highly capable off road, and they are aided by Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control. Within its class, only the Nissan Xterra can claim as much off-road capability.
When they redesigned it for 2008, Jeep engineers set out to give the Liberty pleasant road manners and, when it comes to ride quality, they succeeded. The Liberty rides firmly, but irons out most bumps quite well and is stable on the highway. The Liberty sacrifices handling for off-road prowess, however. The Liberty leans in turns and has a floppy feeling in quick changes of direction. It's this aspect that makes the Liberty most comparable to the Nissan Xterra and Ford Escape. These three are more rugged, more capable off road than the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Nissan Rogue, which are lighter, more agile, and more car-like. 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. We view it as a step back in terms of materials quality and fit and finish, however. The previous Liberty had more soft touch surfaces and closer panel gaps, while the current model has more 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, the other small SUVs will deliver better fuel economy and better handling, but none will offer a more pleasant ride.
The 2009 Jeep Liberty is offered in two trim levels, both with rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. The models are Sport ($22,715), Sport 4WD ($24,325), Limited ($25,820), and Limited 4WD ($27,430). The lone engine is a 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V6, mated to a four-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 four-wheel drive on dry pavement. Both systems have low-range gearing. Sport features include cloth upholstery, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, 65/35 split folding rear seats, 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. For 2009, the stereo upgrades from four speakers to six and includes Sirius satellite radio. 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 and a full-size spare tire ($580); 235/70R16 all-terrain tires ($180-350, depending on other equipment); skid plates ($225) for the 4x4 model; and the Popular Equipment Group ($1,095), which now includes Yes Essentials stain-resistant cloth upholstery, as well as a 115-volt auxiliary power outlet, cargo compartment cover, fog lamps, front passenger fold-flat seat, roof rails, cruise control, external temperature display and compass, and deep-tinted glass.
Limited come standard with Yes Essentials cloth upholstery, heated power mirrors, 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, antitheft alarm, fog lamps, full-size spare and P235/65R17 all-season tires on aluminum wheels. Limited include the Premium Group ($995) with heated front seats, leather upholstery, six-way power driver's seat with memory, and remote starting; the Premium Group 2 ($2,295) which adds automatic climate control, power passenger seat, interior air filter, Rainsense automatic wipers, rear obstacle detection and P235/60R18 all-season tires on chromed aluminum wheels to the Premium Group; and MyGIG Multimedia Infotainment system ($1,550) with a 20-gigabyte hard drive, integrated AM/FM receiver with CD/DVD player, GPS navigation with voice recognition and memo function, Jeep's Uconnect wireless phone link, USB port and touch-screen display. The Limited's Premium Sound Group ($395) adds UConnect and a 6-CD/DVD changer. Since a full-size spare is already standard on Limited, the trailer package costs less ($395).
Safety features include the mandated dual front airbags, plus head-protecting side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors and front side airbags for torso protection. 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.