2008 Jeep Liberty Limited 4×4Posted on August 26th, 2007
The 2008 Liberty sports a bold new face, more powerful engine, and improved off-road capability.
By Nina Russin
The first Jeep Liberty struck me as a downsized Cherokee: a road car that could cruise the trails. The second Liberty is more of an upsized Wrangler: loves to play in the mud, but with more amenities than its smaller sib.
The exterior is leaner and meaner: more iconic Jeep. A big toothy grille dominates the front end, framed by two angular headlamps, square fenders, and a flat hood. There’s a conspicuous absence of soft curves. The Liberty stands tall and at attention, with wheels pushed to the corners for better stability.
There is one engine, a 3.7-liter V6, mated to either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Chrysler is selling a diesel model in Europe, but has no plans to bring it to the states. The 210 horsepower V6 has ample low-end acceleration, and the ability to tow up to 5000 pounds: well over our ALV minimum standard.
The four-speed automatic transmission seems lacking in this era of five and six-speed packages. It downshifts exceptionally hard, and has less than stellar fuel economy. While Jeep spokespersons are happy with the tried and true package, I suspect that finances may have played a role in the engineers’ decision.
The model line-up includes two grades, Sport and Limited. Chrysler expects the Sport model to comprise sixty-five percent of sales. Pricing starts at $20,990 for the 4×2, and $22,660 for the 4×4 model. The upscale Limited grade that starts at $25,175 comes with the Yes Essentials fabric interior that resists stains, chrome accents, and larger wheels.
The new Liberty is part of Jeep’s largest product offensive to date, increasing its stable from three to seven models since 2004. The first Liberty filled the slot between the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee. The new mid-sized model moves upscale, with a larger engine and more amenities than either the Patriot or Compass.
Midwest drive test
I drove the Limited 4×4 model at a recent press event in Indianapolis. Our drive route took us through the southern tier of the state. While Indiana has no lack of highways, its biggest asset is the network of two-lane roads that pass through small farm towns. Opportunities for off-road driving are plentiful in state recreation areas. The hilly terrain and an abundance of rain make for challenging trails. The trails are heavily forested, with lots of exposed roots, boulders, and short, steep hills.
While the new Liberty has a bigger footprint than the first model, it’s still small enough to function well as a city car. The wheelbase is 106 inches with front and rear tracks of 61 inches. Like the original model, the 2008 Liberty has rack and pinion steering, which gives it the turning capability of a passenger car. Turning diameter is just over 35 feet.
The steering feels loose at high speeds. It doesn’t have exceptional on-center feel, but it’s good enough to give the driver some feedback from the wheels. Stabilizer bars front and rear help the car corner flat, as do gas-charged shocks.
Front and rear disc brakes are solid and linear. The standard antilock braking system engages appropriately. Electronic stability program is also standard on all models.
The suspension is independent in front with a live rear axle. The solid rear end makes the car more adept at towing large loads. Unlike some live axles, this one doesn’t bounce a lot. Both rows of passengers should find the ride comfortable.
The Limited has standard 17-inch wheels. The test car had the optional 18-inch rims, offering an even more stable footprint. This is especially noticeable on the highway. Despite its relatively narrow stance and high profile, the car feels stable at high speeds, much more so than the Wrangler.
The new Liberty really shines off road. Hill descent control and hill-start assist make it possible for drivers without much experience to tackle difficult trails. When shifted into low mode, the engine multiplies torque, and provides extremely low gears for crawling over uneven terrain.
The wooded trail in southern Indiana was a challenging test. The Liberty felt solid and moved forward easily with one or more wheels off the ground. The hill descent control allowed the vehicle to crawl down extremely steep grades, while the hill-start assist kept it from sliding backwards when the driver stopped on a steep uphill.
With seventeen-inch tires, the car’s axles have over seven inches of ground clearance. Optional skid plates protect the chassis against larger rocks. All models have adequate wheel articulation to clear deep ruts, and are engineered to ford deep water without damaging the engine.
A clear view of the sky
Jeep’s new Sky Slider roof opens up the Liberty, giving both rows of passengers a clear view of the sky. The cloth top retracts similar to a convertible. It can open from either the front or rear. When fully open, it’s four times the size of a conventional sunroof. The effect is similar to the soft top on the Wrangler, but better suited for four seasons. In anticipation of Midwestern winters, engineers tested the roof with four hundred pounds of snow.
When the top is open, it makes a lot of noise on the highway. But on the trails, it’s an absolute joy. With no glass beneath it, passengers are literally connected to the outdoors. Not only did we see the branches swaying above us, we had a few leaves drift inside while on the trails. Open-air enthusiasts should fork out the cash for the option. A button on the instrument panel makes it easy to open and close, and the open roof gives the new Liberty a classic Willys Jeep feel.
The larger wheelbase added interior room to the new car, especially for second-row passengers. There’s adequate legroom, although four passengers will be more comfortable than five.
The test car had optional leather front bucket seats with position memory and seat heaters. Both front seats are comfortable and offer good lower back support. The driver’s seat has an adjustable lumbar. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope, which could be a problem for smaller drivers. It has cruise control and information system buttons on the front, and redundant audio controls in back.
All models come with a standard MP3 plug-in. The test car had optional Sirius satellite radio and the upgraded Infinity audio system. An optional navigation system displays two or three-dimensional maps. Park sense rear park assist warns drivers about obstacles that may be in blind spots to the rear.
Both rows of passengers have decent sized cupholders. There is a 115 volt-inverter to the rear of the center console, and a 12-volt power point on the instrument panel. A large bin in the center console is big enough to hold compact discs or a small pack. A small removable tray holds electronic devices, and includes a change sorter.
The floor-mounted gate shift is easy to reach and engage. A lever in front of the shifter engages the various four-wheel drive modes. Buttons on the instrument panel engage the hill start assist and hill descent control features for off-road driving.
Second-row seats are easy to fold flat, by pulling on a single strap to the side of the seat cushions. The seats fold flat without removing the headrests, making the new Liberty bicycle friendly.
The liftgate includes a flipper window that opens separately for loading in smaller items. There are six tie-down hooks in the cargo area for securing items: a must for off-road driving. The spare tire has moved from the liftgate to a spot under the cargo floor, making it easier to load up the back of the car. The cargo floor is reversible. One side is carpeted, while the other is made of a durable vinyl, with detents for holding items in. There is a waterproof storage area under the cargo floor.
Roof rails are standard on the Limited model. A step plate in the rear makes it easier to load items up top.
The all-new Liberty rolls into Jeep dealerships this fall.
Likes: The new Liberty has a more powerful engine than the original model, as well as a roomier interior with more creature comforts. Off-road performance is exceptional. The available Sky Slider roof will appeal to outdoor enthusiasts who need the four-season versatility of a hard top.
Dislikes: The four-speed automatic transmission produces a lot of shift shock. Steering response on the highway is soft.
Base price: $26,785
Price as tested: $32,895
Horsepower: 210 Hp @ 5200 r.p.m.
Torque: 235 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 r.p.m.
0 to 60: N/A
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 15/21 m.p.g. city/highway
Comments: Base price includes $660 destination fee.
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