2009 Jeep Liberty SportPosted on December 1st, 2008
Second-generation sport-utility vehicle appeals to off-road enthusiasts.
By Nina Russin
Last year, Chrysler rolled out the second-generation Jeep Liberty: a mid-sized sport-utility vehicle with standard four-wheel drive and two grades:
the base Sport (tested) and upscale Limited.
Both are powered by a 3.7-liter V6 engine rated at 210 horsepower and four-speed automatic transmission. A diesel version is available in Europe, but so far, Chrysler has no plans to bring that model to the States.
The current model is larger, with more aggressive exterior styling than the former version.
An optional sky slider roof on the test car ($1075) opens up the top of the Liberty, offering buyers a similar driving experience to the soft-top Wrangler. A control on the overhead console opens the roof from the front or rear.
The waterproof canvas top slides back like an accordion. It’s a very cool feature on off-road trails, since it gives both rows of passengers fresh air and clear view of the sky.
Unfortunately, it’s noisier than heck on the highway. Driving from Phoenix to Los Angeles, the roof became extremely noisy above eighty miles-per-hour, even though it was completely closed.
Two available four-wheel drive systems.
Of the two available four-wheel drive systems, the part-time Command-Trac comes standard on the Sport, with a shift lever on the floor console that engages rear-wheel drive, high or low-range four-wheel drive on the go.
High-range four-wheel drive locks the front and rear axles together to improve traction on wet or snow-covered roads, while the low-range is best suited for true off-roading, when one or more wheels may be off the ground.
Both the full or part-time four-wheel drive systems carry the Jeep trail rating: they meet internal engineering standards for deep water fording, wheel articulation and directional control. Having taken a Jeep Liberty on a gnarly trail through a southern Indiana woodland, I believe it will handle whatever its owner wants to throw at it.
Standard hill descent control maintains a speed of five miles-per-hour on steep downhills, giving the driver better control of the vehicle than applying the brakes. Hill start assist is also standard: it prevents the truck from sliding backwards when accelerating from a stop on a steep grade.
Attractive package for active lifestyles
Aside from the optional canvas roof, the Liberty is a good choice for buyers who need a mid-sized sport-utility vehicle with reasonable towing capability. Available stain-resistant fabric is a plus for people like myself who get dirty when then play, and sometimes forget to bring a towel to cover up the seats. The fabric is anti-microbial, so it not only stays clean; it doesn’t start to smell after years of rides to and from the local trailhead.
After logging a thousand miles on the test car, I can vouch for the comfort of the front seats. They have plenty of lower lumbar control. Designers also extended the seat cushions this year for better leg support.
While no four-wheel drive car gets great gas mileage, I was able to equal or exceed the Liberty’s twenty-one mile-per-gallon EPA rating on the highway. Keeping the car in two-wheel drive on paved roads adds about a mile-per-gallon to its highway fuel economy.
The gas tank is big enough to give the truck decent range. I was able to drive from Phoenix to Palm Springs, about 250 miles, on about three-quarters of a tank of gas.
The six-cylinder engine has plenty of pep for average city and highway driving. It does well in the critical twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range, merging into high-speed traffic, and has plenty of top-end power to pass other cars on the highway.
A five-speed automatic transmission would have given the Liberty better fuel economy, but the four-speed box performs well on hills. I didn’t notice excessive hunting between gears.
Engineers figured out how to make a rack-and-pinion steering system robust enough for off-road driving. It gives the Liberty better cornering capability and a smaller turning radius on paved roads.
Standard four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the truck in a linear fashion without being grabby. Engineers retuned the rear suspension for 2009, giving the vehicle a more linear feel.
Though the solid rear axle doesn’t offer the compliant ride of a fully-independent suspension, it keeps the vehicle more stable when towing a trailer. In the front seat at least, I didn’t find the ride uncomfortably rough.
The new Liberty has a slightly bigger footprint than the model it replaces, translating to more interior room and cargo space. The front row feels quite open and spacious. Chrysler designers excel at interior packaging. The center console bin has a small shelf up top for electronic devices and a change holder: the bottom is big enough to hold a stack of compact discs.
The standard audio system includes MP3 compatibility and pre-wiring for Sirius satellite radio. Audiophiles can opt to upgrade to a downloadable hard drive that holds tunes and pictures, with an enhanced speaker system.
The second row has adequate legroom for two adults. Cupholders on the floor behind the center console leave almost no legroom for the middle passenger. The same equipment option that adds the stain-repellent fabric also includes a 115-volt inverter in back of the center console, so rear passengers can use their computers en-route.
Second-row seats fold flat using straps on the back of the seat cushion, creating an uninterrupted cargo floor. Folding the seats flat does require removing the headrests, but it’s a fairly simple operation. Buyers who want to carry extra-long cargo inside can opt for a fold-flat front passenger seat.
Despite its high ground clearance, the Liberty’s lift-over height is low enough to make tossing a bike in back fairly easy. The test car also has optional roof rails.
A small waterproof storage area under the cargo floor is ideal for stashing valuables that won’t fit in the glovebox or center console bin. The under-sized spare is mounted under the truck. Buyers who plan to do a lot of off-road driving should opt for the towing prep package ($580) that adds a full-sized spare.
Off-road enthusiasts will also want to add the skid plate package, that protects chassis components from rocks and roots on the trail, and also adds winch hooks.
All models come with standard electronic stability control, traction control, four-channel antilock braking, front, side and side curtain airbags, hill start assist, hill descent control, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Made in America
Drivers who want to buy a car made in this country will take heart in the fact that the Liberty is produced in Chrysler’s Toledo, Ohio assembly plant. Both the engine and transmission are also produced in the United States.
Base price for the Liberty Sport is $23,825, not including a $695 destination charge. As with all Chrysler products, the Liberty comes with a lifetime powertrain warranty.
Likes: Affordable mid-sized sport-utility vehicle with true off-road capability and towing up to 5000 pounds. The stain-repellent fabric is a great option for people who like to play hard and get dirty.
Dislike: Optional canvas roof is extremely noisy, especially on the highway.
Model: Liberty Sport 4X4
Base price: $23,825
As tested: $27,720
Horsepower: 210 Hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 235 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 15/21 mpg city/highway
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