Jeep Liberty Review

Jeep Liberty Review

Tougher and more trailworthy than most compact SUVs, the Jeep Liberty offers a good compromise between road worthiness and off-highway capability. Day in and day out, Liberty works like a car or wagon. It seats four people comfortably and can carry up to five and their gear. Fold the rear seats and it can move two people and some serious cargo.

Turn off the pavement, and Liberty can negotiate most trails with confidence. True to its Jeep heritage, Liberty offers superior off-road capability that sets it apart from the herd of compact urban cute-utes. True, the Liberty gives up some refinement and road agility to do this. It does not ride or handle as well as some of the other small SUVs. But the Liberty is among the best of the small sport-utilities for drivers who want serious off-road capability on the weekend yet need practicality and affordability during the week.

The mid-range Renegade looks the part, with its flatter hood, taller grille, off-road foglamps and taillamp guards. Renegade also features functional rock rails and skid plates. All-terrain tires are optional, as are GPS navigation and an overhead light bar.

But the economy-priced Sport and luxury-grade Limited models are plenty capable as well, and offer something the Renegade does not: the only diesel engine available in a compact or mid-size SUV. Liberty's 2.8-liter turbo-diesel uses advanced common-rail technology for low emissions, maximum economy, and performance to make you forget all about gasoline.

All-new for 2001, Liberty was extensively updated for 2005, with more comfortable seats and a more contemporary appearance. For 2006, all Liberty models come with Jeep's Electronic Stability Program (ESP), anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Roll Mitigation, and all-speed traction control.

The 2006 Jeep Liberty is available in three trim levels: Sport ($20,970), Renegade ($22,860), and Limited Edition ($24,410). Each is offered with two-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD).

The standard engine in all Liberty models is a 3.7-liter V6. A six-speed manual transmission is standard in Sport and Renegade. A four-speed automatic is optional ($825) on those models and standard on Limited. (The base four-cylinder model has been discontinued.)

Optional on Sport 4WD and Limited 4WD ($1,360) is a 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel that comes with a five-speed automatic. Liberty diesels also come with a bigger battery, P225/75 tires, 16x7-inch aluminum wheels, and an engine block heater.

Standard on all 4WD models is Command-Trac, a conventional part-time four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case. Full-time Selec-Trac is optional ($395) on all three trim levels, and retains a low range for serious off-roading.

Sport 2WD and Sport 4WD ($22,480) are entry-level models, although they do come with air conditioning, tilt steering, power windows, power mirrors remote keyless entry, engine immobilizer, six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, gray fender flares, P225/75 tires on 16-inch steel wheels and, as we mentioned earlier, ABS, electronic stability control (ESP), and traction control.

Renegade 2WD and 4WD ($24,370) add unique Trexx cloth upholstery, speed control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, deep-tinted sunscreen glass, vanity mirrors, and 16-inch aluminum wheels finished in Mineral Gray Metallic. Special exterior trim includes free-standing submersible halogen fog lamps, accent-color fender flares, tubular roof rails, functional rock rails, and tow hooks.

An Off-Road Group for four-wheel-drive Sport ($475) and Renegade ($375) adds heavy-duty engine cooling, P235/70 all-terrain tires, tow hooks, and skid plates for the front suspension, fuel tank, transmission and transfer case.

The Luxury Group ($1,245) for Renegade adds leather seats with power adjustment, upgraded inside door panels, power heated foldaway mirrors, and an overhead console with HomeLink transmitter and a vehicle information center (VIC) that allows the customer to program automatic locking, lighting, and other features.

Limited Edition 2WD and 4WD ($25,920) add upgraded seats and interior trim with satin-silver accents, security alarm, cargo compartment cover, P235/65 all-season tires on 17-inch Sparkle Silver aluminum wheels, and a spare-tire cover. Fender flares are body-color. Limited deletes Renegade's rock rails but adds lots of exterior brightwork.

Leather for Limited is available as part of a big Customer Preferred option package ($1,575) that includes the programmable overhead console, power seat adjusters, deep-tint glass, power heated outside mirrors, a security group, and an AM/FM/6CD stereo, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and Infinity speakers.

Options for all Liberty models include a Trailer Tow Group ($365), Trac-Loc locking rear differential ($285), power sunroof ($700), Sirius Satellite Radio ($195), and a tire-pressure monitor. GPS navigation ($1,500) and UConnect with Bluetooth ($275) are available on Renegade and Limited ($1,500). Sport buyers can add some of these features as stand-alone options or as part of other option packages.

Safety features add to the Liberty's appeal. Standard on all models is an Electronic Stability Program (ESP), which enhances driver control and helps maintain directional stability under all conditions. Anti-lock brakes (ABS), all-speed traction control (TCS), a four-wheel Brake Traction Control System (BTCS), Electronic Roll Mitigation (ERM), and Brake Assist are also standard.

Curtain airbags designed to protect outboard occupants from head injury in side impacts are optional ($490) and we strongly recommend getting them. The front airbags, which come standard, are multi-stage and will deploy with less force during low-speed collisions or if the occupant is unbuckled to reduce the risk of airbag-related injuries. The Enhanced Accident Response System automatically unlocks doors and illuminates interior courtesy lights five seconds after the deployment of the front or side airbag; the system also shuts down the fuel pump immediately after the bags deploy. A three-point belt for the center rear seat comes standard, a safety feature that's missing from many SUVs. Seat belts are the most important safety feature on any vehicle and serve as your first line of defense in a crash. A tire-pressure monitor is available as an option.

With its seven-slat grille and round headlights, there's no question the Liberty looks like a Jeep.

The Liberty's body is tall, providing the driver with a commanding view of the terrain ahead. In its exterior dimensions, the Liberty fits between the Jeep Wrangler and Grand Che{{{Cherokee. With an overall length of 174.4 inches, the Jeep Liberty is slightly longer than the Ford Escape. It's longer than the Wrangler, but significantly shorter and lighter than the Grand Cherokee.

The Renegade model features a flatter hood that complements the traditional round Jeep headlimps for a distinctive appearance reminiscent of the hardy old Jeep CJ3B of 1953-64. Freestanding fog lamps with black bezels, side sills to protect the body from road blast, tow hooks and a bright silver metallic applique across the body-color front fascia add to Renegade's rugged appearance. Bolted fender flares, which are gray on Sport and body-color on Limited, are molded in contrasting accent colors for Renegade, and feature chrome-plated attachment details to make sure they are noticed. Tubular roof rails are finished in brushed silver metallic. A black off-road light bar is optional on Renegade only.

A neat feature on all models: Yanking hard on the outside handle of the rear cargo door causes the glass hatch to swing up as the door itself is swinging out, which saves time and effort. Pulling on the handle with less force opens the glass only. Also, the door is hinged on the left and swings open from the right, better for curbside pickups at the airport. A lot of imported vehicles swing the other way, meaning you have to walk around the door when loading and unloading curbside.

Climb into a Liberty, and the first thing you'll likely notice is that it feels tall in the saddle. Its roomy interior accommodates five passengers and a generous amount of cargo, with 29 cubic feet of usable space behind the second row of seats. Sitting in the Liberty gives the driver a sense of spaciousness with 40.7 inches of headroom, more than other SUVs in this class. Door panels are scalloped out for elbow rests, and a grab handle is provided on the passenger's side of the dash.

The seats were noticeably improved for 2005 through the use of dual-density foam, but the side bolsters are still soft, a signal that the Liberty is set up more to absorb vibration than to be slung around corners. And you'll have to order the optional power seats to get seat-height adjustment. The standard cloth upholstery feels like it will hold up well. The Renegade front seats are tailored with unique cloth center panels and vinyl bolsters. The front seats in the Limited are more comfortable. They are chair-like buckets, softer and more contoured than the seats in the Ford Escape.

Getting in and out of the Liberty is more difficult than it is in some of the more carlike SUVs. The door openings are relatively narrow, the step-up height is a little higher, the seats have those side bolsters to get past, and your feet must clear relatively high side sills. A grab handle is provided, but it's located on the A-pillar above the steering wheel, not the perfect position to help shorter people swing inside.

The Liberty's rear seats are comfortable, capable of holding three people. Two adults should be happy here. There is even more rear headroom than in the front, and lots of space to slide your feet under the front seats, but knee room is limited. Sliding out of the back seat requires a bit of a stretch down, and your legs drag across the fender. So be sure to clean that area before putting any well-dressed guests back there.

The Liberty offers a generous amount of cargo space behind the rear seats. Caesar the 160-pound mastiff was happy to ride there. Two full-size garbage cans fit side-by-side back there, too, a feat we haven't seen duplicated in many SUVs. Grocery-bag hooks and cargo tie-downs are provided to keep things from rolling around. An optional cargo organizer opens into a shelf with compartment dividers to keep packages in place, and can be folded flat when not in use.

Fold the rear seats down and the Liberty offers a lot of cargo space (69.0 cubic feet), virtually the same as in the Escape. Dropping the split rear seat is a one-hand operation in the Liberty, as the rear seat bottom stays in place. But that means that the cargo floor isn't perfectly flat when the rear seats are folded down, and that is our biggest gripe with this vehicle. Nor are the rear seats readily removable as they are in the Toyota RAV4. Also, removing the rear headrests requires pressing two buttons at once to release them.

Cosmetically, the interior features a round motif, with round door handles, round instruments, round air inlets, a round horn pad. Textures and finishes are nicely done. Big gauges use black-on-beige graphics. The Limited adds attractive satin chrome highlights to the instrument panel and doors. The interior on the Limited is particularly nice and executed with quality materials. The Renegade gets silver mini-carbon highlights on the instrument panel that give it a serious/functional look consistent with its rough-and-ready exterior theme.

The manual shifter is on the tall side, but works well. The available leather-wrapped steering wheel is comfortable and features well-designed cruise controls.

The accessory controls work well and intuitively, and don't look like they came out of a sedan or a minivan because they didn't. The power window switches are located on the center console, however, more awkward than having them on the door. The manually operated heating and air-conditioning controls work well, though the mode selector demands attention. The radio works well, but uses a separate and poorly located button to preset stations, an unnecessary distraction when driving. The addition of Sirius Satellite Radio is a major plus, especially when driving into areas where AM/FM reception is spotty.

A notable option on Renegade and Limited is UConnect, a hands-free, in-vehicle communications system. UConnect uses Bluetooth technology to link your cell phone with the Liberty's stereo speakers. A hands-free microphone, voice recognition interface, and phone button are housed in the rearview mirror. The system works when you set your mobile phone down anywhere inside the vehicle. You can even continue a conversation while entering or exiting the vehicle without interrupting your call.

A power accessory delay feature maintains electrical power for 10 minutes after the key is removed from the ignition or the front door is opened. That's useful when you turn off the ignition then notice you forgot to close the windows or when you want to finish listening to a song or newscast before getting out.

The optional tire-pressure monitor integrates into the information center in the overhead mini-console. The system displays individual pressures for all four rotating tires, and a warning message when the pressures fall below or exceed set thresholds. The spare tire is also monitored. Tire-changing and jacking equipment is stored under the rear seat and can be quickly grabbed as a unit.

Driving Impressions
The Jeep Liberty's 3.7-liter V6 works well with the optional automatic transmission, delivering good reponse. The V6 is rated at 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is EPA-rated 18/22 City/Highway mpg with the standard six-speed manual, 17/22 mpg with the automatic.

The available 2.8-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine is surprisingly satisfying, combining the horsepower of a small gasoline V6 with the torque of a V8 and the mileage of a four-cylinder. The diesel is rated at 160 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The EPA says the diesel should get 21/26 mpg city/highway. During a week of testing, we averaged about 21 mpg, including a fair amount of time spent off-road in low range. On the highway, the diesel Liberty becomes an easy cruiser, showing just 2000 rpm on the tach at 70 mph. Our highway mileage was close to 24 mpg, some 30 percent better than the 18 mpg we saw with the gas V6. And, just like the V6, the diesel is rated to tow up to 5000 pounds with the optional hitch.

Best of all, the new diesel seems to suffer few of the tradeoffs associated with oil-burning engines of the past. There is practically no smoke, and very little noise or vibration. This is largely thanks to the new common-rail technology developed in Europe, which uses a high-pressure fuel injection system that burns diesel fuel much more cleanly than earlier designs. There is no warm-up period before starting, because the glowplugs are electronicaly controlled. The turbocharger is an advanced design with variable-geometry vanes that deliver significant induction improvements at both low rpm and high rpm, and at high altitudes.

The diesel comes standard with a stronger five-speed electronic automatic transmission, which benefits from advanced logic. Depending on throttle input,this transmission can deliver two separate second-gear ratios, a lower ratio for quicker acceleration, a taller one for smooth downshifts.

The Liberty doesn't ride as smoothly on the road as a Ford Escape, particularly over bumps and other irregularities where it bobbles a bit. Nor does it handle as well as the more car-like SUVs. Steering effort is relatively easy at low speeds for a 4x4, nice when parking. On the road, the steering is reasonably solid on-center, a benefit of its power-assisted rack-and-pinion design. But the long-travel off-road suspension, set up to absorb impact without being overly harsh, makes for lethargic transient response in lane-change maneuvers. That said, the Liberty rides reasonably well for a short-wheelbase 4x4. It doesn't beat the driver up as much as a Jeep Wrangler does. The wider tires that are standard on Limited and optional on Renegade seem to offer more stability than the narrower tires of the Sport. The Liberty handled winding Virginia backroads well and felt fine on crowded freeways around Los Angeles.

The electronic stability program that comes on Liberty models can help the driver avoid accidents. ESP is especially valuable when driving on mixed surface conditions such as patchy snow, ice or gravel. If there's a discernible difference between what the driver asks through the steering and the vehicle's path, ESP applies selective braking and throttle input to put the Jeep back onto the driver's intended path. The system is calibrated to offer more control of the vehicle under a variety of conditions, and to operate in a manner that is not intrusive in normal or spirited driving.

We've also found the Liberty capable of handling fairly gnarly trails. It tackled steep ditches and gullies on an off-road trail, thanks to its short front and rear overhangs and a suspension that articulates well. We appreciated its tight turning radius while weaving through a stand of tightly spaced trees. We clambered over big rocks and fallen trees and slowly forded boulder-strewn creeks with 18 inches of rushing water. Jeep says Liberty can handle 20 inches at 10 mph. Its traction up steep, muddy banks was impressive, with no wheelspin.

Keep in mind, however, that the Liberty is limited by just 9.4 inches of running ground clearance, only an inch more than a Subaru Outback. Rocks will contact the skid plates, a sound we sometimes experienced although we suspect no harm was being done. Another fact serious trailblazers should note is that the Liberty platform is less upgradeable than Jeep's other 4x4s, such as the Wrangler and Grand Che{{{Cherokee. However, a locking rear differential is available as a factory option ($285) for the Liberty, and in truly slippery situations, it makes a big difference. If you need a small SUV with the guts to occasionally negotiate irregular terrain or slog down muddy trails, the Jeep Liberty is a good choice.

Four-wheel-drive models come standard with Jeep's tried-and-true Command Trac part-time system. It works great. Shift from 2WD to 4WD on the fly with a slight pull on the hand lever. When the trail is looking really ugly, slow to 2 or 3 mph and while still coasting, shift into neutral, and pull the lever up higher for low range. But be aware this is a traditional part-time 4WD system, and it's not meant for use on dry pavement, where it causes the wheels to bind up when accelerating out of a tight corner. You'll want to shift back to 2WD when you're on solid road.

Selec Trac is an optional system that offers all the modes above but adds full-time 4WD capability. The full-time mode is ideally suited to inconsistent conditions: patches of ice, gravel roads, and slippery pavement. It also works on dry pavement, because a planetary center differential allows the front and rear axles to turn at different speeds.

Like most small SUVs, Liberty follows the trend away from body-on-frame to unibody construction. Jeep calls Liberty's construction uni-frame because it's a beefed up unibody with frame-like reinforcement rails. This gives the Liberty increased strength and rigidity. That rigidity allowed the chassis engineers to finely tune the suspension without having to compensate for a Flexible Flyer-type chassis. The Liberty suspension uses coil springs at all four wheels. Breaking from Jeep tradition, the front suspension is independent, like in the new Grand Cherokee, with forged steel control arms.

For a better off-road ride, Liberty offers eight inches of suspension travel. Short front and rear overhangs (the distance from the tires to the ends of the vehicle) allow steep angles of approach (36 degrees) and departure (32 degrees) in the rough stuff, so you won't be dragging the front bumper in gullies or even in New York City parking garages. The Liberty approaches the capability of the Grand Cherokee and it will go many of the places that a Wrangler, the king of off-road vehicles, can go. The difference is that the Liberty is more of an occasional off-road prowler, while the Wrangler is built to last in that environment. Still, the Liberty is more at home in the rough stuff than the Escape, RAV4, or most of the bigger SUVs such as the Ford Explorer, which are quickly left behind in really challenging terrain, spinning their wheels and banging up their rocker panels.

At the same time, Liberty's suspension allows reasonable on-road comfort. Progressive-rate springs deliver a nice balance of off-road grip and on-road ride, though humps in the road can still be jolting. The Liberty feels a bit jouncier on rough pavement; taller, squishier, more off-road oriented than the Escape. With the long-travel suspension, cornering takes on a lower design priority. On rugged terrain, however, the Jeep offers a much more comfortable ride than the Escape because the Ford's limited suspension travel and lightweight components are out of their element in the rough. The Liberty feels more substantial than the car-based SUVs and it is.

All Liberty models come standard with four-wheel disc brakes and ABS. We found the Liberty's brakes easy to modulate in heavy stop-and-go traffic. Liberty's ABS is specifically calibrated to handle off-road situations: In low range, the anti-lock brake system allows some wheel lock, such as when descending steep gravel hills. On the road, its ABS reduces skidding for improved control steering control, but allows some lockup for shorter stopping distances.

Summary & Specs
Jeep Liberty strikes a balance between off-road capability and on-road sophistication. It's a good choice for drivers who like to venture into the backcountry, but need comfort and practicality in a daily driver. A higher degree of off-highway capability separates the Liberty from other small SUVs. Though less agile on the road than the so-called cute-utes, the Liberty is superior once you leave the pavement. editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Charlottesville, Virginia; John Stewart contributed to this report.

2006 Jeep Liberty Specifications
Model LineupJeep Liberty Sport 2WD ($20,970); Renegade 2WD ($22,860); Limited 2WD ($24,410); Sport 4WD ($22,480); Renegade 4WD ($24,370); Limited 4WD ($25,920)
Transmissions (optional)6-speed manual; 4-speed automatic; 5-speed automatic
Safety Equipment (standard)front airbags, ABS, Brake Assist, electronic stability control, roll mitigation control, traction control, driver's seat-belt pre-tensioner, LATCH child-seat anchor system
Safety Equipment (optional)side-curtain airbags, tire-pressure monitor
Basic Warranty3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled InToledo, Ohio

2006 Jeep Liberty Specifications as Tested
Model Tested MSRPJeep Liberty Limited 4WD ($25,920)
Standard Equipmentair conditioning, 12-volt accessory outlets, AM/FM/CD w six speakers, power speed-sensitive door locks, headlamps w time-delay off, illuminated entry, remote keyless entry, map/dome reading lamps, courtesy and cargo lamps, dual power mirrors, tachometer, rear window defroster, variable intermittent wipers, folding rear seat split 65/35, cargo tie-down loops, matching spare wheel; 136-amp alternator, cargo area cover, cargo area trim panel w storage net, cloth low-back reclining front bucket seats, P235/65R17 tires, 17-inch aluminum wheels, body-color fascias, premium body-colored fender flares, front and rear floor mats, fog lamps, body-color side molding
Options as Tested (MSRP)side curtain airbags ($490); skid plates for fuel tank and transfer case ($150)
Destination Charge660
Gas Guzzler Tax
Price as Tested27220
Layoutfour-wheel drive
Horse Power210 @ 5200
Torque235 @ 4000
Fuel Economy17/22
Track Front/Rear
Turning Radius35.9
Seating Capacity5
Front Head/Hip/Leg room40.7/57.0/40.8
Middle Head/Hip/Leg room
Rear Head/Hip/Leg room42.1/47.4/37.2
Trunk Volume69.0
Towing Capacity5000
Front Suspensionindependent, upper and lower A-arms, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers anti-roll bar
Rear Suspensionlive axle, dual lower trailing links, single upper trailing A-link, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, anti-roll bar
Ground Clearance9.4
Curb Weight4033
Stock TiresP235/65/R17
Brakes Front/Reardisc/disc with ABS
Fuel Capacity19.5

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