This vehicle is happiest when it’s out in the back country and hitting the trails.

By Andy Lightbody

With roots that go back to 2002, the Jeep Liberty has continued to be refined and enhanced, since its last major make-over back in 2008. So with only 2 years since getting a major overhaul, there are not a lot of new whistles and bells for 2010 or 2011. That however is not a bad thing. After all, there’s truth in the old saying… if it works, don’t fix it!

If you’re looking for a small SUV that loves being off the beaten path, the Liberty should be on your list of top considerations. Tipping the scales at around 4100 pounds, and a wheelbase of 106.1 inches, the Liberty has style that many say, gives it a chiseled look. To me, it’s all Jeep that has a rough iconic styling, without a lot of flowing and sweeping lines. After all, it’s a Jeep and an off road vehicle!Under the hood, you’re going to find that all three trim levels of the Liberty (Sport, Renegade and top of the line—Limited) share the same basic 3.7 liter V6 engine that kicks out 210 horsepower, and sports a 4-speed automatic transmission. Certainly not an engine that is going to be considered a real tire squealer, the acceleration in our 4WD model was acceptable, but when on the highways and trying to pass others, or accelerate and merge, requires some advance planning. The auto transmission is smooth, but often times require that you have to “deep peddle it,” to get the vehicle downshift to provide more power.

And of course, with mileage rating of 15mpg city/21mpg highway, going to a bigger engine is going to make it a gas-guzzler. However, what we did find out, as soon as we could find some off-roading areas… is that the Liberty really doesn’t like the highway much anyway. Even though it has a lot of luxury appointments, its kind of noisy when driven at freeway speeds and our team of test drivers say that it felt “top heavy.”

Okay, enough of the negatives. Take those same attributes and get yourself on the backcountry trails, and the Liberty really starts to shine! The ride on the ruts and bumping over the back-road obstacles is surprisingly smooth with the independent front suspension and a five-link rear suspension system. The rack-and-pinion steering has the feel of a real off road vehicle. Its sharp, crisp and responsive when high-balling down the trail, or when doing some of the more rough and technical negotiating. As an added plus, the Liberty also sports a large, heavy duty front skid plate system; just in case you decide to do a little rock-crawl kiss.

And when its time to get out of the two-wheel drive “city mode,” and gear down for some 4x4ing…. It’s a simple flip of a switch on the center console area where you can select 4WD High or down to a slow-roll 4WD Low setting, where the Liberty creeps along in the rough stuff, with an engine that loves to purr slowly and then turn on the “juice,” with little or no hesitation.

Inside, the driver’s seat and control panels are laid out well, with lots of dash indicators about what the Liberty is doing. Instrument pods are large, well lit and easy to see. With the top-of-the-line LIMITED model, the large and comfortable driver’s seat has fully electric control in all directions. It also sports a Memory feature for two different drivers. And if you like all the whistles and bells, the Liberty has all the convenience options you could ask for with a great AM/FM/Sat sound system, full GPS navigation, remote telephone control, and even a built-in DVD player for the passengers.

Look up to the roofline, and the Liberty has a $1200 option that is unique to the world of SUVs—the Sky Slider. It’s a retractable canvas roof that opens over top of both the front and rear seating rows. Talk about a giant sunroof! It’s unique, but some of us have concerns about the durability factor, especially if you live or drive in areas where there are heavy winter snow loads. And while this feature is stylish and fun, it also pretty much negates being able to install any sort of functioning roof rack for extra storage.

Back seat passengers will find the leather seats comfortable, but a little shy on legroom, especially if the driver or front passenger are long-legged. Also in the rear seating area, both sides of the seat fold down to offer a little bit more storage room for gear. When you get to the rear storage area, you can use the key-fob to trigger the rear window opening feature, or you can use the handle and open up the large tailgate. The storage area and rear seats fold flat, so there’s room for luggage and gear.
For the New Year, the Liberty has a lot of great off-road personality. Unlike some of the other Jeep offerings, which are more car-like (Compass and Patriot), the Liberty is much more in the tradition of what a Jeep is all about. Muscle, power and great drivability in the back country.
Make: Jeep
Model: Liberty Limited
Type: Small 4WD SUV
Curb Weight: 4076
Wheelbase: 106.1 inches
Overall Length: 176.1 inches
Tread Width: 61.0 inches
Height: 71.3 inches
Ground Clearance: 7.8 inches
Engine/Transmission: 3.7 Liter V6/4-speed Automatic
Turning Diameter: 35.5 feet
Fuel Economy (estimated): 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway