2008 Jeep Liberty Sport 4x2 Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2008 Jeep Liberty Sport 4x2

When the 2008 Jeep Liberty was delivered for testing, I at first thought the delivery service had made a mistake. The vehicle out in front of my house was inarguably a Jeep, but it didn't look like a Liberty at all.

This was because about the only thing not changed in and on the 2008 Liberty was the name. The new styling - now looking like a shrunken Commander - may be the most apparent attribute, but that's only the surface. The new Liberty, while still mid-sized for maneuverability in town or on the trail, is a couple of inches longer overall and in wheelbase, and a half an inch wider. This may not show too much outside, but it does make a difference inside. It's still a unibody vehicle, like similarly-sized crossover SUVs, and completely revised suspension system adds comfort while retaining off-road abilities. Power is from the familiar 3.7-liter V6, with the choice of a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

Biggest difference from the crossover competition? Being a Jeep, the Liberty is designed and built to go where the pavement ends. Two-wheel drive (to the rear wheels) is standard, but there are two optional four-wheel drive systems, the new Selec-Trac II full-time system and the Command-Trac part-time system.

Since most Liberty owners will spend far more time on pavement, and probably in traffic, than out in the wilderness, the `08 Liberty has some new options that may be of interest. For an open-air, high-visibility experience, there is the Sky Slider(tm) sunroof, a full-length affair made of reinforced acrylic canvas like a convertible top. The MyGIG multimedia infotainment system integrates navigation, audio, and communications (with the UConnect Bluetooth-based system) with a touch-screen and voice interface with a 20-gig hard drive for MP3-type music storage.

There are two trim levels, Sport and Limited. As expected, the Limited is fancier, with chrome trim outside and an upgraded interior. The MyGIG system is available only in the Limited, although the Sky Slider roof, or a more conventional tilt-and-slide sunroof, can be had in either.

Press-fleet spec usually means top-of-the-line, fully-equipped, kitchen-sink's-in-there-somewhere. Which with the Liberty would mean a Limited with the Selec-Trac II 4x4 system, leather, the Sky Slider roof, and MyGIG. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way, and my test vehicle was a 4x2 Sport model with the automatic, the Popular Equipment Group interior and exterior upgrade package, and an audio system upgrade with Sirius satellite radio. Both of those packages are worthwhile, and help make the Liberty a comfortable and convenient alternative to the run-of-the-mill car crossover even for people who won't be going offroad.

APPEARANCE: The first-generation Liberty's cuteness has given way to the 2008 Jeep look. Which is on a direct line to the earliest Willys Jeep vehicles, the World War II-era military models, postwar CJs, and the station wagon of the late 1940s. Like those simple, functional vehicles, the Liberty features simple curves, a seven-slot grille (body color on the Sport, chrome on the Limited), and round headlights, although here the headlights are set into chrome panels behind plastic fairings. The bumpers have car-like body-colored plastic coverings, and blend neatly into the fender flares. Which in turn blend into the lower door cladding. Wheel archer are, of course, trapezoidal, a Jeep styling hallmark since the beginning. Black side trim, door handles, mirrors, and roof rails give the Sport a purposeful appearance.

COMFORT: While the Liberty's length and width increases are modest enough to be almost undetectable without measuring, there is welcome extra space within - especially for legs, front and rear. Headroom? Even if you're an NBA draft pick, headroom is not going to be a concern. An interior redesign further improves space in all directions, and the short dash helps here, adding to front seat space. Instrumentation is complete and easy to read. Ditto for the climate and audio system controls. Even though the Sport is the base model, it's not deficient in comfort and convenient, with good manually-adjustable sport seats in front, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, power windows and fold-away exterior mirrors, air conditioning, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA stereo. The roomy rear seat folds 60/40, and rear access is by either the liftgate, now conventionally vertically hinged instead of side, or the "flipper" opening backlight. The spare tire is underneath the body, as in a pickup, further adding interior space, allowing a small covered compartment under the load floor. My Liberty had the "Popular Equipment Package", with useful upgrades including a fold-flat front passenger seat to more easily haul log items, upgraded floor mats, a cargo cover, and a 115-volt power outlet at the rear of the console.

SAFETY: The Liberty's passengers are protected by a sturdy unibody structure with front and rear crumple zones and side impact-protection beams. Advanced-design multi-stage front and full-length side curtain airbags are standard in both models, as are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with rough road detection for better off-road functioning, brake assist, all-speed traction control, hill start assist, Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and Electronic Roll Mitigation systems (ERM), and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Despite its unibody construction and comfort, the Liberty is not a car. It's a Jeep, and as such, it was designed and built to go much further off paved roads than any crossover. Although its independent short-and-long arm front and coil-sprung solid rear axle with five-link location are similar in design to their counterparts under the first-generation Liberty, but revised for improved comfort on- and off-road. That means relatively long suspension travel and soft springs and shocks, and that means that extreme high-speed cornering may be a good way to get acquainted with the ERM system. A tight turning circle helps on the trail or in a parking lot.

PERFORMANCE: With 210 horsepower (at 5200 rpm) and 235 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, the 3.7-liter V6 engine has no problem moving the Liberty's 4,000-pound plus mass. An interesting 90-degree single overhead cam engine, it's essentially two-thirds of a Grand Cherokee V8 and uses a balance shaft to counteract the vibration inherent in that design. Internal enhancements have reduced noise and increased low-rpm torque. While a six-speed manual transmission is standard for the Sport, my test car had the optional four-speed automatic, which is standard for the Limited. It worked well, and is a good choice for everyday driving. Unlike similarly-sized crossovers, the Liberty is available with true dual-range four-wheel drive for serious off-road or all-season use. The Selec-Trac II is a full-time system meant for both on- and off-road use, while the more traditional Command Trac system operates in 2WD (rear-drive) mode normally, with 4-hi and 4-lo for low-traction conditions.

CONCLUSIONS: The Jeep Liberty provides a real-deal alternative to the common crossover in the mid-size SUV class.

SPECIFICATIONS

2008 Jeep Liberty Sport 4x2

Base Price			$ 20,330
Price As Tested 		$ 23,305
Engine Type			90-degree single overhead cam 
                          V6 with balance shaft, 
                          cast-iron block and aluminum heads
Engine Size			3.7 liters / 226 cu. in.
Horsepower			210 @ 5200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			235 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic (opt)
Wheelbase / Length		106.1 in. / 176.9 in.
Curb Weight			4030 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.2
Fuel Capacity			19.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gas
Tires			P235/70 SR16 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, ESP standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
			  solid axle with trailing arm location
				   and coil springs
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine,
				  rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		16 / 22 / 16
0 to 60 mph				est 9.5  sec
Towing capacity 	5,000 pounds with trailer package
			(3500 pounds manual transmission)

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Jeep Green Metallic Clearcoat exterior paint	   $ 150
4-speed automatic transmission & 3.73 axle ratio   $ 825
Popular Equipment Group - includes:
  front passenger fold-flat seat, luxury front and rear
  floor mats, cargo compartment cover, temperature and
  compass gauge, auxiliary 115-volt power outlet, 
  foglamps, roof rails, speed control, 6 speakers,
  deep tint sunscreen glass			    $ 995
Premium Sound Group - includes:
  Sirius satellite radio with 1 year of service,
  AM/FM/6-CD CD/DVD/WMA/MP3 stereo		    $ 345
Destination charge				    $ 660

Complete specifications on the 2008 Jeep Liberty Sport 4X2 and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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