The Jeep Cherokee had, and still has, such a loyal following, that following its replacement with the Liberty in 2001, Jeep lost alot of respect among off-road lovers. It wasn’t that the original liberty was a bad vehicle in comparison to say, the Honda CR-V; it was that it was such a significant departure away from the toughness that Jeep had fostered for over half a century. The newest Liberty is a step back towards its roots in both style and performance, but is it enough? Or is the 2009 Liberty more Compass than Cherokee?
Top priority for ANY Jeep, or at least what should be the top priority, is off-road capabilities. Those that like the idea of being able to go off-road, more than they are likely to go off-road will probably be more than satisfied with the 2009 Liberty. However, in comparison to similar vehicles from the competition (Xterra, Explorer) or even Jeep’s own four-door Wrangler, the Liberty is lacking.
The Liberty is available in two trim levels, Sport and Limited, both with a V6 engine and a choice of two four-wheel drive systems in addition to the base rear-wheel drive setup. The single engine choice is a 3.7-liter V6 producing 210 horses that at best is adequate, but for more hardcore enthusiasts will surely come up short. The more substantial 4-liter engine from the Liberty’s cousin, Dodge Nitro, as well as the so-so performing CRD engine in the previous generation Liberty are not offered. Remind me again why diesels are not used more by Jeep? Fuel efficiency addressed below would seem to indicate a particular need in this area. Moving on…..Actually performance in the new Liberty is lacking but not in the way you’d expect. Acceleration from a dead stop is acceptable, it is at higher speeds and in merging/passing traffic that testers felt unnerved by its lack of guts.
Previous complaints of the Liberty have focused on the ride quality on dry pavement that is predictably uncomfortable compared to what people have come to expect, even for SUVs. To address that issue for 2009, the Liberty gets stiffer rear axle shafts, and the shocks, springs, anti-roll bars and steering have all been re-tuned, which Jeeps says will provide an improved ride. But come on. It’s a Jeep, not a Genesis. How does it perform off-road? Well make no mistake, it feels truck-like, which sounds more negative than it is. Under harsher than normal test conditions, negotiating between and over fallen trees, rocky conditions and 18-inches of water the Liberty came through unscathed, but without leaving reviewers with a high level of confidence in the vehicle like in past Jeeps. The 2009 Liberty features an assortment of standard safety equipment, including stability control and side air bags and performs well in federal government crash tests. So where does that leave it? It’s not great on the highway and only marginally competent off-road. In terms of performance, best bet is to use it around town and as an AWD replacement in inclement weather locales.
In light of the fact that it doesn’t exactly knock it out of the ballpark. the Liberty’s fuel economy is disappointing all-around. According to the EPA, the 2WD model produces 16/22 mpg in city/highway driving, and a slightly worse average 15/21 mpg with 4WD versions.
The redesigned exterior of the current Liberty is light-years better than the first generation with a more angular, masculine exterior. The Liberty features Jeep’s traditional seven-slot grille and trapezoidal fender flares that enhance the vehicle’s side profile. Not only does it look more in-line with traditional Jeep styling, but it features a very unique Sky Slider full-length canvas roof. The 2009 Liberty is also larger than the previous generation, with an additional two inches added in length and a half inch in width.
Inside, the Liberty’s completely redesigned interior is comfortable, but still with large expanses of hard plastic. Truth be told, why the Wrangler’s spartan, utilitarian interior is considered functional and quaintly traditional, and other Jeep products are viewed as lacking, is largely a mystery.
It isn’t luxurious for sure. But it is relatively spacious with headroom and foot space increased as a byproduct of the vehicle’s overall redesign. For 2009, the leather package on Limited models gets a soft-touch armrest on the door, upper-door trim pieces, and upgraded grained plastics on the instrument panel and center console. New for 2009 is Chrysler’s uConnect multimedia suite, which includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive for storing digital media and a navigation system with real-time traffic updates. Other features include remote starting, rain-sensing wipers, memory seats and mirrors, express up/down windows, and heated seats.
Utility is another strong suit of the Liberty.In all, the Liberty provides a total of 100.6 cubic feet of passenger volume, highlighted by the availability of a flat-folding rear and front passenger seats that are helpful for extremely long items.
Despite its numerous shortcomings, the Liberty is both improved and rather inexpensive for this segment. Pricing starts at slightly over $23,000 for the base rear-wheel drive version and over $25,000 for four-wheel drive models. Even fully loaded with leather, navigation, the canvas roof option and various other appointments, and the price of the Liberty stays well within the lower 30-grand range. And have you heard that Chrysler is going through some itsy bitsy restructuring? Along with other Government incentive programs, Jeep is offering huge price reductions on their vehicles right now. Perhaps that more than anything, helps make the Liberty a satisfying choice.