The Jeep Liberty is a time capsule. Step inside and you're taken back to the days when SUVs were SUVs and required off-road credibility. There's a massive transmission tunnel that compromises the driver's footwell space, and the vehicle feels very tall and narrow. Unfortunately for Jeep, fuel economy numbers now trump departure angles and crawl ratios in advertising. The world has changed a lot since the Liberty debuted but the Liberty hasn't changed much since its last major update in 2008.
Jeep will replace the Liberty with a Fiat-based vehicle in 2013. That move will likely compromise off-road abilities; it also could scare the people who are currently buying the Liberty, who like it because its platform is a known quantity with reasonable support from the aftermarket. Perhaps Fiat's influences will make the new Liberty sell better, but I really wonder if Jeep even needs this model now that the four-door Wrangler has a real interior and Pentastar V-6 power. The Wrangler manages to be much better off-road and no worse on-road than the Liberty. Jeep used to have a gap between the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee that the regular Cherokee filled nicely, but the Liberty never properly replaced the Cherokee.
The Liberty is one of the last remaining products from Chrysler's really dark period when Daimler took over and tried to cut all costs on the Chrysler side to prop up the Mercedes operations. Fiat has done a commendable job of updating and replacing the core vehicles that each brand needs to succeed, but I don't know if Jeep ever needed the Liberty. Check back in 2013 to see how this story unfolds.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
There is nothing terribly wrong with the Liberty, it's just old. The design is an uninteresting box - something that still appealed to SUV customers when the second-generation Liberty went on sale in 2008. However, that boxy shape lends to an upright and airy interior with a large greenhouse and great visibility. Adding to that feeling is the optional Sky Slider roof that mimics a convertible soft top; it feels similar to that on the Fiat 500C in that the rails stay in place. It opens up the interior but does little more than add noise on the highway - a glass roof similar to that in the Kia Sportage would be better here. But when the Liberty was designed, such things weren't on the table for $25-30,000 SUVs. Times change, and so will the Liberty next year.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
The Jeep Liberty Limited Jet Edition costs $200 more than the basic Jeep Liberty Limited Edition and gets wheels that are three inches larger in diameter (twenties, in this case) and black headlight bezels. As long as you like black headlight bezels, the Jet is an incredible deal.
This trim level does little to hide the Liberty's age, though, as Phil and Donny have already mentioned. I'm sure I'd love driving a Liberty off-road, but in the daily slog this vehicle's rough ride, vague steering, ancient 3.7-liter V-6, and unsophisticated four-speed automatic transmission make it fairly tiring and unfriendly. The Liberty definitely has a more Wrangler-like feel than the more refined Grand Cherokee, but without the Wrangler's coolness factor. I agree with Phil that its role in the Jeep lineup is questionable.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
It seems I am the only one here who really loved the Jeep Liberty. I won't deny it has faults and is in many ways an automotive anachronism, but I love the Liberty's utilitarian design. The upright dashboard and huge greenhouse make for excellent visibility, while the pop-open liftgate glass reminds me of a Land Rover. The steering is exceptionally heavy and the ride is very bouncy, but those are compromises forced by the Liberty's ability to actually go off road. If I lived farther outside the paved and plowed roads of Ann Arbor, I would want a vehicle like the Liberty so I could escape my house even if a freak storm dumped two feet of snow overnight. Finally, I think the green paint and 20-inch wheels make this Jeep look extra cool.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Why does a "small" SUV have to be so big? One of the best qualities of the Liberty's phenomenally successful predecessor, the Cherokee, was its small, accessible size. The Cherokee's styling -- a favorite of design editor Robert Cumberford, was blocky, yet at the same time trim and tidy. The bricklike Liberty by comparison looks like Barry Bonds in the later stages of his career - still recognizable, but comically bulky and bloated. Those adjectives also apply to the driving experience, particularly the heavy steering, clumsy handling, and inescapable sense that you're in something huge. As Phil notes, the Liberty will give way to a crossover. In a way, that's too bad: Jeep, of all brands, could still find buyers for an affordable body-on-frame SUV. It just needs to be smaller and executed better.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The Liberty doesn't look or feel like a modern vehicle, with an extremely upright dash and windshield, heavy steering, a four-speed automatic transmission, dated styling, and a clunky grab handle on the front of the glove compartment. Chrysler's Pentastar V-6 (with its extra 70 or so hp) and a six-speed transmission would greatly help the performance of this vehicle. Having said that, it gets positive grades for its Sky Slider roof -- which I only opened momentarily due to the fact that the temperature was in the 30s, but which really opens up the cabin to the elements -- and for the fact that it comes with heated front seats. Still, at a price of more than $30,000, there are plenty sport-utes on the market that are both more modern and more user-friendly.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor