Until now, only the biggest of the big SUVs offered diesel engines as an option. The Liberty changes that by offering a more earth-friendly diesel engine borrowed from Jeep's German parent company. Achieving 26 mpg in highway driving, the 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel averages an extra six miles per gallon of fuel as compared with its gas-powered counterpart. On the power front, the 160-horsepower diesel is noteworthy for its V-8-grade 295 lb-ft of torque. While the diesel is available exclusively with a five-speed automatic transmission, gasoline models--both the 2.4-liter/150-horse inline-four and 3.7-liter/210-horse V-6--now come standard with a six-speed manual, with a four -speed automatic optional. Choosing a transfer case can get tricky for some buyers, as both Command-Trac and Selec-Trac are offered. Command-Trac, a part-time 4WD system, is ideal for buyers who would rather engage the front wheels themselves, or for those who seldom require four-wheel-drive capability. The more expensive full-time Selec-Trac system will appeal to buyers living in more demanding climates, or those who don't want to worry about whether or not they need to engage all four wheels in certain weather conditions.
Behind the Wheel
Being the first small Jeep to abandon body-on-frame architecture, the Liberty is more pleasant to drive around town than past compact Jeep models, and it's surely more confident than the current Wrangler. In dynamic conditions, the Liberty concedes advantage to lower, wider competitors, though its tall, narrow shape is welcomed in the city, when parking, and most importantly, on the trail. The V-6, based on Jeep's 4.7-liter V-8, is rough and even noisy at some speeds, as is the clunky diesel, but either is a better choice than the overworked gas-powered four-cylinder.
The Liberty will appeal to some buyers simply for brand recognition. A more sporting audience will find the same 5,000-pound tow rating in the Nissan Xterra, along with significantly more power, more space, and more capability, albeit at a slightly higher price. Those looking for city or highway transportation offering big space in a small package might find more livable conditions in the more refined Honda CR-V, which also offers all the safety features missing in the Liberty. What the Liberty does offer is more off-road capability, style, and even personality than many of its competitors. If you want something as masculine as a Peterbilt but as thrifty as a car, the diesel model--with no competition in its class--might be just the ticket.
Bred for adventure, the mildly freshened Jeep Liberty provides compact transport for active lifestylers who live for weekend escapes and want to be reminded of the trails during the weekday commute. The Liberty may concede suburban supremacy to more mannered competitors, but the diesel option blazes a new and respectable trail in the forest of small SUVs.