Since 1945, all Jeep vehicles have adhered to the adage, “go anywhere, do anything.” Even the luxurious Grand Cherokee is capable of conquering the rugged Rubicon Trail. So now comes an all-new member of the family, the Liberty. Replacing the venerable Cherokee, Jeep says the 2002 Liberty fits perfectly with the ideals of personal freedom embraced by Jeep owners. But is a name like Jeep Liberty just promising too much?
Well, Jeep does have a history of fulfilling its promises. And, based on both spec sheets and our initial encounter, the 2002 Liberty has the equipment to deliver on its pledge.
Inspired by Jeep’s recent Dakar and Jeepster concept vehicles, the Liberty is built on Jeep’s proven uniframe design, basically a unitized body with full length frame rails. A 104.3-inch wheelbase is almost 3 inches longer than the Cherokee’s, and over an inch longer than major competitors Ford Escape and Honda CRV. But, the Liberty’s styling, an eye-catching synthesis of old and new, gives the impression of a very upright, concise, efficient vehicle.
We especially like the friendly front end, with its retro round headlights and smoothed-in 7-bar signature grille. Countered with aggressive fender flares that cover 16-inch wheels, wearing either 215/75 or 235/70 series tires. Those tires articulate via a new, independent coil-spring front, and live-axle coil-spring rear suspension. Both of which include heavy duty components and a full 8-inches of wheel travel for serious off-roading. To that same end, ground clearance is a healthy 10.1-inches.
To drive the Liberty along both road and trail, Jeep has equipped the basic Sport model with the same 2.4-liter twin-cam inline-4 found in Chrysler’s PT Cruiser and base minivans. It makes 150 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. The up-level Liberty Limited is powered by an all-new 3.7-liter single-overhead-cam V6 that is based on the Grand Cherokee’s 4.7-liter V-8. Ratings are 210 horsepower and 225 pound- feet of torque.
Transmission choices are a 5-speed manual, or 4-speed automatic for both engines. Our V6 automatic delivered a fine 0 to 60 time of 8.7-seconds. And can tow an impressive 5,000 pounds.
There is plenty of oomph to power through deep snow and thick mud like a Jeep should. Add in long travel suspension, high ground clearance, and a choice of either part-time Command Trac or full-time Selec Trac 4-wheel-drive systems, and the Liberty shows itself to be a fitting addition to the Jeep lineage.
Though like many true off-road efforts, we found it to lack a little on-road. The ride tends to be somewhat twitchy, with the body stuttering over big bumps and rolling a fair bit in corners. And the new rack-and-pinion steering, while very accurate, and nearly devoid of kickback, still lacks feel. However, the Liberty proves to be a nimble machine, feeling more like the much smaller RAV4.
Inside however, there is generous room for its compact class, with more headroom than a Grand Cherokee, and safety features like standard front and side airbags, and available side curtain airbags. The dash is suitably straightforward, though quite stylishly modern, with big gauges and good quality materials. The seats are wide and supportive, with rugged cloth upholstery in the Sport, and leather available in the Limited.
Rear leg room is better than the Cherokee or Grand Cherokee. The 65/35 split folding bench flips down with minimal effort, allowing for a maximum cargo space of 68.7 cubic feet, or 31.2 cubic feet with the seats upright. All accessed through a less than ideal swing-out tailgate with outside mounted spare. Thankfully the rear glass flips up for loading the small stuff.
Prices for the Jeep Liberty start at $17,035 for the base 2-wheel-drive Sport. Add 4-wheel drive, and pay $18,545. The more luxurious 2-wheel-drive Limited carries a base price of $21,795. While the top-of-the-line Limited 4x4 goes for $23,305. Those are prices more in line with those of car-based mini-utes, than of a family-size SUV with real off-road capability and the famous Jeep name.
The 2002 Liberty promises buyers the kind of personal freedom that Jeep buyers have always embraced. And from what we’ve seen so far, it’s a promise that this stylish, go-anywhere SUV can easily keep.
Engine: 3.7-Liter Sohc V6
Torque: 225 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.7 Seconds