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Though a little pudgy (at nearly 4,000 pounds) and truckish, the 2002 Jeep Liberty is athletic both on- and off-road. In terms of refinement, ride comfort and overall performance, it's far ahead of the Cherokee.
Extremely capable off-road, creative interior design, still a Jeep at heart.
Thirsty at the gas pump, not as "car-like" as most of its competitors.
Available Liberty SUV Models
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Finally replacing the boxy Cherokee that has been in production since 1984, the handsome all-new 2002 Jeep Liberty serves as the affordable SUV in Jeep's lineup. Borrowing styling cues from the 1997 Jeep Dakar and 1998 Jeepster concept vehicles, the Liberty is available in two trim levels with your choice of two- or four-wheel drive, a four- or six-cylinder engine and a manual or automatic transmission.
The Liberty, like all Jeeps, is designed as a true off-roader with short front and rear overhangs and a full 8 inches of suspension travel. More serious climbers can opt for the Up Country suspension package, which provides for 10.1 inches of running ground clearance thanks in part to 16-inch wheels. Liberty also boasts "Uniframe" construction, which is said to be lighter and stronger than traditional body-on-frame designs.
But just because the Liberty is built to be competent off-road, don't think its on-road capability has been compromised. Liberty employs an all-new independent front suspension, the Grand Cherokee's coil-link rear suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, all designed to deliver compliant, precise handling on paved surfaces.
Liberty's new balance-shaft 3.7-liter SOHC V6, based on the 4.7-liter V8 in the Grand Cherokee, makes a stout 210 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 225 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. A 2.4-liter inline four is standard, and either motor can be mated to a five-speed manual or "multispeed" automatic transmission. The V6 with automatic can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Part-time Command-Trac 4WD is optional with either engine, while full-time Selec-Trac 4WD is optional only with the V6.
There's room for four inside (five in a pinch), with satin aluminum accents on the center stack and steering wheel and chrome-ringed black-on-white gauges. A-pillar grab handles are provided to assist entry and exit, and two handy power points are located in the dash. A full-size spare is hung on the nifty rear cargo door, which features a patented single-action swing-gate/flipper-glass system. The swing gate opens from the curb-side of the vehicle for safe, convenient loading. Some 31.2 cubic feet of cargo space is available behind the Liberty's 35/65 split-folding rear seat, 68.7 cubic feet when the rear seat is folded down. Tie-down hooks and grocery bag hooks are included.
Multi-stage front airbags that deploy according to seatbelt usage and crash severity come standard, and side-impact airbag head-and-torso curtains for both front and rear passengers are available. What's more, Liberty's roof strength has been engineered to exceed federal crush standards by up to 90 percent in case of a rollover accident. All models have antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. Off-roaders will be pleased to know that the ABS system is automatically defeated when operating in the 4WD Low range, and is also designed to retard false activation on bumpy surfaces, such as those nasty washboard dirt and gravel roads.
Two trim levels are offered, Sport and Limited, for buyers who wish to play or just be pampered. But Jeep is adamant that this is not a "cute-ute" or "soft-roader" to merely dabble against the likes of the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. Rather, Liberty is designed as a go-anywhere Jeep first and a suburban grocery-getter second.
With mini-SUVs getting more car-like all the time and losing off-road capability in the process, the Jeep seems the perfect choice for an affordable small SUV that can do it all, rain or shine. If the build quality is there and Liberty launches without multiple recalls or major component failures (unlike the '99 Grand Cherokee), it should prove a winner.
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