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The Jeep Liberty was the successor to one of America's original compact SUVs, the Cherokee. True to its tough, capable Jeep off-road lineage, the Liberty was designed to actually venture off-road -- a trait not shared by many of its lighter-weight, car-based sport-utility competitors. It did so confidently thanks to steep approach and departure angles and exceptional suspension travel and articulation. Combined with an independent front and solid axle rear suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, a used Liberty works best for those who want a versatile, go-anywhere utility vehicle and plan to take advantage of its all-terrain prowess on occasion.
Demerits for the Liberty included (short-lived diesel version excepted) a "worst of both worlds" combination of lackluster performance and dismal fuel economy. Interior quality and comfort were considerably lacking, while overall refinement left much to be desired. In total, there are more appealing compact SUVs available on the used market.
Most Recent Jeep Liberty
The most recent, second-generation Jeep Liberty was produced for 2008-'12. It addressed many of the chief concerns of the first generation, including improved on-road handling, extra passenger room and more standard or optional features. However, it still fell woefully short of class norms in all areas but off-road prowess.
The problems began under the hood, where the Liberty's 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 had barely enough guts to get out of its own way. Worse still, fuel economy was poor for this class. Then there was the interior. To call it "not up to par" would imply it was playing on the same metaphorical golf course as those it competed against. On the contrary, materials were hard and cheap, the look was drab, the seats were flat and the wheel didn't telescope, just to name a few offenses. Its maximum cargo capacity of 64 cubic feet was merely average.
The Liberty was available in three trim levels, though there were a few low-volume special editions that popped up occasionally. The Sport set itself apart with standard features like automatic headlights, a reclining rear seat and a six-speaker sound system. Available equipment included rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, heated power seats, Bluetooth (in later years), a navigation system (upgraded for 2011), an upgraded sound system and a unique panoramic cloth sunroof known as SkySlider.
In reviews, we found that the Jeep Liberty fell well short of chief rivals such as Nissan's Xterra and Toyota's FJ Cruiser in terms of overall performance. For those who don't require such serious off-road ability, models such as the GMC Terrain and Subaru Forester offer much better fuel efficiency and more agile on-road handling along with plenty of room for passengers and cargo.
Besides the short-lived Renegade off-road model and a few more items like new radio/infotainment interfaces added for 2011, there were only minor changes during its lifespan.
Previous Jeep Liberty Models
The first-generation Jeep Liberty was produced for the 2002-'07 model years. The original Liberty's styling recalled the original off-road Jeep Willys via its trademark vertical Jeep grille and round headlamps. Available with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, this Jeep Liberty was offered in base Sport and upscale Limited trims. The Limited offered features such as leather trim, a sunroof, heated and powered seats, an Infinity sound system, a navigation system and hands-free cell phone connectivity.
Under the hood of most of these Jeeps you'll find a 210-hp, 3.7-liter V6 gasoline engine, backed by either a five-speed (2002-'04) manual, six-speed (2005-'07) manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. A 150-hp, 2.4-liter gasoline four-cylinder was also available from the vehicle's launch through 2005. Weedy and underpowered, this engine is best avoided on the used-car market.
In 2003 and '04, the Liberty was refined through trickle-down improvements. A Grand Cherokee-inspired overhead console and an available six-disc in-dash CD sound system was introduced, as was a special-value Columbia Edition that featured graphite-painted 16-inch wheels and exterior trim, a sunroof and foglamps. Stability control and side curtain airbags became available on the Jeep Liberty for 2006.
Of special note is that Jeep offered a diesel engine option for 2005 and '06. This 2.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel provided 160 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque. Although it was noisier than the gas-powered V6, Edmunds editors found that the diesel-powered Liberty CRD provided most of the performance of the V6 while delivering vastly improved fuel economy -- up to 50 percent better.
In reviews and road tests, our editors have found the Jeep Liberty to be well suited for compact-SUV buyers who actually plan to venture off pavement or use their vehicle primarily in the wilderness. Otherwise, more urban-oriented buyers will find most of the Liberty's car-based competition to be better at day-to-day drivability, usability and refinement.