The Jeep Liberty was the successor to one of America's original compact SUVs, the Cherokee. True to its tough, capable Jeep lineage, the Liberty was actually designed to venture off-road — a trait not shared by many of its lighter-weight, car-based competitors. And it did so confidently, thanks to steep approach and departure angles and exceptional suspension travel and articulation. The Liberty could also tow up to 5,000 pounds, a robust figure for its class.
Alas, demerits for the Liberty included a "worst of both worlds" combination of lackluster performance and (aside from the first generation's briefly optional diesel engine) dismal fuel economy. Interior quality and comfort were also lacking, and overall refinement left much to be desired. In sum, a used Liberty might suffice if you want a go-anywhere utility vehicle that can tow a decent load and you plan to take full advantage of that skill set. Otherwise, many more appealing compact SUVs are available on the used market.
Used Jeep Liberty Models
The most recent, second-generation Jeep Liberty was produced from 2008 to 2012. It was designed to rectify some of the first generation's shortcomings with improved on-road handling, extra passenger room (thanks to a 2-inch-longer wheelbase) and upgraded features. But it still fell short of class norms in most respects.
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 the 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. At least its maximum cargo capacity of 64 cubic feet was about average.
Like its predecessor, the second-generation Liberty was available in two main trim levels — Sport and Limited — though there were also a few low-volume special editions (most notably the hard-core 2010-'11 Renegade off-roader) that popped up. The base Sport featured alloy wheels, air-conditioning, power accessories and a six-speaker sound system, while the Limited threw in niceties including bigger wheels, a power driver seat and an Infinity audio system. Available equipment included rear parking sensors, leather upholstery and heated power front seats (both standard on the Limited as of 2010), Bluetooth, a navigation system (upgraded for 2011) and a unique panoramic canvas sunroof known as the Sky Slider.
In reviews, we found that the second-generation Jeep Liberty fell well short of chief rivals such as Nissan's Xterra and Toyota's FJ Cruiser, which match or exceed the Jeep's off-road prowess and add quicker acceleration and higher-quality interiors. Meanwhile, car-based crossovers such as the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester offer much better fuel efficiency and more agile on-road handling along with superior passenger comfort.
The first-generation Jeep Liberty was produced for the 2002-'07 model years, wearing a vertical grille and round headlamps meant to evoke the look of the iconic Jeep Willys. Available with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, this Liberty was offered in base Sport or upscale Limited trim, with the off-road-oriented Renegade trim additionally offered through 2006. The Limited boasted features such as leather trim, a sunroof, heated and powered seats, an Infinity sound system, a navigation system and hands-free cellphone connectivity.
Most first-generation Liberty models featured the familiar 210-hp 3.7-liter V6 gasoline engine, backed by either a five-speed manual (2002-'04), a six-speed manual (2005-'07) or a four-speed automatic transmission. A 2.4-liter gasoline four-cylinder with 150 hp was also available from the vehicle's launch through 2005. Weedy and underpowered, this engine is best avoided on the used-car market. 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 as well as much improved fuel economy.
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 were 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.
In reviews, our editors found the original Jeep Liberty well suited to compact SUV buyers who actually plan to venture off-pavement or perhaps tow a trailer with some serious weight. Less outdoorsy buyers, however, will find the Liberty's car-based competition to be far better at day-to-day drivability and refinement.