It had just rained for three days straight and our fresh-off-the-truck 2002 Jeep Liberty Limited test vehicle was pointed directly at a deep mudhole. What would you do?
On sale since May 2001, the Liberty is Jeep's newest vehicle and the replacement for the aged Cherokee. It evolved from the Dakar and Jeepster concept vehicles ('97 and '98, respectively) and features design themes from each, such as a large greenhouse, short front and rear overhangs, high roofline, rear-mounted spare tire and 16-inch alloy wheels below pronounced wheel flares. It also borrows from the past. (A Jeep marketing rep told us the Liberty is a bloodline descendent of the original Jeep Willys, which helped to "liberate" hence the name Europe during the Second World War.) The Liberty carries the trademark Jeep grille with seven vertical rectangles as well as the traditional Jeep round headlamps.
The Liberty Limited is powered by a 3.7-liter V6, which produces an impressive 210 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. Combined with 225 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm, it's enough to rumble the small sport-ute over terrain ranging from a 300-foot muddy incline with a slope as steep as 45 degrees to an undulating quarter-mile trail set with large boulders.
On this last obstacle, which mimics the famous Rubicon Trail in northern California, we set the Liberty in four-wheel-drive low this feature alone distinguishes it from other small SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape which use permanent all-wheel-drive systems with no low-range gear.
The Liberty had no trouble navigating the hellish track. At one point, we stopped the Liberty while straddling a ditch. The right rear wheel rested on a large boulder. The left front tire sat on solid ground. The left rear wheel was hanging with enough empty air under it to erect a tent. We had to jump from our seats, as it was a good 3 feet to the ground. Viewed from the rear, the fully stressed axles formed a big X. When we clambered aboard and drove off, there was no hesitation, and the Liberty carried us safely to pavement. It was an impressive, if not sensational, demonstration of the Liberty's off-road abilities.
Having driven the Jeep Wrangler (one of the world's most capable off-road vehicles) on some gnarly trails, we think the Liberty possesses every bit as much off-road acumen. Its exceptional crawling ability is due, in large part, to its 3.7-liter V6.
Surprisingly, the Liberty's dirt-munching prowess doesn't result in a rigid, unforgiving and sluggish ride in the city. During a cruise on the freeway, we punched the accelerator while traveling 60 mph, and the Liberty took off with surprising verve. On city streets, we never needed to put our foot in it because the V6 provides adequate power to stay with, if not ahead, of traffic.
In the fall of 2001, Jeep will offer a Liberty with a 2.4L inline four-cylinder engine that produces 148 hp and 158 foot-pounds of torque. It will only be sold with a five-speed manual transmission. We expected the four-banger to be a dog in the somewhat porky Liberty (at 3,857 pounds, the Liberty is more than 700 pounds heavier than the nearly identically sized Ford Escape), but with a little stirring of the gearbox, it has fairly peppy performance. It's certainly enough thrust for drivers who rarely drive outside the city. And since the V6 engine is an $850 option and the automatic transmission costs $825, it's a substantial savings. Likewise, drivers who live in warm, dry climates probably don't need four-wheel drive. It costs $1,510.
In addition to speedy performance, the Liberty's independent front suspension, coil-link rear suspension (borrowed from the Grand Cherokee) and more than 8 inches of suspension travel combine to provide a supple and quiet ride that is truly impressive. The smoothness with which the Liberty conveys itself is also aided by its portly weight and its stiff uniframe construction, which combine to dampen vibration, reduce flex and imbue a confidence-inspiring feeling of substance and solidity. The Limited's large P235/70R16 tires also help to cushion the ride. During a drive on rippled pavement, the Liberty floated over every bump, relaying almost no bouncing and rattling to the cabin. When we struck a large pothole, the 8 inches of suspension travel absorbed the shock before it reached our kidneys.
Though forgiving, the suspension also delivers plenty of road feel and precise handling. Sometimes vehicles engineered to provide a comfortable ride have vague feel and mushy steering. However, the Liberty's rack-and-pinion steering system, independent front suspension and beefy control arms convey a solid feel for the road and provide immediate response to driver input with minimal roll in tight corners. The result is a vehicle that's a pleasure to pilot around the city and in which to cruise on extended road trips.
Also, the large greenhouse, forward-sloping hood and elevated driving position (ground clearance is 10.1 inches a RAV4 is only 6.7 inches) enhance visibility. Parking is also a snap because, at 174.7 inches, the Liberty isn't long.
The newest Jeep also includes one of the niftiest cargo gate innovations we've seen. When you pull on the rear latch, the glass flips up and the gate swings open all in one motion. This eliminates the need to have two hands free to access the rear cargo area, meaning you won't have to put your groceries on the ground while you struggle with the gate. There's 31.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the second-row seats up and 69.5 with them folded down. (Standard capacities for a small SUV.) The rear seats are 60/40 split and fold nearly flat via a single release lever. The cargo area features several recessed tie-down hooks, and the Limited includes a cargo cover.
We also like what Jeep has done inside the Liberty. Our top-of-the-line Limited test vehicle was loaded with leather-faced, heated, six-way power low-back bucket seats with adjustable headrests. Though it's nice to have leather, we found it a little slippery. While navigating a long corner, our legs were scrambling for support. Conversely, the attractive and high-quality cloth upholstery that comes standard on the Limited held us in place more firmly. The base and Sport models have high-back cloth seats that are also comfortable, but not as figure-hugging as those in the Limited.
Window controls are mounted on the center console, which also contains two large cupholders. The center stack is a new design for the Liberty and features large, simple climate control switchgear and an easy-to-operate stereo.
Spheres are a recurring motif in the Liberty's design. Outside, the head- and taillights are round, as is the fuel door. Inside, air vents, gauges, stereo and climate controls, speaker covers and the door handle are also spherical. The whole cabin has a sculpted, modern look. In the Limited, the Liberty's contemporary flair is emphasized by the brushed-chrome trim around the center stack, floor-mounted gear lever, door locks and ivory-colored instrument gauges. Also, the round, brushed-chrome door pulls remind us of details found in the cockpit of the Audi TT, a design tour de force.
The top-of-the-line Liberty Limited with 4X4, upgraded stereo, fog lamps, color-coded exterior, chrome interior details, bucket leather seats and other goodies is $25,625. The entry-level Sport 4WD model includes power windows, locks and doors; air conditioning; tilt steering; and keyless entry and costs $21,890. When it arrives in the fall of 2001, the base two-wheel-drive Liberty will start at $17,035. (All prices include $585 destination charge.)
So, did we splash through the mudhole? Of course. The Liberty is a Jeep, after all.
2002 Jeep Liberty Overview Edmunds experts have compiled a robust series of ratings and reviews for the 2002 Jeep Liberty and all model years in our database. Our rich content includes expert reviews and recommendations for the 2002 Liberty featuring deep dives into trim levels and features, performance, mpg, safety, interior, and driving. Edmunds also offers expert ratings, road test and performance data, long-term road tests, first-drive reviews, video reviews and more.
Our Review Process This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.
Consumer ratings and reviews are also available for the 2002 Jeep Liberty and all its trim types. Overall, Edmunds users rate the 2002 Liberty 4.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. Edmunds consumer reviews allow users to sift through aggregated consumer reviews to understand what other drivers are saying about any vehicle in our database. Detailed rating breakdowns (including performance, comfort, value, interior, exterior design, build quality, and reliability) are available as well to provide shoppers with a comprehensive understanding of why customers like the 2002 Liberty.
Review am reporting review (138141727) (Jeep Engine Failures due to Valve Seats) because My daughter bought a 2002 Jeep Liberty 1 month ago. We changed the oil and I had her check it every two weeks since the vehicle was new to her. She did as I said for a couple weeks and said it used none. She is very diligent at watching her mileage to plan oil changes ever 3000 miles. She went to work and the engine started to knock. She checked the oil and found it 3 quarts low and got no low oil warning. We took it to a shop and it needs a new engine. We found out no reputable salvage yard wants to sell the engine due to a known oil gear issue, so they will not even warranty one with low miles. A rebuilt motor with the oil gear issue fixed costs $3200.00. With labor my daughter is looking at $4500.00 to replace an engine with only 119000 miles. I searched the internet on 2002 Jeep Liberty 3.7 engine. I found many complaints regarding the blown motor. The average seems to be 96000 miles. Many people online said they contacted jeep and they said they were SOL. I don't expect a new engine for nothing, but when the average vehicle today does 250000 miles by most manufacturers and Toyota is at 400000. I would like to see an American company doing everything it can to create customer loyalty. Thank You, Steve
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