Frank S. Washington, Mon, 03 Aug 2009 02:59:19 PDT
Those two words best fit the 2008 Jeep Liberty.
When the Liberty was first introduced in 2002, it had a lot of roles to fill. Its styling was on the curvy (soft) side to attract women. It also had to serve those folks who didn't want a vehicle as big as the Grand Cherokee nor one as small as a Jeep Wrangler. And it needed to attract Jeep Cherokee buyers because that vehicle had been discontinued.
There were some squawks but the old Liberty managed to fill all those roles. Now that Jeep has more than doubled the number of vehicles in its product line from three to seven, the Liberty's mission is narrowly focused. That's not a bad thing.
More than half of Liberty buyers are women. Nothing wrong with that but Jeep wants to increase the number of men who purchase a Liberty while holding on to its current owners.
So the first thing Jeep did was man up the Liberty's styling. The new Liberty takes a lot of its design cues from the bigger Jeep Commander. Few curves, flat sides and a larger seven slot grille give the new Liberty a classic more rugged Jeep silhouette.
Interestingly, the vehicle looks like an evolved Jeep Cherokee which itself had a large female following. But the Liberty's new muscular frame is meant to make the Liberty more appealing to men.
Still, the new Liberty's on road manners have been greatly improved. We did a lot of driving on surface streets, two-lane highways and we spent a good bit of time on the Interstate. The Liberty had an all-new independent front suspension and a five-link set up in the rear that gave it a very civilized ride.
Steering was responsive and wind and road noise were minimal, especially for an SUV. The Liberty's high seating position certainly gave us a command view of the road.
Our only complaint was that the Liberty's 3.7 liter 210 horsepower V6 engine lacked enough oomph to smartly increase speed from 60 mph to 80 mph. The driver who is not aware of that can get into trouble on a congested yet fast flowing, metropolitan expressway. Another 20 to 40 horsepower would solve this shortcoming.
Our test vehicle was equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission which was unobtrusive. A six speed manual was also available, although the concept of a shift it yourself gearbox in this vehicle didn't appeal to us at all.
We didn't get the chance to experience the off road course that had been set up. But for those who care, the Liberty has a choice of two four-wheel drive systems. The first is a full time system and the second is a part-time four -wheel-drive system which means it can be switched to two-wheel-drive. Either system can be used to take the Liberty seriously sloshing through the woods.
For those who have no need of four-wheel-drive, there is also a two-wheel-drive only version of the Liberty.
Jeep has come a long way. In terms of equipment, the 2008 Jeep Liberty had all that you'd expect. There was satellite radio, a CD player with MP3 capability, a navigation system with 2-D and 3-D viewing, a 20 gigabyte hard drive, a hands free communication and control system and an auxiliary jack for other media.
But what really was and will be special about the Jeep Liberty is the optional full length, fully automatic canvas roof. It will slide front to back or back to front and at its optimum, open a space that stretches over the front and back seats. Although it cost more than $1,000 extra, we think there will be plenty of takers.
Prices start at $20,990 for the 2008 midsize jeep Liberty.