Pros: Respectable power, excellent styling, easy to park in tight spaces
Cons: Gas mileage, side-swing rear gate, not included in any factory/dealer incentive programs
As a person from the country who moved to the city ten years ago, I had been on the brink of buying a 4WD vehicle for years. I was constantly torn between the shear loathing of gas-guzzling truck-monsters taking up two parking spaces in front of my apartment and the frustration of trying to get anywhere with my front-wheel drive Toyota during inclement weather.
Holiday trips to visit family usually ended with unexpected extensions due to snow. So, when the onslaught of incentive programs started in October, we finally decided that now was the time to start seriously looking for a vehicle that could bridge the gap between city and country ? one that would allow us the safety and security of a 4WD car and not eat up too much parking space or hog a lot of gas.
After some research, which included visits to internet sites such as www.Edmunds.com, www.carbuyingtips.com and Consumer Reports, we narrowed our selection down to four vehicles, all in the mini- to mid-SUV range: Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester and the new Jeep Liberty. Our ?book? criteria were overall size, cargo capacity, brand reliability history and baseline price.
At the time when we test drove each of the prospective automobiles, the Jeep Liberty was the only one that had no dealer incentives associated with it. It was a ?dark horse? candidate we added at the last minute.
We had initially eliminated the Jeep Liberty from our list because we assumed that, as a first year production and the not-always-competitively-priced Jeep brand, it would have been out of our price range. This was not so! We found it to be commensurate to a similarly equipped Ford Escape (V6, Auto, AC, power package, security system), though without the incentives ? so we decided to take a closer look.
Immediately after our day of test driving, we eliminated the Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester from the list. The RAV4 we test drove (the only 4-cylinder of the group) was just not peppy enough. It also had a side-swing rear gate with fixed glass, a feature we were trying to avoid (side-swing gates being difficult to open when you are parked in a parallel parking area).
The Subaru, I have to admit, was eliminated for almost completely superficial reasons. It was a fine car, drove well, had great pick-up and a great reputation for reliability. Plus, all Subaru vehicles are AWD. However, my mom has been driving Subarus for years ? and I just didn?t feel like I was old enough to be driving my Mom?s car. Besides the looks, we also didn?t like the fact that it was the longest car out of any that we drove, making it more difficult to park. In addition, it had one of the smallest cargo capacities because of the low roof height.
We were left considering the Ford Escape and the Jeep Liberty. On the shear ?snazzy? factor, the Jeep Liberty won ? hands down. I also very much liked the interior layout ? including the automatic gear shift on the floor. I never understood why Ford likes their automatic gear shifts on the column.
The Jeep?s decision to have the window controls on the center console was the only ergonomic leap which seemed unnatural. Everything else felt like it was positioned where it should be to me. The Jeep Liberty Limited had additional well-crafted interior design features like brushed aluminum trim panels which are also very nice (but to me, not worth the entire upgrade to the Limited from the Sport, which has black trim panels).
The one exterior feature that was a concern was that the Jeep Liberty has a side-swing rear gate. Although we felt this was not ideal, it was tempered by flipper glass (which can be popped up automatically with the press of a button on the key fob) and the height of the rear gate, which can actually swing over the top of the hood of a car parked behind it.
After we pulled ourselves away from the completely superficial and back down to reality, the thing that really made us chose the Liberty over the Escape was the ride. The Escape felt like a truck. (?But it is a truck.? ? Ford salesman at my test drive) Ok, I wasn?t looking for a truck that drove like a sports car. But I also wasn?t looking for a truck that drove like a bus. The ride in the Escape was stiff and bumpy ? and that was just in the parking lot.
The Liberty felt more familiar to me as a car-driver, smooth and responsive ? taking the hard edges out of the pavement. I later found out, after the test drive, that the Liberty is the first Jeep with independent front suspension. (I?m no gear-head, but maybe this feature had something to do with it.) The Liberty also felt less ?tippy? than the Escape, hugging turns better. Finally, the turning radius on the Jeep Liberty is extremely impressive. Learning to parallel park it was a breeze and I can make full U-turns on most city streets ? two items which are MUST-HAVES to those of us who don?t have garages.
With the promise from our dealer (Sport Jeep ? Silver Spring, MD) of a delivery in 4 weeks or less, we ordered ours custom from the factory to have only the features we wanted and for $300 UNDER dealer invoice. I suppose we would have spent less on a Ford because of the finance incentives, but we just loved the Jeep. And, after driving it for almost two months, we still love it.
Now, if only it would snow...