Pros: Style, Ride quality, Price.
Cons: Lack of comfort, Poor ergonomics.
A welcomed vehicle to the 2002 Jeep line-up is the new 2002 Jeep Liberty. Jeep has always had the relatively large Cherokee/Grand Cherokee and the small, somewhat impractical off-roader; the Wrangler, however Jeep never had a small sporty SUV like this; until now. Unlike other small SUVs like the RAV 4 and the Suzuki Vitara, the Jeep Liberty actually has macho styling with a very healthy engine to back up the looks. All this available at near/below the same price as the less note-worthy competition.
For the 2002 model year the all new Jeep Liberty comes in 3 trim lines; the Sport, the LTD (name sounds like an infamous Ford I know of), and the Renegade, Limited Editions are also available. All trim lines are available with full time 4-wheel drive or part time 4-wheel drive. The Liberty Sport comes standard with a 2.4 liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine and an optional 3.7 V6 that replaces the acclaimed 4.0 inline 6-cylinder that was in the fun in the sun Wrangler and Cherokee. Side Note: The Jeep Liberty is supposed to have replaced the Cherokee, not the Grand Cherokee. Transmissions include a 4-speed automatic and a 5-speed manual. The 2.4 4-cylinder only comes with the 5-speed manual.
NOTE: Tester was a Liberty Sport, with part time 4-wheel drive, equipped with a 4-speed automatic and 3.7 liter V6.
Off-the-line acceleration comes fairly brisk with the 3.7 liter SOHC V6, however the 3,900lbs curb weight begs the engine bay to hold something more in the vicinity of a DOHC V8, especially when passing other cars on the freeway or while tackling steep hills at high speeds. Despite the inline 4.0 6-cylinder winning over so many customers for its durability and performance, I find the new 3.7 liter V6 to be much more refined and quicker with improved throttle response. The 3.7 V6 offers 210 horsepower at a decent 5,000 RPM and 235lb-ft of torque at 4,400 RPM. This sort of power is nothing to write home about, but it certainly is enough to move this cute little SUV without too much fuss.
Handling is probably this SUV's weakest offering. Like most SUV's in this class, considerable body roll can be experienced and the slight feeling of tipping over can be alarming when trying to accomplish extreme twisty roads at high speeds. The steering provides good response, however I feel Jeep could have refined this set-up much further as well.
Cruising on the highway and on back roads in the 2002 Jeep Liberty made for a comfortable experience. Never did I once complain that the ride was too harsh as I often did with the Wrangler. On the highway, despite it being a tad noisy from engine/exhaust/wind/ roadgrain noise, the Liberty is relaxing to drive, even with its rock hard seating. Hills are taken very well, the transmission is smooth and provides precise down-shifting. Under almost full throttle while keeping this small SUV at a decent speed on the inclines the tranny will down-shift accordingly, yet keeps its composure at all times; never slipping or clunking. This SUV will never be left in the slow lane, at least not with the V6 option.
Off Road: Not much to report here; new car, no place to take it off road. I decided the back roads of Eureka CA would do. If you have ever been to Eureka Ca I feel you would agree. The Jeep handled excellent, pot holes are taken with a jolt, but the large tires and suspension did a great job absorbing bumps in general and especially well versus the Wrangler. The part time 4x4 option is easy enough to engage, however full time 4-wheel drive would be much more desirable; which is an option.
Braking is adequate, however the optional disc/rear drum set-up with ABS didn't impress me. I wish car manufacturers would find it in their money hungry hearts to use a 4-wheel disc set-up on all their vehicles. 4-wheel discs not only provide a car with much better looks when equipped with alloy rims, it also provides a quicker/smoother stop (usually).
Fuel Economy is a little below average for a SUV in this class, perhaps a hybrid model will be produced in the future to produce an adequate EPA. The Jeep Liberty Sport 4x4 has an EPA of 16/21 MPG. If you don't plan of going off-road, I recommend not buying the 4x4 option as it is lighter, faster, and gets better fuel economy, not to mention it looks exactly the same. WWW.FUELECONOMY.GOV has more info on EPA.
Towing: The Jeep Liberty can tow up to 3,500 lbs.
Like all new production vehicles, the Jeep liberty's interior is prone to severe scrutiny. The Liberty Sport boasts white instrumentation with easy to read analog gauges. While this instrument cluster is definitely a positive attribute, ergonomics, overall, are anything by convenient. First, the automatic shifter is too far away from the driver. Second, the window controls are mounted at the console which are very hard to get used to. Everything seems either out of place, or hard to reach. Although the steering wheel is wrapped in leather, it is much too thin (even with my small hands) leaving me wondering, if I did buy this vehicle how long would it be before I had to go purchase another steering wheel, or steering wheel cover. The drivers position is good for vision and gas/brake pedal purposes, however the seating in this particular model is hard as a rock. Never in all my experience testing 2002 modeled cars had I experienced such rock hard seating. Despite the hard seating, they did offer good back support, however my butt was too sore to give a good evaluation on lower body support. Amenities are plenty! Optional CC, CD, quad air bags, power windows, locks etc, can be had; WWW.CARS.COM has a complete list of standard and optional amenities for the 2002 Jeep Liberty. Interior room is good. The front offers loads of room, although the rear is somewhat tight compared to the Cherokee which it replaces. On the other hand, cargo space is excellent. The 65/35 split rear seats fold down to offer all the room you could need for a camping trip, small vacation, etc.
The exterior of the 2002 Jeep Liberty is 'one of a kind.' I personally adore this style, and have a good forecast this this design will last many years without aging too quickly (also known as the Ford Taurus Syndrome). The 2002 Jeep Liberty comes with a very bold front fascia, with large round headlamps, and a macho grille, yet retains a very cute yet masculine look. The rear has a tiny windshield wiper that is more novelty than useful, yet adds adds a small amount of character.
Price & Reliability & Warranty:
The Jeep Liberty is all new for the 2002 model year so reliability reports will have to wait, however Jeep offers a 7 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty with a deductible. Price ranges from $16,000-$25,000. Tester Liberty Sport 4x4 ran a little over $20,000.
Looking for a slightly larger SUV? Check out my review on the 2003 Honda Pilot.
-Happy Car Shopping