Pros: Appearance, 4wd ability, visibility, and affordable options
Cons: Small gas tank (18.5g)+ Low MPG (16.5) = Many visits to the gas pump.
Though I didn't want to admit it, my 1987 Chevrolet Blazer was rapidly becoming an artifact: the speakers had all but disintegrated, the odometer turned over to 150k, and I had long forgotten the merits of cruise control after being without it for two years. I needed a new ride in a bad way! Well aware of this, I began searching for something to take its place. I didn't have to look far, for only a mile away was the Chrysler dealership where I fell in love with the Jeep Liberty Renegade.
Allow me to educate you now on exactly what the Jeep Liberty is and then discuss my experience with it thus far.
Jeep Liberty 101
The first thing you should know is that the Jeep Liberty was introduced as a 2002 model and replaced the Jeep Cherokee line of vehicles; therefore, it is not uncommon to see resentment towards the Liberty from Cherokee die-hards. Further alienating the Liberty from the "pure Jeep" line is the inclusion of independent front suspension. This allows the vehicle to handle better on the road and is another core complaint of Jeep enthusiasts. If you can overlook those two things, you will probably be impressed by the Liberty.
To begin, the Liberty is now offered in four different models: Sport, Freedom, Limited, and Renegade. (Prices and accessories from Jeep website)
The Sport edition is by far the easiest on the bank account. For a low starting MSR price of $18,520.00 you can purchase a bare-bones Jeep Liberty Sport. The primary characteristics that distinguish the Sport from the other models are the 2.4L manual transmission engine and the unpainted fender flares.
You can find an example at: http://www.cardomain.com/member_pages/view_page.pl?page_id=320552&make_type_query=make%3DJeep&model_brand_query=model%3DLiberty&tree=Jeep%20Liberty
The Freedom edition is new to 2003 and looks sharp. Starting at $21,445 it is somewhat more expensive than the Sport, but with that you get a 3.7L V6 engine. Visually, the Freedom resembles the Sport with the exception of the gray painted fender flares that have the bolted-on look. There are also some differences in the interior coloring scheme with this model as compared to the others.
You can find an example at: http://www.cardomain.com/member_pages/view_page.pl?page_id=343011&make_type_query=make%3DJeep&model_brand_query=model%3DLiberty&tree=Jeep%20Liberty
The Limited edition is what I would consider the most popular model of the Liberty line. You see more of these on the road than any other model. The price will start out around $22,710 and include the 3.7L V6 engine. In appearance, the Limited appears the least sporty and most sophisticated, lacking the prominent fender flares that are characteristic of the other models.
You can find an example at: http://www.cardomain.com/member_pages/view_page.pl?page_id=286500&make_type_query=make%3DJeep&model_brand_query=model%3DLiberty&tree=Jeep%20Liberty
The Renegade edition appeals mostly to those who drive off road or who seek a masculine-looking vehicle. The most expensive model, the Renegade starts out at or around $22,870. With that comes the 3.7 V6 engine, silver running boards, and lightbar that is plenty capable of illuminating the trail at night. Adding to the rugged appearance of this model are the WIDE fender flares with the bolts.
You can find an example at: http://www.cardomain.com/member_pages/view_page.pl?page_id=338447&make_type_query=make%3DJeep&model_brand_query=model%3DLiberty&tree=Jeep%20Liberty
As with any vehicle, there are a multitude of options to choose from, including some that should have been standard. Nevertheless, you can add more options for less money on this vehicle than any other I have researched. A few of the notables:
Antilock Brakes: (should have been standard in my opinion)
Cassette/CD/6CD changer: you decide which you need
Side Curtain Airbags
Infinity Premium Sound system: sounds great!
My First Jeep Experience
I just happened to be driving by the dealership when I spotted a Liberty Renegade in the showroom. I made a mental note to check it out whenever time permitted, and I'm glad I did. The first thing that pulled me toward the Renegade was the appearance, it was a virtual piece of eye candy to me. I loved the flat grill and large round headlights that are symbolic of the first Jeeps ever produced. The ruggedness of the Renegade, particularly the wide flares was another draw. I picked up some literature on the Liberty and drove home to consider my options, but I already knew that this was the vehicle for me without even going for a test drive.
After a month of picking options, research that included logging on to epinions, several up close inspections of the Liberty, and a quick test drive, I finally bit the bullet and made arrangements with the sales person to special order a Black Jeep Renegade. It was necessary for me to do so because I could not find a renegade anywhere that had the exact mix of options that I was looking for. I purchased the vehicle at invoice price, minus $500 for college graduate and a $1,000 rebate that was offered at the time. Just as the dealer said, the Renegade arrived within a month of order, and I couldn't be happier.
In the next two sections I will try to discuss what I like about the Liberty and what I wish were different.
What I like about the Liberty
Appearance: This was the primary selling point for me. The Renegade just screams of a mixture of class and adventuresomeness. The inclusion of silver running boards, wide fender flares, and a silver nose strip makes the Renegade appear as a work of art, muddy or not.
Lighting: Interior and exterior lighting is superb, with the lone exception that there isn't a light in the rear passenger area. The instrument panel glows a very visually appealing sky blue at night. Outside, the headlights provide a bright white light exactly where you need it, directly in front of you. The fog lamps provide added visibility in foggy conditions, however, the high beams are somewhat tame. If you dare switch on the light bar that comes standard on the Renegade, you find yourself with enough candlepower to illuminate the road for at least 1/2 mile in front of you...probably further.
Seating: The seats feel comfortable and provide a leisurely ride. I wouldn't go as far to say that one could sleep on them, but they are more than adequate. The rear seat can seat 3, but is a better fit for 2. You can move the back seat accordingly to give your passengers more leg room.
Visibility: In some vehicles, when you go to turn your head to check your blindspot, you only see the inside of your vehicle, as something is obstructing your vision. In the Liberty, there is plenty of window space. When you turn your head to check your blindspot, you can easily see through the window. In addition to providing a scenic view, the windows (at least on the Renegade) are tinted and block out some of the sun's rays.
Ride: It is my opinion that the Liberty drives smoothly and much more like a car than a truck, but you have to remember that my last vehicle made my passengers jiggle more than a person strapped into one of those fat shakers you might remember from the old days. The shocks easily absorb bumps and potholes of various sizes.
Things I wish were different on the Liberty
Gas Consumption/Tank This is by far my biggest issue with the Liberty. Of course the Liberty is a SUV and as such one expects poor gas economy, but since the Liberty is a smaller SUV, you would think that it would get better gas mileage. Wrong! The sticker at the dealerships list the Liberty as getting between 18 (city) and 22 (highway), and that is not necessarily true. I have been driving mostly highway miles with the cruise control on and only average around 16.5mpg. Yes my engine is still fairly new (779 miles), but I expected more. Further complicating the issue is the fact that you only have a 18.5 gallon gas tank. Needless to say, you would have to be pushing it luck-wise to make 300 miles on a tank of gas...definitely frustrating on a long trip.
Engine: While the V6 3.7L is sufficient, acceleration is somewhat slow, and the gears seem to be a little strange in the Automatic (sometimes you go slow up a steep hill and it will switch in and out of a gear). Furthermore, I wish there was an option for a V8, but that is reserved for the Grand Cherokee. This is a 4,000 lb SUV you know!
4WD capabilities: I have not had the opportunity to take my Jeep off-road as of yet, thus I cannot comment on the 4WD capability of the Liberty, but I can tell you that several members of L.O.S.T (Liberty Owners Special Team) successfully conquer most of the same terrain that the Wrangler/Rubicon frequent. From what I have seen in pictures though, most of their vehicles are not stock, but have instead been modded with bigger tires or lift kits.
The Final Verdict
The best word that describes the Jeep Liberty is versatile. Whether you conquer the concrete jungle or off-road in the MOAB, the Jeep Liberty can appeal to your needs. Consumer Reports labels it as a recommended pick, and I can do no less.
Sites of interest:
http://pub21.ezboard.com/bkjjeep (LOST Forum)
http://www.cardomain.com/member_pages/search_results.pl?make=Jeep&model=Liberty (Cardomain users' Jeep Liberty models)