Pros: Headroom, visibility, well built, unmistakable appearance.
Cons: Steering wheel needs more tilt, cargo access a stretch
My wife and I started looking at buying a new vehicle about a year and a half ago. At the time she was driving my 1998 Cherokee and I was driving her 1992 Subaru Legacy ( I drive 72 mi./day). The Subaru has been a great car and we plan on keeping it as my commuter vehicle. And the Jeep has been, well, a Jeep. Just like the 1988 Cherokee I had before it, it has never let me down. So initially, we were strongly leaning towards a Subaru Outback or another Jeep. However, we decided to test drive several vehicles to make sure that we didnt end up with any regrets.
The first one we drove was the Rav4 when I had to down-shift to third to maintain speed up Boulder Canyon we couldnt give the keys back to the salesman fast enough.
Then she decided to go high end on me and wanted to drive the Lexus RX300 This is a nice vehicle! It had all the bells a whistles she wanted and sat fairly high to get her out of on coming headlights. However, the best way we can describe this thing is that it felt squishy to drive and I was left with the feeling that I had just test driven a roasted marsh mellow and an expensive one at that!
We next drove an Isuzu Rodeo This vehicle was affordable in its stripped down form and felt very much like a tin can. However, by the time we put in the options we wanted we were pushing $29,000 for a vehicle we didnt like that well. This could also be said about our impressions of the Nissan Xtera The 170hp felt very under powered and the cost of the upgrade to the turbo was steep. And it would bring with it all the problems of a turbo. Plus we both hated the support handles that stuck out into our line of sight, and how the hood seemed to rear up into our forward vision. We drove both of these up to the Eisenhower Tunnel and were not impressed! The Isuzu had better power than the Xtera but drove and handled fairly rough. The Xtera, as noted, was under powered which left us feeling rather uneasy about trying to get around any one, let alone the tandem rigs that frequent this stretch of freeway. And the approach to the tunnel was not pleasant, as we had to put our foot into it to even maintain a reasonable speed.
Then we test drove the Liberty and it pulled this stretch of I-70 at 70 mph with plenty left over to get around the right-laners driving in the center lane! I then talked the salesman into letting me drive it up Bill Moore Lake trail. This trail is rated a 5 or 6 in most of the guides so it would be a test for a stock vehicle. The first major test is a fairly steep hill with a nice set of moguls making picking the right line in a stocker essential. The liberty handled that with out a problem. Above this is a talus (rocks up to 12) slope. I wanted to see how the Liberty handled this with the IFS and compare it to my as yet unmodified Cherokee. The liberty, which had a trac-lok rear differential, made a little further up this than my Cherokee has, with a little help using the brakes to get the trac-lok going. Needless to say, it left me rather impressed. So, at this point my mind was made up, but my wife had different plans. She has this vile world view that Volkswagens are something everybody ought to own, which is a different story, but put our purchase plans on hold for over a year.
Thank the good Lord for blizzards
In March of this year we had a nice snowstorm measuring 37 in the street in front of our house. After 3 days of having to take her to work and pick her up in the Cherokee, she began to think it would be nice to have something that would actually handle a deep snow. Now during that snow I had the chance to show a lady how to drive her Liberty in stuff like that. This was after she had managed to get her self stuck. Once again I was impressed with this vehicles performance. The additional weight made it handle the snow with even more authority than the Cherokee. It plowed through some stuff that would have floated the Cherokee which means get out the shovel!
So in early April we picked up a 2003 Sport, slate green with the off road and tow package. Our impressions after a month are as follows:
The seats are hard by some standards but appear to softening a bit. We hope they wont soften too much because we like firm not bean bags. The one road trip of 3 hrs. weve managed so far left us without the fatigue we get from softer seats. We have been very happy with the legroom both in front and in back. And I, at 6 feet 4 and 240 lbs., am not a small person. The only minor complaint that I have is that I wish they would have made the steering wheel tilt up a little more as my thighs drag on it a little when getting into and out of the Liberty. The headroom is frankly, awesome! When I can wear my Montana Crown in vehicle with out mashing it, I am impressed. Also, the visibility while driving the Liberty is excellent, adding to the sense of safety while driving, especially on Colorados flowing parking lots! The rest of the interior seems to be well put together with tight tolerances. Now while Im mainly comparing it to the Cherokee, which is a little sloppy on the inside, it also compares favorably to the fit and finish of the Subaru.
The ride is choppy and abrupt but still very controlled. While some may not like this I find it kind of nice to actually feel the road your driving on, but not get beat up doing so. The steering is very precise and we have come away from mountain drives pleased with the handling. And while there is a bit of body roll, it by no means leaves you feeling uncertain or uneasy in the way the vehicle handles. As for acceleration, well your not going to set any ? mile times with this thing. But the acceleration is more than adequate from a stop and even better at road speed. And frankly, if we had wanted the acceleration of a nazi roadblock, we would have bought a Bimmer. Now I have not yet had the opportunity to hook the raft or drift boat up to it but I expect that it will do as well as the Cherokee, maybe even better towing the toys to and from the river.
As for rear storage and access. We like both the flipper glass and the tailgate operation. However, I have noted that the opening is a bit narrow and the height of the tailgate makes it a little difficult to load stuff through just the glass opening. The spare tire adds to this difficulty making it necessary to open the back completely if you dont want to stretch to load or unload cargo. The cargo area is OK and good if you put the seats down, but well still have to use the roof box when we go on our annual spoil yourself camping trip (full camp kitchen, prime rib, tenderloins, crab legs in one cooler, beer and margarita fixens in the other. And the Huskies!).
Mechanically the Liberty appears to well built, and while I have not had to do any maintenance on it yet, I made sure that I could get to everything without too much contortion. The engine compartment is not so tight as to make it impossible to change your own plugs or the drive belt. The oil filter is a little awkward to get to but manageable. The doors and hinges seem to be sturdy and well assembled which is a plus when compared to the Cherokee. It would be nice to have an under hood light, but I can live without that.
But the most important thing is that the more my wife drives it, the more she likes it. And that is a lot better than the opposite.