See bottom of review for 100K mile update
I've owned a 2003 Jeep Liberty Renegade for a little over a year. It's a great vehicle and I wouldn't trade it for any other car in the world right now (uhhh...in this price range, at any rate).
So here's what's great about it:
Dont believe all the hype about the Jeep Liberty not being fit for off-road. It's a true off-roader in every sense of the word. And having played around at Hollister Hills some, I can attest to it's superiority on almost any type of dirt, mud, gravel, hill out there. Sure, if you were a hardcore off-roader who didnt care about damaging his commuter vehicle, then you could easily say the Jeep Wrangler, Suzuki's, Kia Sorento are the crème de la crème of great off-roaders with solid axles front and rear. But the Nissan Xterra, Nissan Pathfinder, and Jeep Liberty's IFS and solid Rear axle still do a superb job for any off-road that doesn't include rock crawling or competition off-roading.
Assuming the Pathfinder is too expensive, the Nissan Xterra and Jeep Liberty are the two main competitors for a daily commuter with superb off-road capability. So let me compare these two:
In terms of comfort, everyone has a different opinion, but for me, the front driver's seat was more comfortable in the Liberty than the Xterra. The rear comfort seat was more comfortable in the Xterra than the Liberty. Well...as the driver, the choice was simple.
Also, the Liberty had a few more comfort oriented/luxury oriented features. In the Nissan Xterra, the moon rough has a manual latch only and didn't slide. The Liberty has a full power sunroof that slides completely open. The Liberty had an overhead console which has proven useful for always knowing which way I'm pointed (as in compass), and also little reminders for next servicing. Full power seats for the driver and passenger were also a plus on the LIberty (not available on the Xterra at the time I was evaluating). Oh yes, and it's quiet up until about 55 or 60. Any faster than that and it gets pretty noisy. And of course, there's power remote keys, power windows and mirrors, auto-dimming, heated side mirrors....everything you'd expect to have.
Being able to fold the rear seats down with one hand is another great option. The Nissan requires more effort to do the same and you have to remove the seat cushions....The overall cargo space seems small, but really isn't. It's wide and tall, but not deep. However, I have fit 5 suitcases in the back without folding down the rear seats by aligning them like books on a bookcase, try that in a station wagon....
For off-road accessory junkies, the availability was about the same for both, with the Xterra having an edge due to it's longer history. [EDIT: This isnt true anymore. The Jeep Liberty has a several dedicated accessories today. I have bought my fair share in the past year].
The renegade version also comes with roof lights (pretty useful on a back road in California), and armor under the vehicle to protect key areas.
And how did these two compete off-road?
On dirt roads, the Xterra goes faster, but on muddy roads or heavy gravel up hill or down hill, I felt much more stable in the Liberty than the Xterra. The SWB, or short wheel base, means also getting up and down on highly angled drive paths without denting your front or rear fender.
As an added bonus, if you're a manual shift fanatic, it's worth noting that until the Kia Sorento came out with a manual shift option, it was not possible to get a manual shift on a 6 cylinder engine in any other SUV except the Liberty and the Wrangler. So for you off-road enthusiasts who also happen to be rally enthusiasts, the Jeep Liberty is the best of both worlds.
And the V6 is fairly strong. You might wish, as I often do, that a V8 option was available....The rear solid axle is a modified dana 30. So for real off-road there's not enough stress strength against a V6 drive-train in low-range....so you have to be more careful. But swapping out with a Dana 44 is not so bad, as other Liberty owners have told me. Havent done this myself yet.
The steering is also good (not a rally car, but good), and the brakes have little fade. After 30K miles, you can begin to have over-steering in tight corners but this is no different than any Front Engine Rear Drive vehicle on the market, this might also may be unique to the manual transmission, where it's easier to do peel outs in any case....
And finally, in terms of reliability, again here you shouldnt believe the hype. Every manufacturer has lemons, period. And for every vehicle, there will be people who are unsatisfied with service, or will have bad experiences with little problems in the vehicle. But jeeps have a much worse rating then many other vehicles in terms of reliability for another important reason: There are many jeeps that go off-road, and off-road exponentially increases the strain on a vehicle over time. That means there are more problems than in other non-off road vehicles, and this reduces reliability ratings. If you buy a jeep and the only off-roading you do is back country roads, where 90% of the time your dealing in dirt roads, some gravel roads, and muddy roads that aren't too deep, then your jeep will be very reliable. The Liberty is designed for greater stress than any car-based SUV, and you will find an extremely reliable vehicle over the long haul. That's not my guarantee, of course, but my experience in owning one and talking to other jeep owners.
So now the cons:
On long drives, there is little fatigue if you're the driver, but passengers in the back can become a little tired. I've had people in the back for long rides, and they didn't complain like they would have in my old Subaru, Hyundai, Protege, or a Wrangler, but it's certainly not as comfortable as a Grand Cherokee, a 2004 Dodge Durango, or other mid-size SUV or mid-large sedan. There's enough space in the back, but because the seat is so upright, there seems to be little thigh support. This isn't the case if you sit straight, but who does that? And it does get a little bouncy if you take angled paths (i.e. leave a steep driveway onto a street at an angle) because of the solid axle in the rear coupled with IFS causes more side-to-side swaying.
The dashboard is effective as is, but if you want to put some extra devices on the dash, like a dash mounted GPS or a CB radio, there isn't any space for it. There is an option to put a Mopar navigation system that includes a radio and CD-player in place of the standard radio that seems great, but the location and angle makes it hard to view without completely taking your eyes off the road.
Half the 2003 models and all the 2004 models have a larger fuel tank that should give you about 300 miles (19.5 gallons). The early 2003 models and prior should give you about 250 on a full tank (16 gallons). More if you're driving is frugal.
If you're used to a short-throw manual transmission, the long stick will get some getting used to. Every once in a while, I hit the wall between 1st and 3rd gear when trying to move up from 2nd.
SIDE NOTE 1: Though lots of people complain the glove box is too small, I'd disagree. There's a special slot for the car documentation, leaving the remainder for most of the knickknacks people like to have in their glove compartment.
SIDE NOTE 2: The power windows are European style, with all four windows being controlled from the center console. The nice aspect of this feature is the ability for either the driver or front passenger to easily control all four windows. For the rear windows, there are additional switches on the back of the center console, meaning either the left or the right rear passengers can control the rear windows.
There have been a few problems recently, but all very minor.
First, the left driver side mirror, which should have been heated, seems to be very weak and unable to get rid of early morning fogging, while the right side mirror had no problems at all. Repairing has had some effect, but it still seems weak.
Second, the rear passenger door stopped opening from the inside. Apparently the door unlocking mechanism on from the inside became uncoupled with the locking mechanism. The dealer fixed it and added some reinforcement so it doesnt happen again for free.
Third, driving about 110 miles on the highway every day meant it was only a matter of time before the windshield chipped. The chip hasnt turned into a hairline crack yet, so Im going to wait until its a hairline crack forms and spreads before fixing it. But insurance should cover most of it.
Fourth, My earlier comment about the uncomfortable seat has been confirmed several times. Typically, for short ride, my colleagues seem to prefer my jeep to their vehicles, so for short ride, its not uncomfortable. But the thought of spending more than an hour in the rear seats usually means taking one of my colleagues sedans.
Fifth, you know, I originally settled upon the Jeep Liberty because I thought it was one of the few cars around I wouldnt get tired of over the long term
.I was right. Its still appealing to me after a year and a half.
100K miles and things are starting to show
It's a few months shy of four years and 100K miles since I purchased the Jeep Liberty Renegade. With a recent home purchase, I'm afraid there is no new car on the horizon, so i imagine this Jeep will be with me for some time to come.
So how's the Jeep after a few years?
The short answer is, I'm still not bored with it. That's pretty amazing, because I usually get bored with cars very quickly, usually within a few months. There are cars that bore me to death just thinking about them. And every car I've ever owned has bored me after half a year except this one. (Some cars I've owned: BMW 318, Subaru Imprezza, Honda Accord, Mazda Protege, Hyunday Elantra, etc.).
But it has been 100K miles, so like with any car, there are a number of annoying aspects to the car that have cropped up over the past couple of years.
The most major of them is the suspension creaking. When going over bumps, the front suspension creaks a great deal. It almost feels like leaf springs rubbing against each other....they're coils, of course, but the creaking is truly ear grating.
The side mirror defrosting is slow to work.
The air conditioning broke, and requires some $800 to repair....I have repaired everything else except this because right now, I just don't need it.
There have been a couple of recalls for this vehicle, but there haven't been enough parts to repair it.
But that's really about it. Everything else works really well. I'm surprised that all the interior instrumentation is still functional. The power seats still work great as well as the stereo, power windows, sunroof, etc. I had custom fit seat covers put when purchasing the car, so the leather underneath is as beautiful as the day it was purchased. Something I'll have to remember doing in all future cars (really feels like a new car when taking the covers off...something I've only done once). None of the lights have gone out. And apart from the problems listed above, I haven't had any undue maintenance requirements.
I did add some additional armor below for more off-roading safety, and added some quarter-inch rock rails for more side rail strength then the ineffective Mopar rock rails (3/16").
So, would I still recommend this vehicle? Well, the landscape has changed quite a bit in recent years. The Kia Sorento is a great SUV, and the new Dodge Nitro seems like a great vehicle (based on the Jeep Liberty platform), and there is a new 2008 Jeep Liberty coming in the summer of 2007. But all in all, I'd have to say that this is still an easily recommendable vehicle, and I'm sure the 2008 Jeep Liberty will improve upon all the small issues that plagued the 2002-2007 Liberty.
Amount Paid (US$):
2003Model and Options: