By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 3/25/2011
It was, as this is written, the best of times - and the worst of times. If you're a fan of Jeep, you know an all-new Grand Cherokee has been turnin' the showroom turnstiles. Also, the Jeep's Patriot and Compass have been recently massaged for their brief spot in the sunshine before a wholesale redesign - probably on a Fiat platform - takes place. That leaves only the Liberty, on sale in its current guise since the 2008 model year, needing the "amore" from the Chrysler/Fiat product team. Happily, the Liberty remains one of but a handful of compact SUVs possessing real off-road capability. The bad news: Jeep's Wrangler will do off-road far better, and Jeep's new Grand Cherokee - at least in Laredo trim - isn't a great deal more expensive.You'll Like This Car If...
If you enjoy the Jeep brand and its outdoorsy image, and appreciate a footprint easy to handle both at the mall and on the trail, the Liberty constitutes one of the better on-road/off-road compromises. And with two trail rated 4WD systems - Command-Trac II and Selec-Trac II - you can climb any mountain, ford any stream.You May Not Like This Car If...
If you're looking for true off-road capability - boulder-hopping capability - the Jeep's limited ground clearance directs you to other choices, some of which are on the same showroom floor. And if you want true on-road composure (along with a modicum of efficiency), Jeep's Patriot and/or Compass probably cope with large expanses of asphalt more comfortably.What's Significant About This Car?
Most significantly, Jeep introduced the Liberty Jet at last fall's Los Angeles Auto Show. It marries the Liberty's upright, off-road posture with a decidedly urban street vibe. Beyond that addition, 2011 brings a series of minor tweaks: A new steering wheel with audio controls and three new media centers. And let's not forget new colors - Blackberry Pearl, Bright White Clear and Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl.Driving It Driving Impressions
The 2011 Jeep Liberty platform - shared (as noted) with the more urban-spec Dodge Nitro - is compromised off-road by relatively low ground clearance, and is marginalized on-road by a conventional live axle in back, along with a relatively high center-of-gravity and wheezy V6. As a 4-door Jeep the Liberty - and the Cherokee before it - made far more sense when the Jeep lineup had only a 2-door Wrangler. Once the Wrangler's 4-door variant was introduced for the 2007 model year, all bets were off. Buyers have scrambled for the Wrangler, and left the Liberty to its own market-driven devices. Thankfully, Jeep hasn't fully abandoned the off-road enthusiast. A genuine off-road capability is maintained by its two 4-wheel drive systems, hill-descent control and hill-start assist, skid plates and reasonably short overhangs front and rear.Favorite Features
Sky Slider Full Open Roof
We wouldn't buy a Liberty without it, as the Sky Slider is arguably the most unique option in the Liberty's segment. When open you can let the sun shine in; with it closed you have a serene sense of quiet typically available only with a metal roof over your head. If the Wrangler ever evolves into a fully enclosed 4-door, it will need a Sky Slider to complete it.
Selec-Trac II Active Full-time 4WD
For under $500, Selec-Trac II upgrades the Liberty's standard 4WD to AWD, while still providing you boulder-hopping Jeepers with the necessary 4WD Lo. And with the Liberty's front:rear weight ratio biased toward the rear, so is Selec-Trac's torque split. You won't find that on a CR-V!
If the point of the Liberty's indoor environment is to get you to your favorite outdoor environment, it will do the job just fine. The greenhouse is expansive, but front seat passengers will be more comfortable than those relegated to the rear seat. And while the standard cloth has an appropriate amount of wipe-it-off functionality, we'd opt for the available leather in the Comfort Seating Group, comprising heated front seats, leather-trimmed buckets, memory package and power windows. Although many Chrysler products received a mid-cycle refresh, the Liberty wasn't one of them - and in the fourth year of its product cycle probably should have been. Storage is good, offering 25 cubic feet behind the rear seats and over 60 cubic feet with those rear seats folded.Exterior
The Liberty employs as many nostalgic styling cues as its platform - shared with the Dodge Nitro - allows. A commendably tall greenhouse and relatively vertical grille and windshield convey quite a bit of what we liked on the original Cherokee, but the overall result is a tad heavy-handed; whereas the Cherokee might have been formed with a scalpel, the Liberty's design team used an axe. It simply isn't very sophisticated in either its basic shape or execution. That said, we love the Sky Slider sunroof. Using cloth, and opening up a vast expanse of available sky, this is as close as you'll come to the open-air delights of VW's old Microbus or Citroen's 2CV. In a Jeep(!).Notable Standard Equipment
The Renegade, situated between the basic Sport and premium Limited, is targeted at the Jeep enthusiast with a very real desire to do at least some off-roading. With that, it boasts a bevy of standard off-road attributed, including skid plates, and tire-pressure monitoring, along with hill-start assist and hill-descent control. Additionally, the Renegade features unique color fender flares, fascia and headlamps. In the compact SUV segment (while weighing over 4,000 pounds) a standard V6 certainly isn't the norm, but the Liberty has one. And despite its very average (21 mpg) EPA rating on the highway, the Liberty's 19.5 gallon fuel tank provides acceptable range on-road and off.Notable Optional Equipment
For this model year three media centers are available; two include navigation, and one includes Sirius Traffic and Sirius Travel Link. Those going 4WD can enjoy the standard Command-Trac II, or opt for the Selec-Trac II, featuring full-time AWD, 4WD Lo and a rearward-biased torque split. And to commemorate Jeep's 70th anniversary, the Liberty receives an Anniversary Edition, featuring unique 18-inch wheels, badging, brightwork and Dark Olive with Chestnut accented leather seating. Select the Sky Slider sunroof and you'll open yourself to at least three possibilities: The moon, the sun and/or the stars. And the Sky Slider is available for a one-time charge of but $1,075, a figure entirely too cheap for its limitless potential.Under the Hood
Although many cars and trucks in the Chrysler lineup benefited from an all-new 3.6 liter V6, the Liberty isn't among them. Instead, it's saddled with a 3.7 liter V6 that - despite the benefits of an extra six cubic inches - develops just over 200 horsepower, while the 3.6 is delivering just over 300. If the Liberty weighed 3,000 pounds its horsepower deficiency could be kept in context; at a curb weight of just under 4,000 pounds (4X2) or over 4,000 pounds (4X4) the difficulty is compounded. And - of course - the situation isn't helped by Jeep offering but one transmission, a 4-speed automatic. We might overlook the underperforming V6 if it were offered with a manual transmission - but we said might.
210 horsepower at 5200 rpm
235 lb.-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/22 (2WD), 15/21 (4WD)
Pop for the Liberty Sport 4X2 - the bottom line in Jeep's Liberty hierarchy - and you'll invest about $24,000. Opt for the Renegade 4X4 with the Comfort Seating Group (leather), Sky Slider sunroof and the Selec-Trac II 4X4 upgrade, and you'll pay a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of closer to $33,000. That $33K is a not-inconsiderable sum when Jeep's much more expansive Grand Cherokee can be purchased in the low $30s. Thankfully, Jeeps are built for the long haul, as you'll be disappointed in the Liberty's short-term resale performance, which trails (significantly) all key competitors, including Nissan's Xterra, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Even Suzuki's Grand Vitara outperforms the Liberty - with virtually no visibility on today's car-buying radar. Be sure and check kbb.com's Fair Purchase Price for a reliable indicator of what consumers pay in your market area.