In other areas, longish can be good. Like the aforementioned PT Cruiser, the new Jeep is truly long on style and comfort. Designers said the exterior was heavily influenced by the '97 Dakar and '98 Jeepster concept vehicles. We especially like the headlight bulges faired into the hood, the traditional square wheel arches, the wide track, the tall profile, and the sporty rocket-like taillights. Although it somehow looks smaller (and infinitely cuter), the KJ actually has a 2.9-in. wheelbase advantage and is 7.2 in. longer overall than the old Cherokee. This visual trickery may or may not be the result of its way taller roofline (6.7 in. over Cherokee's).
Liberty's clever rear glass and swinging gate can be popped open with just one hand. Once opened, the load floor is low enough that even heavy objects can be easily stowed. The rear bench is split for simultaneously carrying a passenger and long objects. Unfortunately, the front seat- tracks intrude into rear-seat foot space.
The new Jeep will be offered in base or premium trim levels, which are as yet unnamed. The base model's standard features include cloth front buckets, 65/35-split folding rear seat, the 2.4L four mated to an easy-to-shift five-speed manual, rear window defroster/wiper/ washer, variable-delay wipers, a roof rack, an AM/FM/cassette/CD changer and six-speaker sound system, and P215/75R16 Goodyear all-season tires. Go for the premium deal, whatever it's eventually called, and you get an even longer list of standards that includes the V-6 and four-speed auto, bigger P235/70R16 tires and aluminum wheels, pull-shade cargo cover, air conditioning, a convenience-lighting package, power windows, cruise control, tilt wheel, foglamps, floor mats, and an AM/FM compact disc player with six speakers. Some options: skidplates, a trailer-tow package, an off-roading package with special shocks, trick differentials, special cooling, uprated tires, anti-lock brakes, premium heated power seats, side-curtain airbags, heated mirrors, and a power sunroof.
We're impressed by the high level of interior detailing. The Liberty sports a cool steering wheel with bright aluminum finish on its four spokes. Easily read gauges are light-faced and oversized, with bright trim rings. Big, handy grab handles grace both A-posts. There's a "satin chrome" finish on the center stack trim plates, doors, and center console on the premium model. In back, shopping bag holders are incorporated into the cargo area so that your salad fixings don't fly around on the way home. And finally, the rear gate is ultra-handy. One squeeze of the handle pops open the top glass, and the gate with its mounted spare swings wide. This allows easy loading of heavy items, such as a tool box, directly onto the load floor.
Complaints? A few: It's a bit awkward getting into the rear seats, for one thing, as the front seat tracks intrude into the rear footwell. The rear seatback doesn't fold completely flat-much unappreciated. Our track numbers reveal this is no screamin' sports car, though that's clearly not its mission in life.
On the plus side, the Liberty's highly styled exterior and nicely detailed cabin fool you into thinking it can't hack it off-road-absolutely not the case. Yet it maintains a reasonably high level of market-pleasing on-road refinement. But really: Did they have to make it look so damned cute?