The 2011 Liberty is otherwise identical to the 2010 model. The wheezy 3.7-liter V-6 and four-speed automatic remain, as do the optional part- or full-time 4WD systems. We hope the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 will be added soon, along with the new eight-speed auto. Or Jeep might just wait until the Fiat-based Liberty-replacement hits the market in 2014, but we hope not.
The lack of mechanical updates means the Liberty drives just like it used to, i.e., like an SUV. It's tall and the suspension is off-road tuned, so it leans a bit in turns. The steering doesn't communicate much, but it gets the job done. Road and wind noise are on the intrusive side at freeway speeds, but the massive fabric Sky Slider sunroof seals surprisingly well. While the old 3.7-liter feels torquey at low speeds thanks to the off-road-biased gearing, it runs out of breath quickly. The four-speed auto does its best to keep up, and while it could use some more cogs, there's something to be said for simplicity and durability off-road.
Off-road, naturally, is where the Liberty earns its horizontal grille bars. With a 28.7-degree approach angle, 30.1-degree departure angle, and 9.5 inches of chassis ground clearance (7.8 inches under the front axle, 8.1 inches under the rear axle), the Liberty is ready to tackle just about anything. Whether you choose the Selec-Trac II full-time 4WD system or the even more-capable Command-Trac II part-time 4WD system, you've got a real low-range transfer case offering up a 2.72:1 ratio for serious crawling.
On the snowy, muddy trails outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Liberty stepped up, climbing over or powering through anything we threw at it without protest. And when we misjudged an obstacle, the skid plates were there to cover our undercarriages. That torque-biased V-6 feels a lot stronger when it's connected to a transfer case locked in low range, and even makes a nice growl as you power over obstacles. These weren't winch-level trails, but they were challenging enough to give us confidence in the Liberty's ability to handle rougher stuff.