First Drive: 2011 Jeep Liberty
Soldiering On: Slightly More Polish, But Still the Same Old Liberty
When an automaker's resources are limited, logic suggests they be diverted to the product that will deliver the greatest return. So it's not surprising that the all-new Grand Cherokee has gotten the lion's share of Jeep's attention, and its vastly improved sales results speak for themselves. For those models farther down the ladder, such as the 2011 Jeep Liberty, the changes are far less dramatic.
Updated significantly for the 2008 model year, the 2011 Liberty is but a mild mid-cycle refresh, despite the need for more drastic action. In fact, Jeep only lists four changes, one of which is a selection of new paint colors.
More important than the three new paint colors are some small interior refinements. Most significant is the new corporate Jeep steering wheel that not only looks better, but is more functional. The new three-spoke wheel offers better materials, more optional steering wheel-mounted controls, and even leather for discerning off-roaders.
Besides the steering wheel, buyers will be most pleased to find a reprogrammed optional touch screen infotainment system. In addition to minor interface upgrades that make it easier to use, the system now offers Garmin-based navigation that's a major improvement over the old unit.
The final update for 2011 is an optional package called Jet. Available on Sport and Limited models, the Jet package is the polar opposite of the Renegade off-road package introduced midway through the 2010 model year. Urban-targeted Jet models get chrome trim, blacked-out headlight surrounds, 20-inch chrome wheels and four additional color options. Inside, they pick up a nine-speaker premium audio system, heated seats, leather trim on the steering wheel, one-touch windows, and optional gray leather seating.
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 vertical 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.
Jeep may not have changed much about the 2011 Liberty, but it didn't take anything away, either. It's small comfort, but despite its rough areas, the Liberty was a pretty capable rig to begin with, so we won't begrudge it incremental improvements. Here's hoping sales pick up enough to pay for further polishing down the road.
|2011 Jeep Liberty|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, RWD/4WD, 5-pass, 4-door, SUV|
|Engine||3.7L/210-hp/235-lb-ft SOHC 12-valve V-6|
|Curb weight||4100-4300 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||176.1 x 73.1 x 71.3 in|
|0-60 mph||10.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||15-16 / 21-22 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.06-1.13 lb/mile|
|On sale in||U.S. Currently|