Road Test: 2008 Jeep Liberty

It's Good-Looking, but Can It Climb?

Ken Freund
Nov 1, 2007
Photographers: The Manufacturer
It's 103 degrees in the shade--and, unfortunately, there's no shade for miles. Jeep invited us to Utah's red-rock country to test the new Liberty SUV's mettle (and metal) on some of Moab's best trails. An ice chest of water bottles and Gatorades later, we knew more about this SUV than many of the engineers did.
Photo 2/10   |   2008 Jeep Liperty front View
The 2008 Liberty (now two inches longer and an inch wider) has a new look for the first time since the model replaced the blocky, angular Cherokee in 2001. Exterior changes include squared-off headlamps, a flattened hoodline, and a less rounded body--Jeep has definitely masculinized the Liberty's styling. Likewise, a retuned independent front end, five-link rear suspension, and power rack-and-pinion-steering setup provide an improved ride and more precise handling.
Both Liberty models (Sport and Limited) are offered in four-wheel or rear drive, with a choice of a four-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. A duo of Trail Rated 4WD systems are available: the all-new full-time Selec-Trac II or Command-Trac, a traditional part-time system. Selec-Trac II is the more versatile of the two, allowing use in all sorts of bad weather and rough terrain, whereas the less-expensive Command-Trac should only be put in low range on loose surfaces where tire slippage can occur.
Photo 3/10   |   2008 Jeep Liperty dash View
The single engine currently available in the U.S. is the 3.7-liter SOHC V-6--rated 210 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 235 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm--which is carried over from last year. Towing capacity remains unchanged at 5000 pounds. Unfortunately, Jeep dropped its turbodiesel option in the U.S. because that engine couldn't meet 2007 emissions regulations, but we're hopeful the 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel offered in the Grand Cherokee (and soon in the Commander) will also make it into the Liberty. Likewise, we suspect the Liberty will eventually get the 260-horse, 4.0-liter and five-speed automatic from its Dodge Nitro sibling.
Photo 4/10   |   2008 Jeep Liperty top Rear View
Our favorite interior change is the industry-exclusive Sky Slider optional power sunroof, which almost makes the Liberty feel like a convertible when it's fully open. An auto-sensing system automatically reverses the sunroof if it encounters an obstacle. But the cabin is full of other cool features: There's the MyGIG multimedia system, which combines audio, navigation, entertainment, and Bluetooth hands-free communication. It uses touchscreen or voice commands and includes a 20-gig hard drive to store music and photos. A 115-volt AC inverter outlet allows the use of various small battery chargers and other gadgets, and there's also a voice-memo recorder.
Photo 5/10   |   2008 Jeep Liperty top Interior View
Jeep also improved cargo management in the Liberty. Rear cargo access is made simpler with a new liftgate that includes a flip-glass window that can be opened by a button or keyfob. In addition, useable cargo capacity was increased by mounting the spare tire under the vehicle and a handy waterproof storage bin lies beneath a lid on the rear floor.
Our day-long run on the red rock of Moab, Utah, on the famous Golden Spike and Poison Spider trails, allowed us to push and evaluate the Liberty in numerous off-road situations. We noticed the improved support and holding strength of the seats on the trail and really liked the Sky Slider sunroof, although we suspect that using it could make the Liberty vulnerable to vandalism. The air-conditioning managed to keep up with the searing temperatures outside, and the engine never hinted at overheating. The Liberty did surprisingly well avoiding rocks and outcrops considering its low-hanging front and rear fascias and relatively low ground clearance (7.4 inches at the front diff). Well-placed skidplates, part of the off-road package, protected all vital components from rock damage.
Engine power was sufficient and throttle response smooth. The automatic-transmission and transfer-case gearing helped us to climb extremely steep sections, as you'd expect a Jeep to be able to do. Wheel travel is limited but the computer-controlled traction control let the Jeep claw and scrape its way over nasty obstacles. Unfortunately, visibility was hindered by the wider, flatter hood and somewhat low seating position. Make sure you have a spotter.
Photo 6/10   |   2008 Jeep Liperty front View
Base MSRP for the Liberty Sport 4x2 is $21,650 while the Limited starts at $25,175 (add $1500 for 4x4 models). This is clearly a manlier Jeep than it was before, but retains enough road-handling prowess to push crossovers to the side of the road.
Understanding Acronyms
High-tech electronics rule the day and ABS (anti-lock braking system) is at the heart of some cool technology. Here are a few of the Liberty's software technologies.
ABS with Rough Road Detection (RRD) detects a rough road using chassis sensors. When activated, RRD holds brake pressure longer, so snow, dirt, or gravel pile in front of tires, for shorter stops. The Brake Assist system also allows the ABS to apply maximum braking power in a panic situation, also for shortest possible stops.
Photo 7/10   |   2008 Jeep Liperty front View
Hill Descent Control (HDC) allows controlled descents on steep terrain without touching brakes. HDC applies each brake individually as needed and disengages when throttle is applied.
Hill Start Assist (HAS) allows drivers time to switch from brake to accelerator on steep grades, without rolling backward. HAS applies brakes for two seconds after driver releases brakes, or until throttle is used.
Electronic Stability Program (ESP) helps maintain directional stability. Significant differences between steering-wheel inputs and vehicle path cause selective braking and power changes to get vehicles back on course.
Photo 8/10   |   2008 Jeep Liperty rear Hitch View
Optional Trailer Sway Control (TSC) uses a yaw sensor and steering-angle sensor to detect sway, then applies brake on a front wheel to counteract it; applies all four brakes to slow vehicle and applies alternating braking and cuts power until swaying stops.
All-speed traction control (TC) applies individual brakes to halt spinning tire(s) and also can reduce engine power if needed.
Electronic Roll Mitigation (ERM) uses inputs from ESP to anticipate potential rollovers and reacts by applying the brakes individually and modulating throttle, reducing rollover risk.
Photo 9/10   |   2008 Jeep Liperty front View
Photo 10/10   |   2008 Jeep Liperty front View

2008 Jeep Liberty
General
Location of final assembly Toledo, Ohio
Body style 4-door SUV
EPA size class Special purpose
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Front, side, curtain
Powertrain
Engine 90° V-6, iron block, alum heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.66 x 3.57
Displacement, ci/L 226/3.7
Compression ratio 9.7:1
Valve gear SOHC, 2 valves/cyl
Fuel induction SFI
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 210 @ 5200
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 235 @ 4000
Transmission NSG370 6-speed manual
1st 4.46:1
2nd 2.61:1
3rd 1.72:1
4th 1.25:1
5th 1.00:1
6th 0.84:1
Reverse 4.06:1
Axle ratio 3.21:1
Optional transmission 42RLE 4-speed automatic
1st 2.84:1
2nd 1.57:1
3rd 1.00:1
4th 0.69:1
Reverse 2.21:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Final drive ratio 2.57:1 or 2.70:1
Transfer-case model MP1522 or MP3022
Low-range ratio 2.72:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) 38.9:1 or 28.8:1
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 106.1
Length, in 176.9
Width, in 72.4
Height, in 70.6
Track, f/r, in 61.0/61.0
Headroom, f/r, in 40.4/40.3
Legroom, f/r, in 40.8/38.8
Shoulder room, f/r, in 56.8/56.6
Cargo volume, behind 1st/2nd row, cu ft 64.6/31.2
Ground clearance, in 7.4
Approach/departure angle, deg 27.6/29.7
Load lift height, in 33.3
Base curb weight, lb 4100
Weight distribution, f/r, % 44/56
Max payload capacity, lb 1150
GVWR, lb 5200
GCWR, lb 10,200
Max towing capacity, lb 5000
Fuel capacity, gal 19.5
Chassis
Construction Unibody
Suspension, front/rear Independent, double A-arm, coilover/live axle, coil/link, anti-roll bar
Steering type Power rack-and-pinion
Ratio 17.4:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.4
Turning circle, ft 35.5
Brakes, front/rear 11.9-in vented disc/12.4-in disc, ABS
Wheels 18x7.0-in alloy
Tires P235/60R18 Goodyear Fortera HL
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy, mpg 15/20
CO2 emissions, lb/mile 1.15
Price
Base price $21,650
Price as tested $28,445

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