Jeep revamps 2008 Liberty while cutting price
Jeep officials have performed a feat of alchemy -- they've reduced the starting retail price of their revamped-for-2008 Liberty sport utility vehicle by nearly $1,300, even as they improved the Liberty's suspension, stance, styling, seats and features.
They've also given buyers control of the sky, with a new Sky Slider fabric roof that's the biggest sunroof in this SUV segment.
With the touch of a button, a driver can position the Sky Slider's acrylic material all the way back, so both front and rear passengers enjoy the sun. Or the open roof can be positioned above the back seats, above the front seats, or anywhere in between.
The Sky Slider's acrylic is reinforced cloth, like that used in convertible roofs, so it's weather- and leak-resistant. Option price starts at $1,060 and it's available even on the base Liberty.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for that base model with two-wheel-drive is $20,990, down from the $22,260 starting price for a 2007 Liberty Sport.
The lowest-priced 2008 Liberty SUV with automatic transmission is a two-wheel-drive Sport with a $21,815 price tag. This compares with $23,085 for a base 2007 Liberty with automatic.
All 2008 Liberty SUVs come with a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 that's largely a carry-over from 2007.
Shoppers will find the new, lower pricing undercuts Liberty competitors such as the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser, which starts at $23,230 with automatic transmission and 239-horsepower, 4-liter V-6.
The Liberty now also has a starting price lower than the 2008 Nissan Xterra, which starts at $21,875 for a two-wheel-drive model with manual transmission and 261-horsepower, 4-liter V-6.
Price isn't the only welcome news.
The Liberty comes standard with side curtain air bags, electronic stability control, antilock brakes and traction control. The previous Liberty had a nearly across-the-board five-out-of-five-stars rating from the federal government. The new Liberty test results aren't out yet.
The Liberty's exterior styling changes, which involve a more boxy, Jeep-heritage look, give the SUV more appeal and reminds me of the old, popular Jeep Cherokee that was dropped several years ago.
The new styling is true to the vehicle's outstanding off-road capability, which wasn't fully reflected in the milder appearance of the old model.
Jeep fans will notice that the Liberty's spare tire isn't perched on the tailgate anymore. It has been tucked under the rear floor, improving rear visibility greatly. Still, it can be difficult to see youngsters who might be right behind the rear end of the tall-riding Liberty, so drivers should check carefully.
They also should consider buying the optional ParkSense rear backup alert system that Jeep offers as part of its premium package for $2,295 on Liberty Limited models that start at more than $25,000.
The Liberty tailgate, by the way, no longer swings out and to the side like a big door. It's now a liftgate with a rear window that can flip upward.
More cargo room
There's an additional 3.3 inches of cargo floor at the back of the Liberty, too, for a maximum cargo space behind the front seats that now measures 64.6 cubic feet.
But it's a bit of a boost to get items up there. Remember, the Liberty has at least 7.4 inches of ground clearance beneath it for off-roading, and rides tall on the road.
Thus, the height of the load floor is more than 2.7 feet above the ground.
Jeep officials retained the best attributes of the Liberty for off-roaders while improving on-road ride comfort.
The Liberty turning circle is exemplary at just 35.5 feet. This is 6.3 feet shorter than that of Toyota's FJ Cruiser and makes maneuvering on trails so much easier. This also takes some getting used to when a driver is making U-turns. I nearly did doughnuts the first couple of times I wanted to change direction because the Liberty was turned around before I knew it and the maneuver didn't take much steering effort.
Meanwhile, a new, independent front suspension and new five-link rear suspension make the ride less bouncy and less jolting.
It's true the Liberty retains a small wheelbase of 106.1 inches. And this contributes to a jaunty up-and-down, up-and-down ride over highway expansion cracks and some bridge surfaces.
But, overall, the ride is smoother than before.
In the past, the Liberty has felt "tippy" on the road. But with its new suspension, the test Liberty moved confidently on curves and mountain roads.
There was wind and road noise in the test Liberty Sport, but it's not as if I expected a luxury car ride in this SUV.
I enjoyed the view from the Liberty's high seat position. But at 5-foot-4, I had to boost myself a bit to get up on the seats in this 5.9-foot-tall vehicle.
Back-door openings still offer small room for maneuvering feet inside. But the new Liberty has grown a couple inches longer than its predecessor and offers a commendable 38.3 inches of rear-seat legroom. This is way more than the 31.3 inches in the back of the FJ Cruiser.
Headroom in the back seat of the Liberty is a noteworthy 40.3 inches.
The Liberty can tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped.
Plastic materials on the dashboard that looked cheap and an unimpressive city fuel economy rating of 16 miles per gallon were my biggest complaints.
The Liberty's single overhead cam V-6 also can feel a bit taxed when the vehicle is full of people and cargo, particularly when the optional four-speed automatic is trying to find the optimal gear. Many competitors have moved beyond four-speed gearboxes to more modern, five-speed automatics.