2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
Click image to enlarge

by Greg Wilson

The all-new Jeep Liberty replaces the Cherokee for the 2002 model year. Available with a 150 horsepower 2.4 litre 4 cylinder engine or a new 210 horsepower 3.7 litre V6, the Liberty offers an excellent combination between comfortable urban runabout and true off-the-pavement 4WD vehicle – the same can’t be said for all its compact SUV competitors.

New Jeep is comfy and rugged

The new 2002 Jeep Liberty is a compact, four door sport utility vehicle in the same class as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda Tribute, Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota RAV4.

It replaces the aging but handsome Cherokee SUV, one of the very first four-door SUV’s on the market. Though it doesn’t look like it, the Liberty is seven inches longer and two inches wider than the Cherokee. Compared to a Ford Escape, the Liberty is 1.3 in. longer and 1.5 in. wider, making it one of the largest compact SUV’s now available.

2002 Jeep Liberty Limited
2002 Jeep Liberty Limited
Click image to enlarge

The Liberty is available in two models: Sport and Limited, and is offered with a base 150 horsepower 2.4 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine and a new 210 horsepower 3.7 litre SOHC 12 valve V6 engine – the most powerful engine available in the compact SUV class.

A part-time ‘Command Trac’ 4WD system is standard – this gives the driver a choice 2WD (rear-wheel-drive) 4WD (a constant 50/50 front/rear torque split) to be used only on slippery surfaces, or 4WD Low (a Low Gear ratio for extreme off-road conditions). The Liberty is also offered with Jeep’s Selec-Trac, a 4WD system that gives the driver the choice of 2WD, part-time 4WD, 4WD Low and Full-time 4WD, the latter a 4WD system that varies power front to rear via a centre differential and can be used on dry pavement or slippery back roads. Selec Trac is offered only with the V6 engine and automatic transmission. The Liberty has open differentials front and rear, and a Trac-Lok locking rear differential is optional at the rear.

The Liberty’s Selec Trac 4WD system differs from most of its competitors who offer only full-time
four-wheel-drive – many of those run in front-wheel-drive on dry pavement, only switching power to the rear wheels when the front wheels slip. The only compact SUV’s that offer a system similar to
the Liberty’s are the Nissan Xterra and Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara, Chevy Tracker and Kia Sportage.

The significance of Jeep’s 4WD system is that it allows greater versatility over a greater variety of roads. For ordinary day-to-day driving on dry roads, 2WD is fine. For wet or snow-covered roads, full-time four-wheel-drive provides more stability and traction.

For gravel and dirt roads, part-time 4WD provides even more grip. And for steep, slippery tracks, 4WD Low provides engine braking and pulling power.

This versatility allows the Liberty to tackle everything from mall parking lots to muddy backroads.
What makes the Liberty special is that it’s not ‘truck-like’ on pavement. It doesn’t sacrifice ride
comfort and driveability for off-road prowess.

Peppy powertrain

2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
Click image to enlarge

My test vehicle, a well-equipped Sport model, had the 210 horsepower 3.7 litre V6 engine and 4-speed
automatic transmission. Acceleration is brisk and the engine is quite refined – but though the Liberty’s new V6 has more horsepower than the Cherokee’s 190 horsepower 4.0 litre inline six cylinder engine, it doesn’t have quite as much low-end torque (235 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm vs 225 lb.-ft @ 3000 rpm). Still, I found performance more than adequate, and the Liberty’s drivetrain and body are considerably stiffer and less vibration-prone than the Cherokee’s.

For a relatively small vehicle, the Liberty has a good towing capacity. With the V6 engine, automatic transmission and trailer tow package, the Liberty has a towing capacity of 2250 kg (5000 lb.). With the manual transmission, the towing capacity is 1600 kg (3500 lb.). Maximum payload is 522 kg (1150 lb.).

Unlike many compact SUV’s which have an independent rear suspension, the Liberty has a more truck-like live axle. This is a more heavy-duty design, but makes for a bumpier ride over uneven pavement. Still, I didn’t find it uncomfortable.

With power-assisted rack and pinion steering, and a fairly tight turning diameter (curb-to-curb) of 12 metres (35.9 ft), the Liberty is easy to manouver and park in tight environments such as parking stalls, and mall parking lots.

Driving Impressions

2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
Click image to enlarge

The step up into the Liberty’s cabin is a bit higher than some other compact SUV’s, but it’s certainly not as awkward as mid-sized models. The driver sits up high and has good visibility to the front, side, and rear – the rear head restraints are positioned so that they don’t block vision, and the spare tire on the back is mounted low enough so as not to interfere as well.

One observation: the driver’s seat is positioned closer to the door than I’m used to – this takes a bit of getting used to.

I found the Liberty’s ride to be firm but comfortable, a product of its fairly long wheelbase
and well-damped suspension – handling is stable with some lean, but not ‘tippy’ as it is in some SUV’s. On the highway, it tracks well in a straight line and is easy to drive, though there is a slight ‘bobbing’ sensation.

The V6 is responsive, and fairly quiet while cruising – with the exception of a minor gear whine
from the driveline. The 4-speed automatic transmission offers smooth, clean shifts. At 100 km/h,
the engine does only 2000 rpm, and at 120 km/h, it does 2500 rpm – very comfortable and quiet for freeway cruising. I noticed that with the moonroof open, there’s virtually no wind buffeting up to 100 km/h.

2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
Click image to enlarge

In dry conditions, 2WD (rear-wheel-drive) is the ideal gear, but in the rain or snow, I’d recommend
Full-time 4WD, because it improves stability and traction by using all four wheels to pull. Big 235/70R-16 inch Goodyear Wrangler tires offer a good combination of grip and quietness.

The brakes are front disc/rear drum – anti-lock brakes are optional.

Off the pavement, the Liberty performs exceptinally well – its high ground clearance, tight turning
circle, good visibility, and excellent 4WD system all contribute to its capable off-road performance. I know that many of its competitors are not capable of tackling really tough off-road conditions that the Liberty can handle.

I guess you’d expect as much with a Jeep!

Roomy interior

2002 Jeep Liberty Limited
2002 Jeep Liberty Limited shown
Click image to enlarge

The Liberty’s interior is roomy and attractive. Due to its tall height and elevated seating positions, there’s plenty of headroom and legroom – one exception is the front passenger footwell where a bulging heater box protrudes into the cabin.

The dashtop is unusually short and the windshield is unusually vertical. This actually helps forward visibility.

The front seats are firm, but comfortable – upholstery is cloth with a subtle chequered insert
pattern. The one-piece front seats in the Sport model have built-in head restraints and generous side bolsters for lateral support. The dash features four white-faced gauges, a four-spoke soft grip leather covered steering wheel, and a prominent Jeep logo in the centre hub. Interestingly, the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel hubs are not duplicated anywhere else.

The floor shift lever has an on/off overdrive button, and just to the left of it is an unusual ‘hand-brake’ lever to engage 4WD. The lever pulls up to engage 4PT, 4FT, Neutral, and 4Lo.

2002 Jeep Liberty Limited
2002 Jeep Liberty Limited shown
Click image to enlarge

The arrangement of controls has a European influence. The power window buttons are between the front seats, the headlights are on the left stalk and the wipers (including a rear intermittent wiper) are on the right stalk.

The centre control panel has an AM/FM/CD stereo which I thought had too much bass even in the lowest
bass position, a digital clock, 3 dials for the heater, a 12 volt outlet, cigarette lighter and

A centre armrest offers storage for CD’s and tapes.

At the rear, there are three 3-point seatbelts and two height-adjustable head restraints. I found the rear seats firmer than the front ones, but still quite comfortable. The doors have built-in bottle holders, but there isn’t a folding centre rear armrest.

Versatile cargo compartment

2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
Click image to enlarge

The rear seatbacks are split 80/20 so that one side can be folded down and two people can sit on the other side comfortably.

With the rear seats up, the cargo area measures 32 in. long by 43 in. wide. With the rear seats down, it measures 68 in. long by 43 in. wide.

The rear cargo area features four tie-down hooks, a 12 volt power outlet, and a small storage bin.

The rear cargo door is hinged on the left and opens to the driver’s side – this is the opposite of most rear sideways-opening doors. I like it because it allows unloading to the curb side without having to walk around the door.

A separate rear liftglass opens automatically when the door is opened – or it can be opened individually.

It’s interesting to note that though the Liberty is bigger than the Cherokee, it has less cargo room
behind the rear seats – about 8 cubic feet less – but with the rear seats down, it offers comparable cargo area.

Prices and features

The Liberty Sport model starts at $22,600 plus a $820 freight charge. Standard equipment includes the 2.4 litre four cylinder engine, 5 speed manual transmission, Command-Trac part-time 4WD system, power steering, AM/FM/cassette with six speakers, front high-back cloth bucket seats and rear 65/35 split folding seatbacks, multi-stage front airbags, P215/75R-16 inch all-season tires, variable
intermittent wipers and rear intermittent wiper/washer, rear defroster, flip-up rear liftglass,
tachometer, floor console, front 12 volt power outlet, front skid plate, front disc/rear drum brakes, and block heater.

Options on the Liberty Sport include the 3.7 litre V6 engine ($875), 4-speed automatic transmission
($1,000), Selec Trac full-time 4WD ($465), 16 inch all-terrain tires ($450), 16 inch alloy wheels ($385), remote 6-disc CD changer ($425), 6-way power driver’s seat ($330), heated front seats ($340), front side airbags ($450), locking differential ($330), ABS ($640), and fog lamps ($150). An Off-Road Group package ($885) includes axle track-Lok differential, engine oil cooler, skid plate, and all-terrain P23570R-16 OWL tires. An optional trailer towing package ($480) includes engine oil cooler, Class 3 trailer hitch, and 7 pin wiring harness.

For $2,485, a popular option package includes air conditioning, CD changer, roof rack, deluxe steel
wheels, full-size spare tire, power front windows with one-touch-down feature, and tilt steering wheel.

2002 Jeep Liberty Limited
2002 Jeep Liberty Limited
Click image to enlarge

For an MSRP of $28,400 plus freight charge of $820, the Liberty Limited Edition includes everything that’s standard on the Sport model plus a standard 3.7 litre V6 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo, low-back front bucket seats with adjustable head restraints, premium fender flares and body-coloured fascias, roof rack, fog lamps, keyless remote, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front windows with one-touch down, power door locks and mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, P235/70R-16 all-season tires, alloy wheels, and
a full-size spare tire, interior courtesy and cargo lights, rear cargo privacy cover, rear 12 volt power outlet, and rear storage net.

Technical Data:

2002 Jeep Liberty Sport
Base price $22,600
Price as tested $25,085
Freight $820
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine/Select Trac 4WD
Engine 3.7 litre V6, SOHC, 12 valve
Horsepower 210 @ 5200 rpm
Torque 235 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic (5-speed manual)
Tires Goodyear Wrangler RSA P235/70TR-16
Curb weight 1867 kg (4115 lb.)
Wheelbase 2649 mm (104.3 in)
Length 4430 mm (174.4 in.)
Width 1819 mm (71.6 in.)
Height 1859 mm (73.2 in.)
Ground clearance min 203 mm (7.8 in.)
Cargo space Rear seat up 821 litres (29.0 cu. ft.)
  Rear seat down 1950 litres (69.0 cu.ft.)
Fuel consumption N/A
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca