2008 Jeep Liberty North
2008 Jeep Liberty North. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Bob McHugh
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2008 Jeep Liberty

Surrey, British Columbia – For 2008, the redesigned Jeep Liberty reverts to classic Jeep styling on the outside while offering a more refined ride, a more functional interior, and a drop in price. There are also some new safety features and it’s available with an industry-first (according to Jeep) Sky Slider optional roof system.

Make no mistake: the Liberty is a thoroughbred mid-size SUV, not a crossover car/utility vehicle like many new offerings today. Designed to plough through rough terrain and haul lots of stuff, the Liberty can also pull a 2,268-kg (5,000 lb.) trailer.

But while it’s a great fit for a buyer who likes to get off the beaten path, the Liberty exhibits some on-road concessions. The new Liberty is heavy (1,790 kg/3946 lb.), not particularly easy on fuel, and it handles like a truck – a nice truck.

2008 Jeep Liberty North
2008 Jeep Liberty North. Click image to enlarge

That said, the on-road ride of the new Liberty is much improved by a new independent front and a five link rear-suspension system. A slightly longer wheelbase (by five centimetres) than its predecessors is also a plus.

There are no significant changes down in the engine room: a 3.7-litre V6 is still the one and only motor offered and it can produce up to 210 horsepower. It’s mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic.

A new all-wheel-drive system called Selec-Trac II ($475) is now available in addition to the basic Command-Trac II, a part-time 4×4 system. As well, Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control are two new additions to Liberty’s off-road arsenal. Start Assist (with the manual transmission) stops it from rolling back and Descent Control limits vehicle speed, by pulsing the brakes, going down a steep grade.

Pricing and standard equipment

The ’08 Jeep Liberty comes in three trim levels – Sport, North and Limited. The Liberty Sport is $27,695 and comes with 16-inch aluminum wheels, fold-flat reclining second row seats, and AM/FM/MP3/CD stereo system with four speakers.

2008 Jeep Liberty North
2008 Jeep Liberty North. Click image to enlarge

The Liberty North starts at $28,645. In addition, it comes with deep-tinted glass; fog lamps; speed control; compass and temperature gauge; a six speaker stereo system and a fold-flat front passenger seat.

The top-of-the-line Limited is $32,795 and adds more standard features including leather upholstery; heated front bucket seats; an Infinity audio system; satellite radio; electronic vehicle information centre; remote start and security alarm; heated folding-exterior mirrors; steering wheel mounted audio controls; memory package (radio, seat, mirrors); 17-inch aluminum wheels; automatic headlamps and auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

Styling overview

Taller, more rugged looking and more Jeep-like than the first-generation vehicle, the new Liberty is a back to-basics Jeep. It’s built on the same KJ platform as the Dodge Nitro and there are some overall shape similarities.

2008 Jeep Liberty North
2008 Jeep Liberty North. Click image to enlarge

Up front, the signature seven-slot Jeep grille is more prominent. It’s body coloured on the Sport and chrome on the Limited. In the rear, it now has a liftgate design, instead of a swing gate. It still has a rear glass window that opens independently and the spare wheel is now hidden inside.

The full-length Sky Slider sunroof is a unique option. Four times the size of an average sunroof, it’s made from reinforced-acrylic cloth and has an anti-pinch feature that will detect an object in its path.

Interior impressions

Inside, the light beige and brown interior of my test vehicle had a bright and clean appearance. The focus is obviously on functionality rather than luxury. It’s in character with the brand and I liked it.

2008 Jeep Liberty North
2008 Jeep Liberty North
2008 Jeep Liberty North
2008 Jeep Liberty North. Click image to enlarge

You sit high and there’s plenty of head- and shoulder-room. I found the driver’s seat position comfortable, although I did have the seat fully rearward on its track. I’m not sure why rear movement was limited, as there seemed to be lots of space behind.

The controls are simple, easy to identify and easy to use. There are lots of storage spots and cubby holes, although the glove-box is on the small side. The centre console has a deep pocket and a removable tray.

Highly usable second-row seating offers good head- and legroom. A narrow rear door opening in the foot area does require some extra user dexterity. The second-row seats fold flat very easily and so did the front passenger seat in my test vehicle, a handy feature if you’re loading a long item.

A reversible floor in the cargo area is another good feature. Carpeted on one side, it’s vinyl on the other and has a shallow a tray – good to have for wet or muddy items.

Notable standard safety equipment includes an electronic stability control system, side-curtain airbags with roll protection and Hill Start Assist. Although the owner’s manual does a poor job at explaining its safety features, the Liberty is one of the better child-seat friendly vehicles that I’ve come across this year. It has well-placed and easy-to-use child-seat anchors. The rear seats are level, all usable and there’s room for a bulky rear-facing child seat.

Driving impressions

My only quibble with the driving position in the Liberty is that no dead pedal is provided. Outward vision is particularly good as you sit tall, there’s lots of glass and the side mirrors are big.

a Jeep Liberty tackles the off-road course at the 2008 edition of AJAC's Testfest
2008 Jeep Liberty North
Top photo: a Jeep Liberty tackles the off-road course at the 2008 edition of AJAC’s Testfest; bottom photo, 2008 Jeep Liberty North. Click image to enlarge

The Command Trac 4WD allows shift-on the-fly (up to 88 km/h) and an easy to-use electronic switch replaces last year’s transfer-case shift lever. The two-wheel-drive mode is the smoothest and most economical for everyday use.

The Liberty is heavy and tall, so it’s not as nimble as many of its compact-class competitors. A rigid rear axle, while an advantage off-road and when towing, is a handling liability on-road. It can struggle to recover its poise when you make a quick change of direction.

While the ride is generally firm, the Liberty’s new suspension enhancements do a good job of smoothing over road irregularities. Although it has decent off-the-line jump, an acceleration time of just under 10 seconds to 100 km/h (recorded at the Canadian Car of the Year evaluations) lags behind many of its paved road-friendly competitors.

In off-road conditions, however, the Liberty is highly capable and probably the best in its class. With the exception of its Jeep Wrangler stable mate, I can’t think of another vehicle in the under-$30,000 price range as adept over rough terrain. The addition of Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control make a novice to the unpaved trails look like an expert.


The new rugged-look Jeep Liberty is at its best when the going gets rough or there’s something to pull.

Pricing: 2008 Jeep Liberty North


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