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

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2008 Jeep Liberty

Ottawa, Ontario – Some of my guy friends tell me I’m not the “manliest” of men, and I’d tend to agree: I drink beer I like, rather than chugging the cheap stuff just to get buzzed; I hate football, and I appreciate fine art and tasteful interior design.

Despite all that, even I thought the original Liberty was a girlie-girl’s SUV, so precious it was with its round taillights to match the headlights, and the curved character lines on the hood.

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

The new Liberty is a million times better looking: there isn’t a line on this thing that I don’t like. And even though the interior uses a lot of the hard plastics found in other Chrysler products, and the old Liberty’s cutesy dash has been replaced with all manner of right angles, this is a better fit with the Liberty’s purpose as a no-nonsense SUV. Interior quality seems better here than in other Chrysler products I’ve driven recently. Methinks they’ve been listening.

I welcome the aesthetic changes, but I had hoped for an update under the hood, too. I’m hardly a horsepower hound, but the Liberty could use some more. Sure, the 3.7-litre’s 210 ponies are adequate for getting around town, but the motor struggles in passing manoeuvres, and it had to work pretty hard on a recent drive up into the Gatineau Hills.

The four-speed automatic had a lot on its plate too, during that hilly drive. It gets indecisive in that sort of terrain, having to move frequently between third and fourth gears to keep the motor in the meaty part of its torque curve. And this, with just two people aboard; imagine maxing out the Liberty’s 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) tow rating.

My wallet too was at the mercy of the Liberty’s fuel consumption, which never got better than about 13.5 L/100 km despite much of my week being spent on the highway.

A smaller motor isn’t always the best choice for good fuel economy. The 255-horse motor that’s available in the similar (mechanically identical, mostly) Dodge Nitro might actually be more efficient, considering it wouldn’t have to work as hard. A five-speed (or even a six-speed) automatic transmission would be welcome, too. At least the power team does its work smoothly and quietly.

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

The new Liberty’s suspension is pretty good at smoothing out rough paved surfaces, but the tall ride height causes a fair amount of pitching around for those riding inside. Light steering and a tight turning circle make parking lot manoeuvres a cinch, however steering feel is minimal. The brakes are very strong and pedal feel is good making smooth stops easy from any speed.

I agree with Jil that the Liberty is quite small inside, a perception I think is exaggerated by the new exterior, which makes the truck look bigger on the outside that it actually is. Cargo space is generous, though.

While rear-seat legroom seemed decent to me, the narrow rear door openings make getting in and out – but particularly getting out – difficult for me, and I’m only five-foot-seven. Park an all-legs six-footer back there and it’ll be nothing but complaints.

I’m with Jil too, on the topic of the SkySlider sunroof. Novel as it is, it generates lots of wind noise at speed. I do, however, like the fact that it can be opened from the front or the back. I too noted there were no leaks during a run through a high-pressure car wash.

My off-road opportunities were limited to riding the Liberty – on purpose – up onto the snowbanks currently choking my neighbourhood’s streets. This did little to faze the truck, even with its standard tires, though my activities attracted some nervous looks from neighbours.

I was actually surprised to find out that my tester (the same vehicle as Jil’s) came in under $40,000. If you can get past the Liberty’s powertrain deficiencies – which you won’t really notice in everyday driving or in the bush – the Liberty stacks up as an extremely capable off-roader.

At least, capable enough for this girlie-man.

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