2008 Jeep Liberty
2008 Jeep Liberty. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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Indianapolis, Indiana – The first thing you notice about the all-new Jeep Liberty is the attitude. Bigger and tougher-looking, the 2008 Liberty has a more commanding presence (yes, it does remind you of the Jeep Commander) compared with the first-generation model.

This is partly due to the Liberty now being built at the same Toledo plant as the Dodge Nitro, where not surprisingly the two models rolling down the line are different versions of the same fundamental vehicle. Underneath, however, the Jeep has the goods to get the brand’s “Trail Rated” designation, which means you can take it into some fairly severe off-road territory, and make it out again. Two four-wheel drive systems – Command-Trac II part time and Selec-Trac II full-time – are available (no rear-wheel drive in Canada). All Jeep Liberty models have a low range.

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

Starting at $27,695 for the Liberty Sport, the price rises to $28,545 for the Canada-only North Edition and $32,795 for the Limited (not including $1,300 freight). The 2008 base price is reduced by $2,695 for a four-wheel drive (4WD) Liberty.

Under the hood is the same 3.7-litre, single overhead camshaft V6 found in the 2007 Liberty. It generates 210 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, and 235 pounds-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm (power is also unchanged from 2007). A choice of six-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions is offered.

The Liberty gains about five centimetres in length and about a centimetre in width, with more legroom for rear-seat passengers and more cargo room the result. However, it has a shorter wheelbase than the Nitro, which contributes to its Trail Rated off-road status.

2008 Jeep Liberty; image courtesy Jeep
2008 Jeep Liberty; image courtesy Jeep. Click image to enlarge

Along with the standard V6 engine and six-speed manual transmission, the Sport version arrives with side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, power mirrors, four-speaker audio, reclining second row seats, 16-inch aluminum wheels, reversible rear cargo tray, hill start assist and traction control.

The North Edition ($850) adds fold-flat front passenger seat, cruise control, six-speaker audio, tinted glass, fog lamps, roof rack, floor mats, compass and temperature gauge and a cargo cover.

The Liberty Limited adds an automatic transmission, 17-inch aluminum wheels, remote start, leather-faced seating, front heated power seats with driver’s lumbar adjust, power heated mirrors, premium Infinity audio with eight speakers and subwoofer, Sirius satellite radio with one-year service, leather wrapped steering wheel with remote controls, auto dimming rear view mirror, bright trim and a full-size spare wheel/tire. Also available on the Limited is Uconnect Hands-Free Communications and MyGIG Multimedia “Infotainment” system with DVD and navigation.

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

The exterior differences between the first and second generation Liberty are considerable, with the outgoing model’s softer, “cuter” look replaced by a more angular, chunky profile. The Liberty loses the distinctive “cutaway” door of the previous model, and its shape is reminiscent of the retired Cherokee. Inside, the changes continue. The outgoing Liberty’s somewhat twee instrumentation is pushed aside by a brawnier Dodge style. In fact, it does look a bit like a Caliber/Nitro/Charger from behind the driver’s seat in the new Liberty (quite a bit of grey plastic) and could, in my view, use a bit more Jeep “DNA” in there.

An available option on all Liberty models is the “SkySlider” canvas sunroof ($1,525), courtesy of ASC Inc., in Michigan. It’s made of reinforced acrylic cloth (same as convertible tops), and is a full-length sliding top that opens from the front or rear. When fully open, it exposes virtually the entire interior cabin. This is actually a return to a retractable roof style popular on European cars of a few decades ago, but is much more sophisticated. A “conventional” sunroof is also available.

Additional available features include the Hill Descent Control system (included with automatic transmission), 18-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels, rain sensing windshield wipers, and rear park assist.

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

Packages include the Class III tow group with trailer-sway control; the Premium sound system; Premium Group II with automatic climate control, air filtration system and 18-inch wheels; and a Skid Plate Group, with skid plates for the front suspension, transfer case, automatic transmission (if so equipped), two front tow hooks and one rear tow hook.

On the road, the Liberty rides smoothly and quietly. There’s no lurching or jouncing over bumps and if anything, you’re hard pressed to acknowledge you’re in a “truck” at all. The Liberty ride is something on which Jeep engineers have specifically focused, and the 2008 Liberty arrives with a new independent front, and new five-link rear suspension to do the job. Fuel consumption is rated at 13.4/9.2 L/100 km, city/highway for the manual transmission, and 14/9.7 L/100 km, city/highway for the automatic transmission.

If anything, driving the Liberty on the highway is unremarkable, because it’s so civilized.

2008 Jeep Liberty
2008 Jeep Liberty. Click image to enlarge

Seats are comfortable, legroom front and rear is good, cargo capacity it generous and useful, wind noise is low and steering is light but doesn’t sacrifice feel. The Liberty is more about the style of a Jeep, but the driving experience of a family car.

That’s until you go off-road, where the Liberty can bang through the brush and traverse seriously rugged terrain when asked: kind of a dual personality, here.

The 2008 Jeep Liberty takes a successful sport-utility vehicle and adds room, a more traditional Jeep “look” and new features. It may not be as “approachable” as the outgoing model, but looks bigger than it actually is. With its competitive pricing and off-road credibility, the Liberty should continue to appeal.

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