We’ll take our contestants in the order we encounter them. On our first round of visits and test drives, we are looking for any obvious reasons to eliminate a particular candidate from the list. A more in-depth evaluation will follow for any that make the cut. At this early stage we are also not really concerned about the particular dealership, nor are interested in making any particular deal or talking about trades (we take the Suburban instead of the wagon for exactly this reason).
The 2008 Jeep Liberty Sport 4WD uses Jeep’s “Selec-Trac II” full-time on-demand 4WD system. In 4WD Auto mode it detects loss of traction at any wheel and sends torque to the other wheels without any intervention by the driver. Since the primary reason for wanting four-wheel or all-wheel drive is for better traction on snowy roads, not having to think about what mode your drive system is while you’re drifting towartd the ditch is a good thing.
Driving a short mixed loop of city streets and a brief highway-like section, the Liberty is quiet. You hear the 3.7 liter V-6 growling along, though if you had the radio on you probably wouldn’t notice it. The Liberty has no trouble pulling away from stop lights or getting up to highway speeds. Steering seems a little vague, as do the brakes. The Liberty feels a little tippy on turn-in, which is not that unusual for a narrower vehicle with a high center of gravity. Outward visibility is good to all corners, no obvious obstructions, and the shallow dash gives a good view over the hood.
Head room is very good, but leg room in the driver’s seat is compromised by the dash design. For a tall person like me with long legs, the lower portion of the dash extends into where my left shin would be, and the footwell is small. Likewise, rear seat leg room is snug, especially in the seat behind me. This is not a huge issue, as rear seat leg room behind me is going to limited in anything short of a limo. The rear passenger cup holders would also get in the way of a passenger in the middle. Rear passenger entry/exit is a bit more of a concern, however, as the rear door opening is small at the bottom of the door, and the doors don’t open as wide as you think they should.
Exterior fit and finish seemed good, as did the interior. Relatively spare and utilitarian, at least compared to a lot of vehicles these days, but pleasant enough. Cargo room is slightly less than our wagon, but only slightly, and is easily accessible, though the opening rear window (or was that the Patriot?) doesn’t really add any utility.
Overall, the Liberty didn’t fare as well as I expected (particularly back-to-back with the Patriot). No doubt it has more off-road capability than we need, and passenger space and fuel economy pay a bit of a price as a result. Consequently, the Liberty may not make the final round.
Next up, the Jeep Patriot.