The All-New 2002 Jeep Liberty
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Its here. Yep, the all new 02 Jeep Liberty from DaimlerChrysler has made its debut. After more rumors and dead-end hot leads, we got it here for you in full living color. Is this the replacement for the venerable Cherokee introduced back in 1984? Nope. The Libertys boxy brethren are supposed to live on for at least a few more years, so now Jeep has four vehicles to compete in the popular SUV market.
We know that some of you may raise a scared eyebrow at this new offering, but hey, we tested it ourselves on the Rubicon trail last fall and it really does work. And the styling? Most readers will recognize many design elements from the concept vehicles DC has produced, most notably the Jeepster and the Dakar. Even though a vehicle rarely goes from concept to production, the grille is unmistakably Jeepster, while the large rear body, four doors, and rear hatch have clearly evolved from the Dakar.
You may ask, how does the Liberty work in the real Jeep world? Alas, the new Jeep has been produced with Independent Front Suspension, which hasnt been on a Jeep since the early 60s. Die-hard solid axle fans will cry foul to this abomination of the Jeeps soul, and rightfully so. In fact, other manufacturers who dropped the solid axle idea years ago may think Jeep finally figured it out, but instead Jeep has outdone them all in developing an IFS system thats beefy and durable. Most important, though, is the amount of suspension travel8 inches up and downwhich is impressive in a stock IFS vehicle. Of course, the new suspension has no articulation in the true sense of the word, but the available wheel travel nearly makes up for that, and the IFS delivers excellent street performance.
Jeep was able to design this vehicle from the ground up, since it fits into the growing SUV market that desires good on-highway ride and performance. In effect, the IFS and rack-and-pinion steering clearly provide the required performance, but detract little from the standard Jeeps off-road ability. The uniframe construction is the stiffest Jeep has ever produced for better handling on the road and long-lasting durability off the pavement. An all-new 3.7L V-6 engine evolved from the successful 4.7L V-8, which is found in the Grand Cherokee. It is plenty powerful in this package, and the matching auto tranny works like a dream. Out back, a Chrysler 8¼ rearend for the 4x4 models is attached by a three-link system and coils, which wed like to see under our own ride, but in a Dana 44 style. The proven NV231 and NV242 are also available, and when slipped into low range, the crawl speed, braking, and climbing parameters are also changed to match the terrain.
These new Jeeps are built in the all-new Toledo North Assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, and DC expects to be able to crank them out at a rate of 800 a day, quite a feat for a new vehicle. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the plant while they were tuning it up, and it is a marvel of automotive manufacturing, especially if youve been in plants that have been operating since the turn of the century. We were also fortunate to ride the Rubicon with these rigs along with the engineers, and get an exclusive off-road driving impression long before most journalists had even seen the thing. Equipped with street tires and without all the performance details nailed down, the Liberty was a success on the rock, and handled the trail nearly as well as the accompanying TJ, XJ, and WJ. Were looking forward to testing the beast thoroughly, and that means putting real tires on it for clearance and traction. We also wonder who will be developing a lift kit for the Liberty, as well as other performance items. Were ready when they are! For more information on the new Liberty check out Jeeps site at www.jeep.com.