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2002 Jeep Liberty - A New Jeep With a New Name

Front Driver Side
Posted February 1, 2001

The All-New 2002 Jeep Liberty

Step By Step

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  • The '02 Jeep Liberty.

  • The rear flipper window and swinging tailgate is a one-hand operation and works much better than anything else on the market. The rear 65/35 split bench seats are on a shuttle system for easy movement and also only require one hand to fold down.

  • The Rubicon trail testing was done with the vehicles still in camouflage, or camo-lite as we called it. Even shod with dinky street tires, the Liberty seemed at home in this environment, and the IFS worked surprisingly well. Note how far the opposing tires have traveled, making for good off-road ability—much better than the competition. It’s no solid-axle Jeep, but it does work. Bigger tires with real tread and lockers would make the trail even easier to traverse in the Liberty.

  • Nearly plucked out of the Jeepster concept car, the Liberty dash is quite functional while still looking cool. Easy-to-read gauges and nearly all controls are where they should be. Too many airbags are also available, and all of the other government-mandated junk is already in place to meet future regulations. The biggest complaint we had was that the power window switches were located on the center console. Editorial Director Cole Quinnell noted, “If you have to figure it out, it’s wrong.” We agree. The window switches belong near the window. Period.

  • The new Liberty is not meant to replace any vehicle in the Jeep lineup, but to simply expand Jeep’s market without sacrificing the Jeep heritage it is known for. Even though we’re staunch supporters of the solid axles’ reputation for strength, performance, and durability, we’re willing to give this new Jeep a try. So far, we’ve been impressed with the performance of this new Jeep.

  • Torsional stiffness of the uniframe construction helps the road ride and durability, while the suspension does the duty of keeping the tires on the ground. While the sway bars were hooked up for this run, we believe that the three-link coil rear suspension will work great once sway bar disconnects are developed by the aftermarket. Notice how nice and level the front A-arms are with the front crossmember, and all the underbody components are tucked up out of harm’s way.

  • The new Power Tech 3.7L V-6 engine is derived from the well-proven 4.7L V-8 found in the Grand Cherokee. Direct-mount accessories make for a nice small package while keeping NVH to a minimum. Our testing found the engine to be well matched to the Liberty drivetrain with plenty of get-up-and-go.

It’s 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 Liberty’s 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 hasn’t been on a Jeep since the early ’60s. Die-hard solid axle fans will cry foul to this abomination of the Jeep’s 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 that’s beefy and durable. Most important, though, is the amount of suspension travel—8 inches up and down—which 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 Jeep’s 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 we’d 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 you’ve 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. We’re 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. We’re ready when they are! For more information on the new Liberty check out Jeep’s site at