When Jeep invited us to drive the all-new '08 Jeep Liberty over Poison Spider Mesa in Moab, we raised an eyebrow. After all, the tricky Poison Spider Mesa isn't a bone-stock vehicle's "happy place." Would they regret it?
Our hosts stressed that our test was designed specifically for us to gauge the Liberty's off-highway capabilities. Along the way they never warned us away from tough obstacles, and as a matter of fact, they urged us to push the vehicle to the limit. It was immediately obvious that the new suspension is far smoother and less choppy then the previous setup. There is no increase in wheel travel over the previous Liberty, but no decrease either. It took us a while to get used to the ratcheting noises of the new All-Speed Traction Control. It was clear that the traction control system makes the new Liberty more capable-at least in the rocks-than its predecessor, simply because it can send power to a specific wheel to propel the vehicle. Because of this, we effortlessly crawled over a number of obstacles that would've halted other stock vehicles-or the previous-gen Liberty.
We also experienced the new Hill Descent Control that uses braking to allow a smooth and controlled descent without having to touch the brake pedal and Hill Start Assist, which can hold the vehicle briefly on steep inclines without the driver having to use the brake pedal. We weren't too crazy about the new Liberty's 29-degree approach angle, but we understand that good aerodynamics (i.e., decent fuel mileage) call for a low-hanging air dam. The upside is that Jeep engineers made the air dam easily removable (and we did), instantly making the approach angle a respectable 39.1 degrees. This is 3.1 degrees better than the previous-generation Liberty. Ground clearance, while improved slightly from the previous Liberty, is still low at 731/44 inches, so a cacophony of skidplate versus rock noises is the norm on rocky trails. We also dug the new Sky Slider canvas roof, which when opened offers an airy convertible feel, similar to the Wrangler.
Not too many stock vehicles can make it over Poison Spider Mesa without some sort of damage. After a day on the trail, our new Liberty had zero damage. This says a lot about its capabilities. We'll have a complete review of the new Liberty in our Four Wheeler of the Year coverage in the Feb. '08 issue.
Sky Slider roof, approach angle without air dam, more interior room, low crawl ratio with manual trans, infusion of electronics.
Infusion of electronics, low ground clearance.
There's no question that it's improved over the previous Liberty and we're confident it'll appeal to the commuting masses. We'd like to see a ground-clearance-enhancing off-road package and totally cancelable electronics.
Vehicle/model: 2008 Jeep Liberty
Base price: $22,600
Engine: 3.7L SOHC V-6
Max hp & torque (lb-ft): 210/235
Transmission(s): NSG 370 six-speed manual, 42RLE four-speed automatic
Transfer case(s): MP 1522 Command-Trac, MP 3022 Selec-Trac
Low-range ratio: 2.72:1
Frame type: Steel Uniframe
Suspension f/r: Upper and lower A-arms, coil springs, low-pressure gas-charged shocks, stabilizer bar/Live axle, upper and lower trailing arms, track bar, coil springs, stabilizer bar, low-pressure gas-charged shocks
Max crawl ratio: 38.9:1 (manual), 24.8:1 (automatic)
Brakes f/r: 11.9x1.1 vented rotor, single-piston floating caliper/12.44x0.47 solid rotor, single-piston floating caliper
Wheels: 17x7 machined and cast aluminum (tested)
Tires: P235/65R17 Goodyear Wrangler HP
Wheelbase (in): 106.1
Length (in): 176.9
Height (in): 70.1 (without roof rack)
Base curb weight (lb): 4,222
Approach/departure angles (deg): 39.1 without air dam, 29 with air dam/32.1
Minimum ground clearance (in): 7.75
GVWR (lb): 5,372
Max cargo volume (cu ft): 64.2 (with rear seat folded)
Max towing capacity (lb): 5,000 (automatic transmission), 3,500 (manual transmission) EPA mileage figures, city/hwy (mpg): 18/23
Fuel capacity (gal): 19.5