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2006 Jeep Liberty

by Martha Hindes

Jeep Liberty
Jeep Liberty Interior

If somebody else's sport utility claims more off-road capability than Jeep...

Well, that's fightin' words. Jeep makes no bones about the trail-rated capability of anything wearing that famed J-E-E-P marque, including its compact Liberty sport utility. Round headlamps, seven-slot grille, a bratty stance in front view or profile all signal its legendary heritage. Smoother contemporary styling despite a mandatory high ground clearance shows a talent for morphing from civility to utility in a blink of an eye.

This is off-road tough with comfort. Refreshed a year ago, design-wise, with the addition of a smattering of spunky diesel versions for North American buyers, the 2006 model adds some refinements to this midsize SUV. Electronic stability with anti-lock braking, brake assist and the electronic roll mitigation that can keep an adventurous high profile vehicle out of trouble, become standard equipment. (Any wheels with "Renegade" as a model can be expected to flaunt that capability.) Top line Limiteds add six-way power seating and optional heated leather. A mini garage door opener becomes optional for the Sport C. Inferno Red and Midnight Blue join exterior colors.

Unlike some lesser competitors, a full-size spare still hangs off the rear, announcing Liberty's built-in inclination to wander. Muscular styling with high wheel arches, black bottom side panels and the round "trail-rated" side badge recall Jeep's 60-year tradition of taming wild country. For '06, a 2.7-liter V-6 engine powers all non-diesel models. Two- or four-wheel-drive, with high-speed shift into 4X4 high, mate with five-speed automatic or six-speed manual. Safety features include multi-stage airbags, brake assist, knee bolsters, plus available side curtain airbags and tire pressure monitor. An engine immobilizer adds security.

Despite built-in rebel credentials, Liberty retains driving comfort plus some downright luxurious amenities, including leather trim, SIRIUS satellite radio, sunroof and premium sound. On the road, it can tow 5,000 pounds. In the low to mid-$20s range, Liberty should confirm the ability to live up to the freedom of its name without hauling an overload of debt.