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2006 Biodiesel Jeep Liberty

by Martha Hindes

Biodiesel Jeep Liberty
2006 Biodiesel Jeep Liberty

Toyota's Prius might have Cameron Diaz as a champion, but Chrysler isn't lacking in the celebrity race to go green. "We have Darrell Hannah in diesel," says Chrysler Group spokesman Max Gates. "She's always showing up at National Biodiesel Board conferences."

That's good news for the biodiesel Jeep Liberty, Chrysler's only alt fuel vehicle now available for individual ecology-conscious consumers. Production constraints have kept the company's E85 alternative fuel Dodge Stratus/Chrysler Sebring, Caravan/Grand Caravan and Dodge Durango and Ram 1500 pickup reserved for fleets this year, although its E85 models have been sold individually since 1998. Next year should be open season once again on all alt fuel models.

For the anti-gasoline crowd, E85 provides an earth-friendlier propellant that depends less on foreign oil and more on homegrown corn and soybeans. "E85" vehicles can run on regular gasoline or a combo of 85 percent plant-based ethanol and 15 percent regular petrol. On the biodiesel side, the fuel blend that includes vegetable oils or animal fats spews fewer polluting "particulates" from exhaust.

For those opting for the biodiesel Liberty, planet savings start at the production line where the vehicles are fueled with "B5," a factory-blend, 5 percent bio-to-regular diesel fuel mix. Owners who choose to bypass straight petroleum can fuel up from one of the smattering of B20 stations now cropping up around the country, with the expectation of many more selling such fuels as country singer Willie Nelson's "Bio Willie" 20-percent biodiesel. Otherwise, it's unlikely most consumers would be aware they are driving a fuel-morphing set of wheels. Beyond the optional, high performance four-cylinder, 2.8-liter common rail diesel (CRD), our test biodiesel Liberty sported the same round headlamps, seven-slot grille, bold upright profile and wild country 4X4 performance for off-road dominance (all with 22/26 fuel economy) as those with the 210 horsepower 3.7-liter internal combustion engine.

Despite our 4X4's base pricetag of $26,190 ($32,010 loaded as tested), there have only been about 10,000 of the diesel variety available, as Chrysler moves toward expanding its earth friendly lineup. For 2007, it will add a hybrid Durango based on joint technology with GM and BMW. Those efforts could get a boost from people like outspoken Hannah. She's been known to corral lobbyists in Washington about diesel fuel regulatory actions needed to benefit her smogbound home state of California now led by another celebrity, Gov./actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "She's always telling them, 'Do I need to talk to Arnold?'" Gates recalls. We can picture her driving an Inferno Red biodiesel Liberty to the Sacramento statehouse just to make her point.