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2002 Jeep Liberty
All New, Based On Old Favorites

By Kim Cook

The new 2002 Jeep Liberty is a lot like cookie dough ice cream — based on an old favorite, or two, yet it's completely different, reassuringly familiar.

The all-new Liberty is Jeep-tough for off-road applications, as you'd expect. Combine that with its polished street manners, though, and you have a go anywhere, do anything you want vehicle. Certainly, it's this freedom that earned Liberty its name.

As the first all-new vehicle for Jeep since the Grand Cherokee's introduction in 1999, the Liberty is marketed abroad under the name "Cherokee." In North America, the Liberty basically replaces-with many refinements and improvements-the Cherokee that we've known and loved for nearly 30 years. Cherokee, which was introduced in 1974 as a two-door sport model, ceased production in mid 2001. Change in the name of progress, though, is a good thing.

A new generation of SUV buyers wants durability and on-road finesse. Liberty is sure to capture their attention, while staying true to its 60-year Jeep heritage. "The all-new Jeep Liberty stands alone in the world market because it combines the legendary Jeep capability that our customers have come to expect with superior on-road refinement to broaden our buyer base even further," said Tom Sidlik, Executive Vice President-Procurement and Supply, and General Manager-Jeep Operations, DaimlerChrysler Corporation.

Two To Choose From
Liberty entered the market in early summer 2001 with the highest horsepower and torque ratings in its class. Two versions offer buyers a variety of options: The Liberty Limited Edition and The Liberty Sport.

The Limited Edition, with its monochromatic paint scheme, is peppy to drive as it comes standard with the all-new 3.7-liter Power Tech V-6 engine and five-speed transmission. Automatic transmission is also an option. The Liberty has a 3.7-liter engine is 210 hp at 5,200 rpm and 235 lb-ft of torque. This all-new V-6 engine is similar in structure to the renowned 4.7 liter V-8 that powers the Grand Cherokee.

The Liberty Sport, with rugged dark grey bumper guards and wheel flares, comes standard with a 2.4-liter Power Tech I-4 engine and five-speed manual transmission. The four-cylinder engine is rated at 150 hp at 5,200 rpm, and 165 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The V-6 is optional on the Sport model and is a requirement for the optional automatic transmission. Either Liberty version can tow up to 5,000 pounds when equipped with the automatic transmission and the Trailer Tow Group.

The Look of Liberty
The Liberty's instantly recognizable "face" resembles that of its ever-popular older sibling, the Wrangler, with a slightly more modern, fresh appearance. Round eyeball-like halogen headlamps peer from either side of the seven-slot grille giving the Liberty an almost wide-eyed optimistic expression. The shapely, curvaceous lines of the hood complement the round design elements found on both Liberty's exterior and interior. Round recessed fog lights are set low in the bumper, just below thin marker lights. Wide wheel flares add to Liberty's solid, go-anywhere stance. Liberty is as wide as its sibling Grand Cherokee, and as tall as many large SUVs, providing the driver an excellent view of the road.

At rear, Liberty features an exterior-mounted spare that saves interior cargo space and matches the handsome cast aluminum wheels all around. For easy access, the patented single-action swing gate/flipper glass system is activated by the same comfortable full-hand grip of the exterior passenger door handles. One pull gently pops open the rear glass, which rises out of the way. A second pull on the handle opens the rear gate that is hinged on the driver side of the vehicle, and opens from the passenger side.

Overall, the Liberty's exterior is a refreshingly clean and interesting design. There are ten exterior body colors to choose from: Dark Garnet Red, Flame Red, Salsa Red, Steel Blue, Patriot Blue, Woodland Brown, Shale Green, Bright Silver Metallic, Black, and Stone White.

The Inside Story
The interior of the all-new Liberty feels so spacious and roomy that when you exit the vehicle and look back at it as you walk away (and you surely will do this) you might wonder how they put all that room in such an efficient exterior package.

The round design elements are immediately obvious in the interior: high-flow round air vents; round center hub of the steering wheel with the "Jeep" name; and round beige-colored gauge faces with black lettering. One of the most stylistic design cues of the vehicle has to be the interior door handles. Carrying the round theme, the door handles resemble steel circles with almost half of the circle bent outward to create crescent-shaped pulls. The Limited Edition model features satin chrome highlights that resemble brushed stainless steel on the steering wheel, door panels, and instrument panel. Also included with the Limited Edition option is Slate and Taupe-colored leather seating. Heated seats are also an option.

Most driver controls are within easy reach and are placed where you'd expect to find them. Power window switches, however, are housed in the front of the center console armrest in a place that we found unnatural and frustrating. Jeep justifies this positioning with accessibility to both front window switches from both front seat positions. We wonder, though, why the same thing couldn't be accomplished by placing the switches on each front door where they're easier to reach. Likewise, rear window controls are on the rear of the center console housing. Ergonomic placement of auxiliary stereo/cd controls on the backside of the steering wheel, and cruise control switches on the face of it, seemed well placed and intuitive on the Limited Edition model we drove.

The rear seat offers plenty of room and comfort, features a unique 65/35 split, and can be folded out of the way with one hand. Integrated into the rear seatbacks are shopping bag holders and child seat tether anchors. And, of course, safety locks on the rear doors help protect children in the back. Liberty is the first Jeep model to have three-point lap/shoulder belts for the middle rear seat passenger.

Behind The Wheel
Liberty's short wheelbase allows for fantastic maneuverability. Around town, Liberty is agile, sure footed and a breeze to park. At highway speeds, you can really appreciate the lengths to which Jeep engineers went to ensure a quiet, vibration-free ride. The ride is firm and the rack-and-pinion steering, a first on a Jeep product, provides excellent handling and feedback. Too quick maneuvers at speed promptly remind you that Liberty has a tall stance and fairly high center of gravity.

Liberty's stopping power is excellent. A newly redesigned braking system, featuring large-rotor disc brakes at front and full-cast rear drum brakes, has high-heat capacity resulting in less brake fade. The high-tech antilock braking system is quieter with less pedal pulsation than prior Jeeps systems. The ABS system also has a separate calibration for four-wheel-drive, low-range maneuvering.

Should you decide to take Liberty off-road for a little adventure, its short overhangs at both front and rear assure you'll be able to go up, over, and down obstacles with ease. Even in town, this could come in handy where parking is at a premium and spaces are hard to come by. Thanks to Liberty, you can sometimes just make your own parking spot-within the limits of the law of course. After all, it's not just a Jeep in name. This vehicle really IS capable. "No matter where you take it, Liberty can take it, on-road and off," said Craig Love, Vice President-Jeep Platform Engineering. "Think of Liberty as the best of both roads."

Safety First
Liberty's uniframe construction and network of alloy steel beams, rails, and pillars create a "safety cage" to protect occupants in crash situations. In a frontal crash, the engine's rear fasteners give way in order to divert crash energy from the passenger compartment. The rear gate is reinforced to support the spare tire mounting as well as to minimize intrusion into the passenger area in a crash.

Next-generation, multi-stage driver and passenger front airbags are standard on Liberty. They activate at different power levels depending upon the severity and speed of the crash and whether the occupant is seat-belted. Low-speed crashes cause lower-force airbag deployment, while high-speed crashes, or when an occupant is unbuckled, result in full-force airbag deployment. Optional side airbag curtains are available on the Liberty and deploy from the headliner just above the doors. Another first for Jeep, side airbag curtains offer additional head protection for both front and rear seat passengers. Vertically adjustable head restraints are also available for the rear seats.

Three levels of security can be added to the Liberty for theft protection. The Remote Keyless Entry system has a rolling code to prevent the interception of unlock codes. The optional Vehicle Theft Security Alarm activates with the remote keyless entry and monitors theft-deterrent sensors and switches throughout Liberty. Additionally, the Sentry Keyâ system immobilizes the engine and prevents hot-wiring or use of a forged key.