The Jeep Liberty is quite capable off road, one of the best in its class, with terrific off-road prowess and bold, upright styling. It's tall and angular, somewhat reminiscent of the much-loved, rugged but crude 1990s Jeep Cherokee. It rides nice and smooth, as well, but maintains the ruggedness for which Jeep is famous.
All Liberty models come with a 3.7-liter V6 that makes 210 horsepower. A four-speed automatic is standard; but in these days of six-speed automatics, the four-speed is somewhat antiquated, and we don't think it gets the most out of the 3.7-liter V6, an engine that could use a little help. When it comes to fuel economy, the Liberty's weight and powertrain provide numbers that are on the lower end of the class.
Jeep has made an effort to refine the Liberty and add premium options. Snow Belt drivers will appreciate the full-time all-wheel drive system available in addition to the part-time system. Both four-wheel-drive systems make the Liberty highly capable off road, and they are aided by Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control.
Jeep engineers set out to give the Liberty pleasant road manners and, when it comes to ride quality, they succeeded. The Liberty rides firmly, but irons out most bumps quite well and is stable on the highway. The Liberty sacrifices handling for off-road prowess, however. The Liberty leans in turns and has a floppy feeling in quick changes of direction. Still, it's rugged and capable off road; if we were heading up a rough logging road, we'd be pleased to be in a Liberty.
Inside, the Liberty has plenty of room for five. However, we view it as not quite up to expectations in terms of materials quality and fit and finish, with a lot of hard-plastic surfaces. Still, it's not an unpleasant cockpit. Cargo room is a plus. The Liberty's second-row seats fold flat, as does the front passenger seat, to provide plenty of room for hauling boxes, bikes and life's other accessories.
For 2010 the changes are minor in nature. Front seat active head restraints are standard on all models, and the Limited trim level has leather seating surfaces and power and heated front seats. There have also been changes to some option groups and there are some detail feature enhancements.
With a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, rugged off-road capability and plenty of cargo space, the Jeep Liberty is a good choice for small families or couples that tow boats or go camping. If your travels don't often take you off-road, other small SUVs will deliver better fuel economy and better handling, but few will match the Liberty's capabilities.