The Jeep Liberty first debuted six years ago as the slightly larger successor to Jeep's original Cherokee compact sport-utility vehicle. With an ample greenhouse, high roof line and flared wheel arches, it was an evolutionary departure from that earlier SUV's boxy design, which also paid tribute to the original Jeep Willys off-roader. Not content to simply look the part like many of its car-based SUV competitors, the Jeep Liberty was also designed to venture off road confidently with extreme approach and departure angles, impressive suspension articulation and thoroughly capable 4WD systems.
However potentially useful that off-road ability was, though, we generally found the first-generation Liberty outclassed (particularly in later years) in terms of comfort, on-road handling and refinement. The 2008 Jeep Liberty has been redesigned in hopes of addressing those shortcomings while adding a more rugged image many Jeep enthusiasts thought the previous Liberty lacked. Underneath new sheet metal -- it bears significant resemblance to Jeep's large Commander -- is the same updated platform that's also used for the Dodge Nitro. This platform's updated independent front/five-link rear suspension and power rack-and-pinion steering system help to improve on-road ride and handling.
A nearly 2-inch-longer wheelbase translates into improved interior roominess and seating comfort. There are also additional premium features like rain-sensing wipers, express up/down front windows, remote starting, driver memory positioning and a hard-drive-based navigation system. Versatility is enhanced with a new rear hatch with separate lift glass and an underbody spare tire carrier instead of the previous tailgate-mounted wheel. Also making its debut is an optional new Sky Slider full-length canvas roof that slides open to give the Liberty an airy, Wrangler-like experience.
Jeep fans don't have to worry that the Liberty has gone completely soft. (That's what the Compass is for, after all.) The Liberty still has a solid rear axle and two available "Trail Rated" 4WD systems -- Command-Trac and the updated Selec-Trac II -- as well as hill-descent and hill-start assist technologies. Carrying over from last year is the Liberty's 3.7-liter V6. It's again rated at 210 horsepower, though fuel economy has been improved slightly.
We think the 2008 Jeep Liberty is still a good choice for people planning on using their small or midsize SUV for towing or occasional recreational use. Its low price and simplified trim level structure could also be draws. However, for true off-road ability, the Hummer H3, Nissan Xterra and Toyota FJ Cruiser (not to mention Jeep's own Wrangler Unlimited) are vastly superior. And despite its latest significant refinements and improved on-road manners, the Liberty simply isn't the best choice for consumers who aren't planning on venturing off pavement. For this latter group, we recommend taking a look at models such as the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV4.
The 2008 Jeep Liberty is a midsize SUV available in Sport and Limited trim levels and with a choice of two- or four-wheel drive. The base Sport model features 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories and a CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack. The upscale Liberty Limited Edition rolls with larger 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a power driver seat, heated side mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a high-power Infinity sound system with satellite radio. Many of the Limited's features are also available on the Sport. Major options include 18-inch chrome wheels, the Sky Slider cloth roof or a traditional sunroof, automatic temperature control, heated leather seats, a power passenger seat, an in-dash six-CD stereo, a MyGIG infotainment system with navigation, rear parking assist and Bluetooth.
The redesigned five-passenger Jeep Liberty features a 2-inch-longer wheelbase and slightly wider dimensions, which translates into more front shoulder room, more rear legroom and increased cargo capacity compared to the previous Liberty. The interior has also sobered up. In place of the collection of design-y circles that made the old interior resemble a toy is a theme of straight lines and flat surfaces. It is similar to -- surprise -- the Dodge Nitro. And in response to what Jeep claims has been a chorus of complaints from owners, the power window switches have been moved to the door panels from the center console.
For maximum versatility, a fold-flat front passenger seat is available on Sport models and standard on the Limited. Luggage capacity checks in at 31.5 cubic feet with the rear seats up; cargo space is 64.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
Two-wheel drive or one of two different four-wheel-drive systems -- standard part-time Command-Trac or available full-time Selec-Trac -- are offered on both trim levels. All Jeep Liberty models are powered by a 3.7-liter V6 rated at 210 hp and 235 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional on the Sport trim level, while the automatic comes standard on the Limited. A properly equipped Jeep Liberty can tow up to 5,000 pounds, among the best in its class. Engine refinements have translated into slightly improved (though still unimpressive) fuel economy this year; EPA estimates are 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway for two-wheel-drive models and 4WD variants with the manual gearbox, while automatic-equipped 4WD models rate a slightly lower 15 mpg/city and 21 mpg/highway.
The new 2008 Jeep Liberty exhibits improved on-road manners thanks to a much-needed suspension overhaul, including retuned springs, shocks and rack-and-pinion steering. The revised chassis, together with a longer and wider stance, contributes to greater stability through fast turns and quick transitions, though there's still a modest amount of body roll and harshness to contend with. Like other Jeeps, the Liberty receives top marks for its off-road prowess, and its long suspension travel helps to tame larger bumps on paved roads, too. The Liberty's unspectacular acceleration with the carryover V6 would be tolerable if it achieved good fuel mileage, but it doesn't -- quite the opposite, really. Also, during night driving we found that the headlights were insufficient and inconsistent in their coverage.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, electronic roll mitigation and side curtain airbags are all standard on the 2008 Jeep Liberty. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the Liberty a perfect five-star rating in both front- and side-impact crashworthiness. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2008 Liberty its highest rating of "Good" for frontal offset impacts, up from "Marginal" for 2002-'07 models. However, it deemed the Liberty only "Marginal" (second lowest) in side-impact crash-testing.
The 2008 Jeep Liberty has been fully redesigned. It remains true to its off-road heritage with two different four-wheel-drive systems to choose from, but much attention has been paid to improve on-road ride and handling characteristics via revised suspension and steering systems. Redesigned sheet metal projects an even more rugged Jeep persona, while inside there's more room, more creature comforts and an available new power Sky Slider open-air canvas roof. As with all new Chrysler products, this year's Liberty is also covered by a new limited lifetime powertrain warranty.