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ROCKCRAWLER.com
2002 Jeep Liberty

By Mike "TXJEEPER" Cohn
Photos by Mike Cohn and Jenifer Cohn

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Earlier this year, we gave you the preview and lowdown on Jeep's new Liberty. Known internally to the Jeep folks as the KJ, the Liberty came at nearly the same time as the final run of the beloved Cherokee. Though Jeep swears the KJ is not a replacement for the XJ, the timing would surely say otherwise, and the Liberty certainly fits in the same niche of the market. Note: overseas, the Liberty has actually taken over the Cherokee name.

There has been a lot of discussion in the four-wheeling community about the Liberty and whether or not it deserves to wear the Jeep badge. The main reason for this banter is Jeep's departure from a solid axle in front. Instead, the Jeep engineers have chosen an all-new independent front suspension (IFS), which does not go over very well with the hardcore crowd because of its comparitively low amount of flex.

But just because the front end has IFS does that mean it's not worthy of the Jeep badge? Does that mean that the Liberty is not capable of taking you to the off-road destinations you'd like to reach? If you ask anyone at DaimlerChrysler, they'll surely tell you "no". Of course, they are tyring to sell you a new vehicle, right?

Leave to us! We decided we needed to find out the answers for ourselves, so we called up Jeep and had them send us a Liberty to play with. The timing was perfect, as we wanted to head up to Monteagle, Tennessee for the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association's quarterly meeting and trail event.

All About the 2002 Liberty
Before we tell you about our experiences with the Liberty, let's talk about the truck a little.

Motors
The Liberty comes standard with a 150HP/165 lb.-ft torque, 2.4L 4-cylinder motor, however, the optional 3.7L Power Tech V6 is the only way to go, as far as we're concerned. The 3.7L is a brand new motor for Jeep - sort of. Essentially, it is very much the same motor as the Grand Cherokee's 4.7L with two cylinders lopped off. Optional on the Sport and standard on the Limited, this new motor churns out 210HP at 5200 rpm and 235 lb.-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm, which gives the Liberty the highest ratings in its class. Of course, these numbers come at the high end of the tach. where most of us don't spend most of our time, so don't expect a speed demon.

Jeep tells us that the 3.7L shares many features with its big brother. Chain-driven overhead cams provide long-term durability and reliability. Premium gaskets and seals are used throughout, which are said to result in a completely "dry" motor on the outside. No leaks are expected, not only saving on motor wear but also helping to save our environment, as well.

A gear-driven balance shaft is used to help minimize engine vibrations and an active knock sensor system places sensors on each cylinder bank to increase mid-range performance, even using the recommended 87 octane fuel.

The sticker on claims 16 MPG in the city and 20 MPG on the highway. During our week of testing, we averaged around 19 or 20 combined.

Lastly, the 3.7L runs a 136 amp alternator (124 amps in the 2.4L) and an automatic tensioner is used on the serpentine poly-vee belt, which eliminates the need to adjust the belts.

Transmissions
The low-end base model Liberty running the 4 cylinder motor comes with an NV1500 5-speed manual transmission and no automatic is available. The next model up, the Sport, comes with the NV3550 manual and offers the Grand Cherokee-proven 45RFE Multi-speed Electronic automatic.

Four Wheel Drive Systems
The Liberty is offered with either the NV231 Command Trac part-time transfer case or the NV242 Selec Trac part/full-time unit. Both options offer a 2.72:1 low range. A very interesting feature is a new sensor which works in conjunction with the transmissions. On the automatic models, when you shift into low range, the shift points are changed on the transmission for better off-road operation.

In the manual tranny versions, the clutch-starter interlock is automatically bypassed when in low-range to allow clutchless starting. 4LO also recalibrates the motor for better idling and compression.

Lastly, if equipped with Anti-Lock Brakes, when shifted into low-range, the ABS is set to a different calibration, aiding off-road stopping.

Axles, Wheels, etc.
The front axle uses a familiar Dana 30 center section and the rear axle is an 8 1/4" Corporate model. Theoretically, both differentials should easily accept current models of lockers and gears already on the market for other Jeeps, though we have not confirmed this. A Trac-Lok differential is optional on the Liberty and is part of the Off Road Group package.

Standard wheels on the base model are 16 x 7 inch steel with 215/75R16 tires. Aluminum Mesa wheels are optional. The Sport and Limiteds get the 235/70R16 All Terrains with optional 16x7 Cast Aluminum Mechanica wheels.

The Liberty has a 104.3 inch wheelbase and boasts a very impressive 38 degree approach angle and 32.3 degree departure angle. Weighing in at a wee bit over 4,000 pounds, the 3.7L Liberty is said to have a 5,000 pound towing capacity, though we wouldn't recommend towing much more than half of that.

As far as clearance goes, the Liberty's lowest points come in between 7.8 and 8 inches in the front and rear. Interestingly enough, the exhaust's downpipe from the motor seemed to hang lower than anything else and was somewhat unprotected.

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Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot
Our Liberty Sport was an attractive Dark Garnet Red Pearl Coat.

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot
The Liberty looks great and has very smooth lines. We like it.

Jeep Liberty CAD
The new 3.7L V6 is the little brother to the Grand's 4.7L V8.

Jeep Liberty transfer case.
Here's what separates the Liberty from the Cute Utes. A genuine transfer case.

Jeep Liberty gas tank
Our Liberty came with a Class III receiver hitch and a 5,000 pound towing capacity. It was also pre-wired with a 7 to 4 pin connector.

Jeep Liberty CAD
The new IFS has raised a whole lot of eyebrows in the off-road scene.

Jeep Liberty CAD
The rear end uses drum brakes, unlike the front end's disks.

Jeep Liberty Exhaust Downpipe
The exhaust's downpipe hung rather low and is unprotected, however, we never hit it during our off-road portions of the testing.