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ROCKCRAWLER.com
2002 Jeep Liberty

By Jenifer Cohn
Photos by Mike Cohn, Jenifer Cohn, Robert Fuller

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When I learned that we were getting a new Jeep Liberty for testing and review, I had mixed emotions. I was excited about having a chance to check out Jeep's new creation, thrilled to be taking it off-road to see what it could and couldn't do, and hesitant about what our readers would say about us having one on Rockcrawler.com.

We had test-driven one in May when they first hit the market, and I will admit I was the Liberty's biggest enemy. I couldn't understand who it would appeal to, and wondered why anyone in the market wouldn't just get a TJ instead (so I bought a TJ). We kept seeing a few Liberty's around town, however, and the look started to grow on me (secretly).

When we learned the Liberty was on its way to us, my first question was whether or not we would really be able to take it off-road and test it the way we wanted to. I know the vehicle was not really designed for serious off-road use, but also remembered the salesman back in May who described going over the Rubicon in them for testing. Of course, I know there are plenty of go-arounds there, too.

When the Liberty pulled up in our driveway, it was as if we had purchased it ourselves. It was brand new, with around 1600 miles on it, a 2002 model, in a really nice reddish-plum color Jeep calls "Dark Garnet Red Pearl Coat". The neighbors all came out looking at it, asking lots of questions and not understanding that we just had it for the week. When asked if we liked it, we told them we would get back to them the following week.

We had made plans to take it to Monteagle, Tennessee for the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association's quarterly run. While packing up, we couldn't help but notice how nicely it held everything we needed for the trip. The back door opened up to the side or you could open up only the "flipper glass" to drop something in at the last minute.

A nice feature was that when you pulled on the latch for the door, the glass actually opened up by itself with hydraulics, so you only needed one hand to operate everything if you were loaded up. For more storage in the the back seat, you simply take out the headrests and then you can lay the seats down. They do not lay all the way flat, however, but this did not end up being much of a problem since we were carrying suitcases and things that could lay at an angle. It could be an issue for some items, although there is lots of flat space behind the seat that can be used for things like coolers, flowers, etc.

We were packed to the roof and headed out for Tennessee. On the way we stopped to grab a bite to eat and couldn't help but notice how there was nowhere to put anything down on the dash or console. All the surfaces on the inside of the vehicle have been rounded, which does look really cool, but leaves you no place to set your ketchup or napkins. I don't know if this is a big priority to you or not, but to me, oh yeah! There were two cupholders in the console and for the backseat passengers, also, in the doors (as sometimes seen in mini-vans).

We hit the highway, eagerly awaiting the improved Independent Front Suspension. My husband and I both drive TJ's and have ridden in Cherokees and Grand Cherokees, as well, and were anxious to see what the Liberty was going to feel like on our sometimes pothole-filled highways.

It really felt great! It felt firmly gripped to the road and handled the normal road bumps deftly. They have been "repairing" the interstate we were traveling on here in Alabama for about six years now and there are places where a lane will be scraped off for repaving that goes for miles. The Liberty handled these places more smoothly than our TJ did when we drove the same road a few months ago, and I felt overall that the suspension was good.

But for those of you who fear change, fear not! The Liberty is just as noisy and loud as any other Jeep! Ok, not as loud as a TJ but the wind sounded like it would come right through the doors. And the seats! I honestly believe that they are more uncomfortable than any Wrangler I have ever driven or ridden in. They were hard and flat and could not be adjusted in any way suitable for the human musculo-skeletal system.

The Liberty we had was a Sport package, and I understand the Limited has different seats. I really feel like for the list price of this vehicle ($27,440), the seats should be upgraded - several grades.

We made it to Monteagle and woke up the next morning ready to go to our first event. We pulled in to the Smokehouse parking lot and went back to the pavilion to start meeting people. I guess we didn't really think too much about what we were doing. I've been to many events since I met my husband and there is always that buzz of excitement pulling up in the morning and seeing who you know that came to the event, checking out all the rigs you will be watching today, meeting new fellow patrons of the sport and sharing stories of trails past.

We always like it when we meet other people who visit our magazine, are familiar with us, have our stickers on, and maybe we took it a little for granted this time. We pulled up in the parking lot with our Rockcrawler.com windshield stickers proudly displayed on the Liberty's front and back glass. We stepped out of the shiny, stock plum Jeep with the Michigan tags and it was like those parties where everybody knows everybody but you and you have the feeling you wore the wrong thing.

All the big rig drivers kind of hmmphed and hmmmmmmmed at us while we unloaded our stuff to put out at the pavilion for the sign up. They looked out of the corners of their eyes then looked back at their own rigs quickly. We sat down at the tables and watched.

It was obvious everyone in the area wanted to see the Liberty, but no one wanted to admit it. It was like an invisible field surrounded it and anyone who got more than four feet would be repelled back toward their own vehicle. They were even leaning over this invisible line, looking at it, but not wanting to get too close. Finally Mike went out and spoke to them, breaking the ice a bit.

We met a few people inside, saw our good friend and loyal reader ,Neal, from back home, and tried to hook up with a run. We took the Liberty over a few feet and posed it for some promo shots, as well. Some guys with a very large truck and trailer were watching and when we got within earshot I heard, "I know you're not taking that thing on the trails." "Well, that was the plan," we replied, and had just seen foreshadowing for the weekend ahead.

We met up with some really nice guys from Middle Tennessee Trail Runners who were willing to take us out. "It has tow hooks," they said. They warned us that the trails would not be trimmed since we were on private land and that we would most-likely take on some scratches.

It was kind of funny being incognito, so to speak. We realized that nobody thought we had ever been on a trail before. It was like pulling up to a Harley Davidson shop on a hot pink scooter and saying "Hi guys! Going riding?" We put the Liberty on the RTI ramp and that really got them going!

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Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

 

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