<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT"%> ROCKCRAWLER.com - 2002 Jeep Liberty Review

ROCKCRAWLER.com
2002 Jeep Liberty

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

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We headed out for the Trail Between the Highways" with the understanding that we wanted to wheel pretty convincingly, but not trash the Liberty. The trail leader was very nice, and we did have the feeling that everyone was curious to see what the Liberty was going to do - or at least everyone was prepared to have a chuckle at the goobers from Michigan with the brand new truck, anyway.

But, we are good sports and were really appreciative to have anyone take us out at all. Getting stuck means work for everyone and we really didn't want to be a burden. I think in the end we were the most skeptical, since even driving down the long highway to the trail head we were talking to each other about how we would just head back home that night and take the Liberty to a place we go back home that is basically for stock vehicles.

We finally made it in to the trail which began with a very long, steep climb. Here we go! Mike was driving and I was hopping in and out taking some photos. Everything was going really well until we hit mud, and then we needed help. Mike got as far as he could though, and we were pleasantly surprised at how far that was. We got in this rut kind of mud place and got pulled up the rest of the way. I am sure I should be a bit more technical about the obstacles and terrain along the trail, but I will leave that to Mike and use the following descriptors only; muddy, rocky, rutty, oogy, and gross.

We went along pretty well, except when the mud was really bad, and I know that our tires were not really helping much. We got to a rock garden place, which required some maneuvering, and the Liberty really got along very well.

While the trucks with huge tires and lots of clearance were having no trouble, Mike was driving like it was day one. Every rock larger than a foot tall was now an "obstacle" in our stock vehicle with little clearance and street tires. We had aired down some and were really getting pretty good grip, but it was different with the independent suspension up front.

We went along slowly and carefully and everyone was being really great about spotting and waiting for us as we snailed along. There was a bit of rock moving, and at one point we did use a winch to gently pull us over a certain rock area that was a few feet long. All in all though, we were pleased and had a great time of it.

The trail reached a split for us, so we had to either go back on the interstate and call it a day or pass back over the rock garden we had just driven to another trail, which was much harder. We really wanted to keep riding but wanted to let the other guys go have their fun too.

Friday was pick-up trail day for the early arrivals, so we decided to call it a day and see what we could get into Saturday morning. We had also gotten some mud inside the bead of the tire and were losing air rapidly, so we decided to head to the local tire shop for some cleaning and repairs.

The next day we hit the pavilion early for trail signup. We parked the Liberty right out front, unloaded our wares again and waited to see if any other stock rigs would show up for us to trail with.

We hooked up on a ride led by Robert Fuller and his wife and son, whom we had met previously. They were willing to put up with us on the trail and were leading about a 2-3 rated one, called Coppenger's Cove, with a group of about seven.

All of the vehicles in our original group were modified, some with winches and lockers, but no one above about 33 inch tires or so. The trail was not supposed to be too crazy, the only real variables were the mud and the Liberty. Along the way, however, another group joined us that were more heavily-modified. They had missed their run. Again, we didn't really know anyone and no-one knew what we were about but the Fuller's. Even the one TJ that had our windshield decal on his rig didn't seem to catch on that we were Rockcrawler.com, even though we had tried to chat with him before the ride began. We were asked if we had tools, and we responded with, "what for?" We did have tools.

We rode a long way to the trail head with me in the driver's seat. The trail began with a long section of small pebbly rocks, like a cobblestone street, only worse. It was very pretty, but got rather annoying after a short time.

Finally, we reached some rock garden areas and got to play a little. I was getting along fine, but the bigger rigs just couldn't stand it and started riding my butt and trying to push me faster. I guess they were mad because they had missed their "big" run, or maybe just wanted to annoy me, but anyhow, I just pressed on and gave them a few dirty looks.

I love this sport because I usually meet lots of nice people on the trails and have a great time. I told Mike, I wondered if this is what other people in stock vehicles experience when going out for their first runs. I also wondered if the other driver's remembered what it was like when THEY had stock vehicles.

But, the point of our test was to see what the Liberty could do, after all, so we just ignored the impatient folks and went about our way.

When we started hitting mud it got a bit more tricky. With the stock Goodyear Wrangler SR-A's on board we struggled in the mud piles and were further complicated by the fact that I am not that experienced in driving in the mud, anyway.

We got pulled out of one rut that I feel Mike could have honestly gotten us through. We had gone about half way and the next thing was this really bad muddy place that was rutted a lot already. We seemed to have only two choices and neither of them looked good to us.

Door number one was a stretch of mud about 70 feet long, through which we were watching the big trucks get stuck in and winched out of.

Door number two was this weird go over a hill into a deep pit of mud and back up the other side thing. We watched the Fuller's do it in their TJ and he felt this was the best choice for us. Mike gave it a go and aswe started up the first side, we slid promptly to the left and went down hard on the driver's side rocker. Remember folks, no bars!

We spun the tires for a minute and then started plotting our escape. Many thanks to the guys who got really muddied up getting us out of there! But then, how to move on? We decided to try to get as far as we could through the long way and then cut through this one section about half way through and get winched from there.

Mike gave everyone a show and the Liberty made it further than we thought it would before getting strapped the final few feet. He drove the rest of the way out and the trail got harder as we went along. We took alternates when we felt we needed to, but overall were impressed with how the Liberty handled itself. At the end of the trail, even some of the others admitted they were surprised, as well, and were happy they got to see what it would do.

We headed to dinner and felt really funny leaving our "trophy mud" on, but we were really hungry! At the restaurant there were tables full of worn out folks retelling tales of the day, sharing laughs and breakage stories. It felt really good to us to know that we made it out undamaged, excepting some scratches and a questionable rocker. In the light the next day, we could see that the rocker was fine and we knew the scratches would all buff out in the end. We headed for the pressure washer and the next day headed for home. We had a great time, and had really enjoyed our weekend.

We had the Liberty a few more days and used it to drive around town. I drove it to work one day and it attracted a lot of interest and I used it to go to Lowe's to pick up flowers and big bags of soil for some beds in our yard.

I really liked its size and the way it felt in town. It had the right amount of power to get me out into traffic and was easy to park, turn, and load and unload. The stereo sounded great and the controls on the steering wheel made it really convenient for adjusting volume and changing tunes. I decided I was really going to miss this thing when it came time to turn it back in, which was the next day - and I really do miss it!

I know a lot of talk has gone on about the changes and differences in the Liberty, and many of our readers are not crazy about it. But why? I think many people forget that the Liberty was not made to be another Wrangler. Neither were the Wagoneer or Cherokee, its predecessors. These were family wagons that happen to off-road well, if needed, like for camping, fishing trips, and such. The latter have been modified to be used for more difficult trail situations, as the former will be, in time.

The Liberty does exactly what it was designed for. It's completely at home in the city and in the kind of trail situations its drivers will encounter. It's great for errands and daily driving, and ready to take you and your gear out for your favorite outdoor sport. Headed for the gnarly new-style boulder climbing events? Hardly. But not everyone driving a Jeep aspires to do that. And there is room on and off the road for everyone.

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

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot

Jeep Liberty  Glamour Shot