<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT"%> ROCKCRAWLER.com - Jeep Lowers Ride Height of Liberty (KJ)
Jeep to Lower Ride Height of Liberty (KJ)

Jeep Liberty in Moab
Is this the typical Liberty customer?

Jeep Liberty in Moab
Or is this?

April 16, 2002 - Jeep quietly announced today that the Liberty (aka KJ) is getting lowered. Lowering a Jeep? You heard right.

Last October, the folks at AutoWeek managed to roll a Liberty during slalom testing. The slalom is used to test stability and responsiveness to sudden back-and-forth turns at relatively high speeds. In this case, according to AutoWeek, it was "490-foot slalom laid out in a level parking lot at California Speedway. The course uses eight traffic cones in a straight line, 70 feet apart, for seven gates."

Slaloms are typically used to test cars, so it was no surprise that taking the course at 40mph in an SUV could be a recipe for trouble, as it is unusual for a vehicle of this type to do repeated left-right-left turns, even during an accident.

Shortly thereafter, the German magazine, Auto Bild, had a similar experience and wrote that Jeep should recall the Liberties (still named Cherokee in Europe).

Jeep contends that the Liberty is perfectly stable and that the circumstances behind the magazine article accidents were not considered "normal" driving. The Liberty has passed all internal safety tests, including quick lane change tests.

The Liberty has also passed tests done by both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA).

The NHTSA gave the Liberty a 2 star Rollover Resistance Rating, which means, it "has a risk of rollover between 30 percent and 40 percent."

We have done our own tests, both on and off-road and found the Liberty to have a very typical SUV ride. We have even run extreme trails with Liberties and have seen them remain stable with all four wheels on the ground.

While the tests may show mixed results, one must remember that the Liberty is an SUV, and as such has to be driven like one. It's not a sports car and does not handle like one. An SUV cannot be expected to take high-speed turns or make high-speed maneuvers without a loss of some stability. By nature, they are top-heavy and this has to be considered when driving one.

But is this why Jeep is lowering the KJ? Not according to them. With nearly 35,000 KJs sold through March of this year, Jeep has done extensive market research, both during the design phases and during the sales life of the 2002 model. The intent of the Liberty was never to be the most-capable off-road vehicle on the market. Jeep already leads the pack with its Wrangler model, which is perhaps the best out-of-the-box four-wheeler around. Jeep wants to capture a huge part of the SUV market who were previously flocking to the likes of the Ford Escape or the Toyota RAV4, for example. The long heritage of the Jeep badge speaks volumes about its capabilities off-road but Jeep wants to produce a vehicle that can handle the streets just as well. With rack and pinion steering and independent front suspension, the Liberty provides a much nicer on-road ride while still remaining plenty capable on the trails.

What Jeep has found out is that an even lower percentage of Liberty owners use their vehicles off-road than do the Wrangler. Their market studies and surveys have shown that buyers actually want a more car-like ride than the original Liberties have already provided. Earlier this year, in fact, the steering was lightened up to give an easier feel to the driver.

So as a result of all of this, Jeep wants to provide better on-road handling, which means that the center of gravity needed to be lowered a bit to reduce the top-heavy feelings experienced during fast turns. In the last couple of weeks, Jeep has begun installing shorter springs, jounce bumpers and shocks on new Liberties coming out of the Toledo factory.

The new suspension means a lower ride height at the center line of the front wheels of 22mm (.87 inch) and at the rear wheels of 19mm (.75 inch).

Jeep feels that previously-manufactured Liberties are perfectly safe and does not intend to do any recalls.


Michael Cohn

Michael "TXJEEPER" Cohn is the Editor and founder of Rockcrawler.com.

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