- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

It was surprising to see how many drivers looked me over this week. Actually, it wasn't me grabbing their attention; it was the all-new 2002 Jeep Liberty.
I spoke with a couple of the rubberneckers and learned their interest was somewhat nostalgic. Not so much in the Liberty, but in the Jeep "General Purpose" or "GP" vehicle that helped us win World War II by getting our troops through hell and high water. It seems that anything that deals with a Jeep grabs attention.
The Liberty replaces the Jeep Cherokee, not to be confused with the Grand Cherokee. Liberty is the smaller version sport utility vehicle, similar in size to the old Cherokee. Because this vehicle is completely different, Chrysler gave it a new name to emphasize the distinction.
The rear door was my introduction to the Liberty. The Chrysler people demonstrated how the switch on the key fob raises the rear window, allowing a person who might be carrying packages to drop them in the rear storage area. Or the driver can pull the door handle, causing the rear door to open while the rear window raises. This is but one of numerous clever innovations on the Liberty.
I also liked the easy-to-grasp interior door handle. Another neat idea: two armrests on front doors, one at the normal elbow height, the other higher near the window sill something other manufacturers will probably copy.
The inside and outside seem to complement each other. Both look tough, durable and ready for any challenge from rough roads or dirty assignments, yet both the inside and outside have a distinct air of respectability and refinement.
As I recall, it was the Cherokee that got the sport utility bonanza rolling back in 1984. Since then, we've seen a tremendous influx of SUVs in all shapes and sizes. I've driven most of them, and each has its merits, but I felt more at home in the Liberty than in others. For one thing, it's just my size. It is easy to hop into, maneuver, and park, yet carries five persons in comfort.
Let me emphasize the word comfort. I drove the Liberty close to 1,000 miles, mostly on the highway. A couple of times I was amazed at how enjoyable the Liberty is. One reason is the uniframe construction, which contributes to the stiffest Jeep body ever made. The structure provides better ride comfort and handling. And mentally, the Liberty is comforting because the Chrysler designers showed me numerous areas in which occupant protection had been a primary concern.
The Liberty is available with the choice of a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder or a 3.7-liter, V-6 engine. My tester had the bigger engine. Incidentally, this engine can tow 5,000 pounds. I drove the automatic transmission, but Liberty also comes with a five-speed manual. The bigger engine was linked to a multispeed automatic transmission that not only has a proven track record, but also excellent shift quality.
A lever close to the driver's right leg allows shifting from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive, neutral and 4WD low. I did some off-roading during the Chrysler introduction, and after the terrain I traveled, I would not be afraid to take this SUV anywhere.
Nor would I be afraid to go shopping for the Liberty. In a day when most SUVs display skyrocket prices, the Liberty starts at $17,000 for the base model with 2WD, and $23,500 will cover the top-of-the-line model with everything on it.
The only downside to the Liberty is the rubberneckers who gawk, beseeching me to give walk-arounds in parking lots. But that will pass; soon the roads will be loaded with the Liberty.

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