- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

A new model and a smattering of fresh interior features have added some zip to the 2003 Jeep Liberty. Conceived to give Jeep a more pronounced presence in the compact SUV arena, Liberty began life as a 2002 model. Typically a recently released vehicle doesn't receive much tweaking after its first year. The 2003 Liberty doesn't really buck that trend, but the enhancements are numerous enough and significant enough to warrant noting.
The Renegade trim level was added near the end of the 2002 model year. It joined the Sport and Limited Edition versions. Most of what sets the Renegade apart is found on its exterior. An integrated activity light bar with four halogen lamps, roof basket, removable side steps, bolt-on wheel flares, a two-tone front fascia and special wheels are all unique to the Renegade. Inside, the seats are covered in a combination of woven cloth and leather, while brushed aluminum accents round out the interior trim cues.
Across the board, Liberty now has standard four-wheel disc brakes. New options include electrochromic rearview and outboard mirrors to reduce night-time glare. An available overhead console has the capacity to customize nine convenience and safety features including which doors unlock with the first press of the keyless remote unlock button and the amount of time the headlamps remain on after exiting the vehicle.
The 210 horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 engine does an admirable job of motivating Liberty's tidy package. Acceleration isn't mind-numbing, but it gets up and going with enthusiasm. In addition to the five-speed manual transmission, the V-6 can be mated to the optional four-speed automatic as was the case with my latest test Renegade.
While a two-wheel-drive version is available, my test Liberty had four-wheel drive. Additionally, the choice can be made between the full-time system or the Command Trac part-time 4WD system. Both have low range, but Command Trac requires driver input to switch to 4WD while the full-time system operates transparently. My test Liberty with Command Trac carried an Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy rating of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 20 on the highway.
Liberty's suspension architecture consists of an independent front suspension and a solid axle with coil springs in the rear. Over the road the ride is fairly calm. Washboard surfaces, however, can really set it in motion, but normally the ride quality is quite good for a small, off-road-capable SUV. Once clear of the pavement, the Liberty stands up to the name Jeep. It does well in the wild and, like the Wrangler, its short wheelbase and short overhangs help it go a few places longer SUVs simply can't.
The interior is cozy. The seats are well cushioned and provide decent support. Leg room for rear-seat passengers is a bit tight, but not cramped. Cargo space is adequate and the 65/35 split second seat can be folded down for even more space. The six-speaker audio system includes a CD player. The leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel helps establish the ideal driving position. Access to the rear cargo area is through either a swing gate rear door or a flip up window.
The Liberty offers a more civilized alternative to the Wrangler. It generally delivers a smoother ride and a quieter environment.
Its quirky looks could be summarized as cute perhaps not the best characterization for a vehicle that wants to be thought of as rugged. However, it is fun to drive and is highly competent off-road.
Base price of the Jeep Liberty Renegade 4WD is $23,245. Key standard features not yet mentioned include power windows and door locks, air conditioning, skid plates under the fuel tank and transfer case, and 16-inch aluminum wheels. Adding the $810 destination charge brought the price as tested to $24,055.


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