As mentioned above, cabin gadgetry is in short supply on the Liberty Sport. Our test car came with a $345 Premium Sound Group option, which gave us Sirius Satellite Radio and a six-disc in-dash CD/MP3/WMA player. Like the 2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon we reviewed early this year, the Liberty Sport also had a DVD video logo on its head unit, which left us scratching our heads, as there is no option for any factory-installed screen-based media in the car. A couple of options that are available but that did not make it to our tester are Chrysler's hard-drive-based MyGig multimedia system and its UConnect Bluetooth hands-free calling interface.
Despite its basic appearance, we were generally impressed with the usability of the Liberty Sport's stereo. We were able to easily navigate MP3 files using the basic graphics shown on the stereo's two-line dot matrix display and for Sirius Satellite radio, the shown information for station name, song title, and genre. Navigating satellite radio channels was made easy by the speed at which you can scroll through the stations using the variable-speed dial and by the Music Type button, which enables you to skip to a specific genre (rock, classical, country) and then searching within that category. Both the standard and the upgraded audio systems on the Liberty also come with a front-mounted auxiliary-input jack, allowing drivers to stream songs from their iPods--another nice touch.
Acoustic output via the audio system's six speakers (four 6.5-inch door-mounted speakers and two tweeters) was strong but not particularly refined. We did, however, appreciate the way the audio was thrown up into the cabin by the placement of the tweeters on the top of the dashboard.
Under the hood
The Liberty Sport comes with a single engine choice in the form of a 3.7-liter V-6 making 210 horsepower and 235 foot-pounds of torque, enough to give it a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. This is plenty of power for zipping around town, and we were impressed with how responsive the Liberty Sport was at low speeds considering its 4,278-pound heft and relatively large engine displacement. Our Liberty Sport tester came with an optional $895 four-speed automatic transmission (the standard close-ratio six-speed manual sounds a bit more interesting), which suffered from occasional gear hunting when driving around the hills of San Francisco.
On the freeway, the Liberty Sport delivers a surprisingly smooth and comfortable ride: bumps and expansion joints are soaked up without the noisy, bone-shaking experience associated with the Wrangler. When driving at freeway speeds, throttle response is laggardly, and the engine makes more noise than headway when called upon for midrange acceleration. Nevertheless, the two-wheel-drive Liberty Sport is a car that is far more tuned for the freeway and the shopping mall than it is for the trail.
While it might be comfortable, we are puzzled by the market positioning of the two-wheel drive Liberty Sport. Jeep says that it offers the Liberty with two-wheel drive as standard "to show another side of the Jeep brand performance: efficiency." We're not convinced. One of the principal reasons for buying a Jeep is for its off-road capability; take that away, and you're left with a Jeepless-Jeep. At 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway, the two-wheel drive Liberty Sport gets just 1 mile per gallon better fuel mileage in the city and on the freeway than its four-wheel drive counterpart, but it begs the question that we asked during our review of the equally tarmac-bound 2007 Jeep Compass: why get a Jeep if you don't want to go off road?
Our 2008 Jeep Liberty Sport 4x2 came with a base price of $20,330, to which we added $150 for metallic paint, $825 for the four-speed automatic transmission, $345 for the upgraded stereo, and $995 for a Customer Preferred package, which gives us the 110-volt AC power outlet, the six speaker audio system, and a host of other trim and trinkets including fog lamps, fold-flat seats, and upgraded floor mats. All told, our loaner carried a sticker price of $23,305. For that kind of money, the Liberty Sport finds itself competitively priced against other pseudo-SUVs such as the two-wheel drive versions of the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder.