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The Jeep Liberty Sport has been redesigned for 2008 to look even more macho than its predecessor. The longer, wider, squarer (and cheaper) Liberty gets an imposing front profile, some notable cabin tech options including Chrysler's MyGig system, and an available Sky Slider roof giving all passengers an open-top driving experience. While the Liberty Sport comes with two four-wheel drive options, our test car was the entry-level, two-wheel drive model, meaning that our weeklong review with the car was strictly confined to the road.
Test the tech
Regular readers of CNET Car Tech will know that this section is usually dedicated to evaluating a unique or outstanding technical feature of the review car. With the Jeep Liberty Sport, this was easier said than done as the car came with very few onboard gadgets. Its saving grace, however, was a 110-volt AC electrical outlet forward of the rear seats, which gave us the opportunity to bring in our own external devices. In many ways, we figured, having a generic electrical outlet is better than any number of onboard gadgets as it allows occupants of the car to bring their own choice of gadget on the road. With this attitude, we racked our brains and ransacked the CNET offices to come up with the most inventive Car Tech applications we could find. Having found a coffee maker and a popcorn machine, we resolved to use an extension cord to simultaneously plug both into Jeep for a delicious--if slightly mismatched--mid-morning snack.
The Jeep Liberty's 110-volt AC outlet is activated by a button on the dash.
The first obstacle we ran into was the fact that every extension cord we could find had a three-pin plug on it, whereas the Jeep's AC outlet has only two pins. This not only limited the number of extension cords we could plug, but also the number of devices that we could connect directly to the power supply. We eventually found a two-prong extension cord, and set about connecting our kitchen gadgets. To start, we decided to try to use the Liberty's electrical supply without the engine running, and then switch the engine on if and when needed. To activate the AC outlet in the rear of the vehicle, drivers must first press a button on the dashboard mounted beneath the stereo.
With this done, we plugged in the extension cord and then the popcorn machine. The fan whirred for about 3 seconds and then the machine died. We noticed the yellow light on the dash-mounted AC activation button had turned off, so we reached over and reset it. The popcorn machine whirred again and died. We tried the same thing with the coffee maker, which--likewise--turned on for a few seconds and then died. Blaming it on lack of electrical charge, we turned on the Liberty's engine and tried again. Once more, the devices turned on briefly and then turned off. Thus thwarted, we decided that the battery needed extra charging. We took the coffee maker and popcorn machine out of the car, jumped in the driver's seat, and drove the Jeep on a 100-mile roundtrip. We really wanted our Jeep snacks.
The popcorn maker is willing, but the electricity supply is weak.
On our return, we plugged the devices back in, resolving to have popcorn and coffee for lunch instead of as a mid-morning snack. To our dismay, however, the same thing happened again: neither of the devices would run for more than a couple of seconds without cutting out. We abandoned our mobile kitchen idea and set our sights a bit lower. Was the Jeep's electrical outlet good for anything? We tapped the cell phone department for a handset that needed charging and went to find out if the Jeep could charge something that required less power. An hour and a half later, we check on our phone and it was fully charged. It appears that the Jeep's AC outlet can be used to power low-current devices even with the engine off, but cannot be used for more power-hungry gadgets.
In the cabin
Jeep is not known for the luxury or technology content of its cabins, and the Liberty Sport does nothing to change this reputation. The Liberty's interior presents the driver and front passenger with bare, rugged, wipe-down-able materials on the dash, doors, and central console. Similar to the Jeep Commander, the Liberty has a flat slab of a dashboard punctuated by a series of molded plastic storage compartments. While we can just about live with the two-tone plastic trim, we are less enthusiastic about the strips of silvery faux-metallic plastic that frame the Liberty's central stack: Whether this design cue was intended to add a little pizzazz to the cabin or to give it a sporty feel, it failed on both counts. One of the most noteworthy additions to the cabin of the 2008 Liberty (but not, alas, on our test car) is the availability of the Sky Slider full-length, open-canvas roof made from reinforced-acrylic cloth, which gives both rows of passengers a full view of the heavens and adds an extra $1,200 to the price tag.
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.
The upgraded audio package gave us the ability to connect our iPod to the stereo.
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.
The two-wheel-drive Liberty talks the off-road talk, but is unlikely to walk the walk.
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.