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The Jeep Liberty was named Canada's Truck of the Year for the 2002 model year at the annual AJAC Test Fest.

2002 Jeep Liberty Road Test
Liberty is 2002 Truck of the Year

By Bill Roebuck

The 2002 Jeep Liberty compact SUV was awarded the title of Canadian Truck of the Year at the 2002 AJAC Test Fest.  It won the title in a tight fight against the winners in three individual truck categories -- SUVs, pickups and minivans, edging out the Chevrolet Avalanche and Honda Odyssey.
Quick Summary
Category: SUV
# Seats: 5
Cargo Cap.:
Fuel Econ.
Price range (Cdn): $22,880-$36,000+
Pros: True off-road capabilities; good highway handling
Cons: Road and wind noise

The Liberty is an all-new Jeep model from DaimlerChrysler that effectively combines off-road ruggedness with paved-road refinement. Its design, both inside and out, is miles ahead of its predecessor, the Cherokee, yet it is just as formidable on rough terrain.

Big round headlamps and a seven-slot grille are reminders of the original Jeeps of the 1940s. Liberty has short front and rear overhangs for excellent off-road capability, and a very upright profile that give you a command-of-the-road view from the driver's seat. The seats are very firm, but still comfortable.

The base engine is a 2.4-litre four, which is available with a five-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. It's rated at 150 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. But the engine of choice is the all-new 3.7-litre V-6, rated at 210 hp at 5200 rpm and 235 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Equip the automatic with the Trailer Tow Group and you get 5,000 lb of towing power.

The 3.7-litre can be mated to the manual transmission or an optional automatic. This setup generated a noticeable whining sound when pulling away from a stop on one of the two models we tested, but was smooth and reasonably quiet at speed. On the highway, Liberty generates both tire and wind noise, but not at annoying levels, unless there's a strong crosswind.

The windshield is raked steeply, putting it very close to the driver. It reminded me of the windshield position in the old-style Volkswagen Beetle.

The Liberty is only available as a four-wheel drive model in Canada. The U.S. market also gets a 4WD version. It comes in both the base Sport and upscale Limited models. There are various four-wheel drive transmission configurations offered, including setups that let you select 2WD, part-time 4WD or full-time 4WD, as well as four-wheel low for rugged conditions.

A link-coil rear suspension provides a comfortable, controlled ride that's not truck-like, although the ride can be somewhat bouncy over uneven pavement. The setup means a firm stance, so there is little body lean during cornering. (Note that DaimlerChrysler changed the suspension on its Liberty models in May 2002 and the latest models apparently have a softer, more car-like ride. We have not yet tested a model with the new suspension. The SUV has been lowered 22 mm in the front and 19 mm in the back. Changes also have been made to the response rate of the shock absorbers, making them softer for highway driving. The changes, made in response to customer comments, are designed to produce a smoother ride. However, we expect the modifications will affect the Liberty's off-road prowess.)

Antilock brakes are optional (unfortunately) and are designed to provide less pedal pulsation than previous Jeep systems.

The cargo area liftgate has a nifty feature -- a light pull of the handle flips up the glass window, and a stronger pull then unlocks the gate, which swings out to the left side. The spare tire is mounted on the outside of the swing gate to improve interior storage space. It's also a better place than storing it under the frame between the rear wheels, as some SUVs do, because a spare located there can reduce the angle of ditches that can be crossed. Under-frame spares also collect crud from the road, and the cable that holds them in place can corrode over time, resulting in the tire falling away unless the cable is regularly cleaned and lubricated.

A base Liberty Sport costs $22,880, and a Limited V6 is $28,680. Loaded with options, it can top $36,000.

If you're really serious about driving in rough terrain, but want smooth highway manners and a stylish appearance, Liberty makes a great choice.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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