With President Ford's golden retriever long dead, the name "Liberty" was available for the taking. So Jeep has put it on what amounts to, in terms of relative "newness," as the most all-new vehicle in its history. Everything in this trucklet, from structure, suspension, and drivetrain to the plant in Toledo, Ohio, where it's built is either new or at least new to Jeep, and the whole is a huge advance on the Cherokee it replaces.
Being better than the Cherokee was a pretty low hurdle to clear. After all, that pioneering SUV entered production as a 1984 model (when Renault still owned AMC and, hence, Jeep) and only cursorily updated throughout its production. By 2001 (hell, by 1991) it was archaic and outclassed by the competition in terms of refinement and efficiency.
Still while familiarity breeds contempt, no vehicle stays in production for 18 years if it doesn't have something compelling in its favor. And for the Cherokee that was an authentically Jeep off-road ability and everyday practicality.
The question about the four-door Liberty isn't whether it's better than the Cherokee it replaces, but if it can walk the same fine line that machine did between a rugged heritage and the lives most buyers really live.Jeep in and out
2002 Jeep LibertyEnlarge Photo
Of course the Liberty was going to feature a grille with seven slats, but the Liberty goes further by grabbing styling cues from both the '97 Dakar and '98 Jeepster concepts. It's basically the Dakar's upright proportions wedded to the Jeepster's bug-eyed exaggeration of the Wrangler's nose. Except for fussiness on the hood between the headlight blisters and too-busy taillights, the design is remarkably attractive, contemporary and obviously Jeep. It's not just another SUV box -- it's its own unique box with really big fender bulges, and scant front and rear overhangs.