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The Jeep Liberty has a size and shape that might convince you it's a city-friendly car-based crossover, but think again; the Liberty is mostly truck, and compared to most competitors it offers real off-road capability. While the Liberty delivers that, along with the rugged cues you've come to expect in a jeep, its lack of on-road comfort and poor fuel economy are major limiting factors.
The Jeep Liberty's appearance hasn't changed much over the years. It looks tough and straightforward from a distance, boxy and traditional—or a bit slab-sided from some angles. With its most recent refresh, Jeep amped up the macho-man appeal and made the Liberty look the off-road part a bit more. Inside, the Liberty feels a bit stark and simple, with more hard plastics than more carlike crossovers this size, but it fits the part. The center stack is finished in a lighter, matte-metallic-toned plastic, while the interior and gauges in most trims have been dressed up just a little bit with chrome bezels and other brightwork.
The powertrain in the 2011 Jeep Liberty is adequate but rather unremarkable for its performance. The 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine is torquey enough, but its rather low-revving, raspy, and not altogether smooth character works with the rugged-themed Liberty in a way it wouldn't in more carlike vehicles. Acceleration or fuel economy are nothing special, but this isn't an engine that demands downshifts very often—thus, it manages just fine with the somewhat rough-shifting four-speed automatic transmission.
This Jeep's forte is, of course, off-roading, and for that we recommend you start with the Renegade model, which comes with skid plates, tougher wheels with all-terrain OWL tires, and tow hooks—all of which get you geared up for the trail—though with some on-road sacrifice. Command Trac is one of two four-wheel-drive systems offered in the Liberty; it's a part-time system intended for trail-running, while Selec-Trac II is a full-time system that's also off-road capable but better oriented for snowy roads.
The seating configuration—and the cabin in general—in the 2011 Jeep Liberty feels airy and well laid-out. While seats feel skimpy and don't offer much support, there's a lot of headroom and legroom in front and enough in back for most—enough for four adults to feel comfortable for a weekend trip, for instance. Relative to other off-road-capable utility vehicles, the cargo floor is low, too, and the seats fold down neatly to a surprisingly vast space.
That's the good; otherwise, unfortunately, there's a lot of bad to point out. The Liberty's on-the-road ride and refinement are probably the biggest turn-offs of this vehicle. As a tall, narrow vehicle with a pitchy ride, the Liberty results in lots of 'head toss' on rough roads, or even choppy freeways, and blemished road surfaces seem to upset the composure of occupants just as much as they seem to upset the Liberty's grip. There's also a fair amount more interior road and wind noise than in more carlike compact crossover vehicles.
The 2011 Jeep Liberty is offered primarily in base Sport, off-road-ready Renegade, and more luxurious Limited trims. In addition, new Sport Jet and Limited Jet models offer a spiced-up appearance, with big 20-inch aluminum wheels, chrome molding, and other black and bright trim throughout, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel and alarm system. In general, there's a big jump in look and feel up to the Limited models, which offer a long list of equipment over the sport, including leather upholstery, heated front seats, steering-wheel audio controls, a Bluetooth hands-free interface, a garage-door opener, a cargo cover, and various other trim upgrades.
There are plenty of cool options, such as a music hard drive system, a new Garmin nav system, rain-sensing wipers, and a Sky Slider sunroof, if you don't mind the higher price tag.