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No question about it, the Jeep Liberty is boxy and rugged. And while we're becoming accustomed to seeing carlike vehicle masquerading in trail clothes, that's not at all the case here: The 2012 Jeep Liberty remains mostly truck. But for families who plan on spending most of the time on pavement—and with the trail-focused Renegade model dropped—the Liberty's appeal is limited because of its poor fuel economy and lack of comfort.
Looking tough and traditional—though a bit slab-sided from some angles—the Jeep Liberty appearance hasn't changed much over the years. A few years ago, Jeep amped up the macho-man appeal and added chunky details to look even more trail-tough. The Liberty's styling inside keeps to that role with a stark and simple look, although there are more hard plastics than in most crossovers this size.
The Liberty's powertrain can move the Liberty quickly enough, but we have no kind words for it. The 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine is torquey enough, but its rather low-revving, raspy, and not altogether smooth character just barely fits in with the Liberty's more rugged character. Because it's a low-revver, relatively speaking, it manages just fine with the somewhat rough-shifting four-speed automatic. But this powertrain's true downfall is gas mileage; at 15/21 mpg with 4WD, the Liberty is no more fuel-efficient than a full-size SUV.
Off-roading remained one of the best reasons for choosing the Liberty over a more easygoing crossover model, yet Jeep has, puzzlingly, dropped the trail-focused Renegade model for 2012. Two 4WD systems remain offered: Selec-Trac II is a full-time system that's also off-road capable but better oriented for snowy roads, while Command Trac is a part-time system intended for trail-running.
At first impression, the 2012 Jeep Liberty feels relatively well laid-out—as well as airy, given the tall greenhouse. Seats feel skimpy, though, and don't offer much support. But there's enough space in back, even for adults on a weekend trip, for instance. And the story is pretty good if you plan to haul cargo and gear: The cargo floor is low, too, and the seats fold neatly.
But there's still plenty to make the Liberty an unappealing choice in today's market, which is brimming with well-designed, family-friendly utility vehicles. The Liberty's on-the-road ride and refinement are probably the biggest turn-offs of this vehicle. There's a fair amount more interior road and wind noise than in more carlike compact crossover vehicles. And 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.
Safety features are respectable in the 2012 Liberty, but the federal government hasn't tested it under the new ratings system, and the IIHS gave it a worrisome 'marginal' in side impact and 'acceptable' in rear impact. Base Sport, more luxurious Limited, and new Limited Jet trims are offered. 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. Limited models are dressed up with a a long list of equipment over the sport, including leather upholstery, heated front seats, steering-wheel audio controls, a Bluetooth hands-free interface, and a garage-door opener. 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.
For 2012, Jeep has dropped prices on Liberty Jet models by $795, and it's added a Bluetooth hands-free interface (with voice command), a garage-door opener, overhead console, and rear park assist as standard equipment on all models.