2012 Jeep Liberty Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 24, 2012

With the off-road-focused Renegade model now gone, it's hard to see much value in the 2012 Jeep Liberty, as there were already plenty of better choices for those looking to spend most of the time on-road, commuting or shuttling kids..

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.

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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.

7

2012 Jeep Liberty

Styling

The 2012 Jeep Liberty has a cohesive style that's boxy and refreshingly simple.

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.

In front, the look is all Jeep, with a grille and lights configured like those of the classic Wrangler, plus lipped, flared fenders that in some models are covered in dark plastic, while in back, the tall, boxy look has a sort of elegant simplicity.

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 design logic throughout the interior now involves lots of rectangles and a straight up and down orientation. 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.

4

2012 Jeep Liberty

Performance

The 2012 Jeep Liberty has disappointing performance on the road.

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.

Rear or four-wheel-drive layouts are offered throughout the lineup. Four-wheel-drive models don't track quite as well on the road, but in either model the steering is reasonably responsive. That said, neither handling isn't great, as it feels uncertain especially over choppy highway surfaces; but it does translate to good low-speed maneuverability--an attribute that weekend warriors and city-dwellers will like.

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.

5

2012 Jeep Liberty

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Jeep Liberty has a nice, space-efficient package; but it's let down by a harsh ride, inferior materials, and a lack of refinement.

At first impression, the 2012 Jeep Liberty feels relatively well laid-out—as well as airy, given the tall greenhouse. Unfortunately as you look closer, or even sit in the Liberty for any time, it's downhill from there.

Front seats feel skimpy and don't offer much support. In back, there's enough space, even for adults, although there's not quite enough width for three adults across.

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.

Those are all positives; but take a closer look and there's plenty that might turn you away. A harsh, jittery ride--with plenty of 'head toss' on rough roads--is probably the biggest turnoff, and choppy road surfaces seem to upset the composure of occupants just as much as they upset the Liberty's grip. You'll also notice more road and wind noise than in most modern carlike crossovers.

Jeep--as with the rest of Chrysler--is clearly going through a transition with its interior materials, and unfortunately those in the Liberty are a reminder of the past. Trims inside the Liberty, while they've been upgraded a bit, feel too drab and hard. You could argue that it fits the Liberty's part as a rugged off-roader, but the recently refreshed Wrangler interior shows that rugged doesn't have to feel downmarket.

5

2012 Jeep Liberty

Safety

Safety features are well-represented in the 2012 Jeep Liberty, but top occupant-safety ratings aren't.

The 2012 Jeep Liberty isn't all that strong of a pick, if occupant safety is near the top of your list. It doesn't omit any essential safety features, but crash-test ratings are disappointing--and potentially disconcerting.

Side-impact and side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control, active head restraints, and several other electronic off-road aids are included across the model line.

But its crash-test credentials aren't nearly as good as the feature set might promise. The Liberty has also been rated by the federal government's stricter new NCAP tests, and it's earned some very worrisome scores--including just two stars (out of five) for frontal impact and just three stars overall.

The Liberty only achieves a worrisome 'marginal' rating from the IIHS in side-impact safety—the second-worst rating the IIHS gives. And in the seat-based rear impact test, it gets just 'acceptable.' Protection in both frontal impacts and in the new roof strength score is rated 'good,' however.

8

2012 Jeep Liberty

Features

Whether you're looking for a hardy off-roader or a luxurious wagon, the 2012 Jeep Liberty offers a strong feature set.

Base Sport and more luxurious Limited trims of the 2012 Jeep Liberty span a range from no-nonsense and affordable to quite plush. But oddly, the off-road-ready Renegade and its very off-road-focused kit have been dropped for 2012.

Last year, Jeep lowered prices on the Liberty, and it added a Bluetooth hands-free interface (with voice command), a garage-door opener, overhead console, and rear park assist as new standard equipment. Otherwise, the Limited is the way to go for those who want a more luxurious rig good for light-duty towing and weekend excursions. There's a big jump in look and feel up to the Limited models, as they add 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.

Sound systems were also revamped last year, with steering-wheel controls added for all models. The optional premium audio system is DVD and MP3 compatible and comes with a touch screen and 30-gigabyte hard drive; it can also be optioned with built in Garmin navigation and Sirius Traffic and Travel Link services. Rain-sensing wipers and a Sky Slider sunroof are among other noteworthy options.

Sport Jet and Limited Jet models--essentially special-edition packages--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.

5

2012 Jeep Liberty

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Jeep Liberty is simply too thirsty to be considered as a green pick.

If the fuel budget is something you're concerned about--or if being green is at least an ancillary concern--you'll probably want to steer away from the 2012 Jeep Liberty.

With EPA fuel economy ratings as low as 15 mpg city, 21 highway, the Liberty gulps fuel at the rate of much larger SUVs, and you don't get all that much back in terms of performance or interior space. You could do better with most mid-size crossovers.

If your priorities are off-road prowess and perhaps towing, the Liberty's ratings are typical, and in line with the likes of the Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Xterra, and Toyota FJ Cruiser.

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June 1, 2015
2012 Jeep Liberty 4WD 4-Door Sport

One Bad Compromise SUV.

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Bought this thing brand new in Dec. of 2011, and at the time seemed ok; was at lease end w/ an '08 TrailBlazer SS, so there was an immediate sense of let down, but ... As an SUV seems to be competent enough... + More »
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April 13, 2015
For 2012 Jeep Liberty

Good solid vehicle, terrible fuel mileage

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Bought it new in 2012, great pricing on it as it was beginning to be phased out. I was looking for a basic body on frame type vehicle with traditional 4 wheel drive, and I got it. Even though it's 'old school'... + More »
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