Off road, there are few compact or mid-size SUVs that will scrabble up hills or drive off cliffs as well as the 2008 Jeep Liberty. When they were trail-running, TruckTrend.com observed, “Engine power was sufficient and throttle response smooth. The automatic-transmission and transfer-case gearing helped us to climb extremely steep sections, as you'd expect a Jeep to be able to do.”
However, most folks don’t commute over trails named “Hell’s Revenge.” With welcome honesty, the GarageBlog admitted, “We didn’t have an opportunity to check out the Liberty’s skills in the dirt, but we did manage to drive it in a couple of inches of snow. All the electronics make for an impressive launch in the snow. In fact, the traction control works so well that I didn’t even need to engage 4 high to keep on trucking.” This is a much more realistic benefit for most SUV drivers, and the 2008 Jeep Liberty’s capabilities are probably overkill for such things.
EdmundsInsideLine.com complained about the performance of the Liberty, Jeep’s newest vehicle, in more routine driving duties. “The V6 engine is torquey enough to live up to its Jeep heritage, we suppose, but the progress of the Liberty (4,030 pounds in 2WD, 4,222 pounds in 4WD) is best described as deliberate. The automatic's shifts are a bit clunky. Simply put, there are far better powertrains out there.” Internet Auto Guide wasn’t particularly impressed either: “The 3.7-liter V6 is only adequate in this vehicle. It has decent pickup from a stop, but doesn't provide the willing punch to make passing easy. The four-speed automatic transmission kicks down readily to provide what passing power there is, but the standard six-speed manual transmission's extra gear ratios let the driver keep the engine in its power band.”
Not many editors from around the Web drove the 2008 Jeep Liberty with the six-speed manual, but the experts from TheCarConnection.com put hundreds of miles on one. The Liberty’s manual-shifter throws are longer than on a sports car, obviously, but the mechanical precision of the gearbox was bliss. The transmission cogs engaged with a satisfyingly direct mechanical “snick” that exponentially increased the driver’s physical and emotive involvement with the truck. If you can drive a manual, consider this combination before making your purchase decision.
TheCarConnection.com editors concur with the Web’s majority opinion that the Liberty is not a land jet. (If you want a fast vehicle that’s not a Liberty, Jeep badge included, buy a Grand Cherokee SRT8.) When it comes to the Liberty, Jeep has made much about the Liberty’s new suspension and that it provides an on-road ride that is superior to the outgoing generation. Alas, the NYTimes.com was not impressed with the results: “On the road, the Jeep’s ride and handling could be charitably described as unfortunate. Sometimes a vehicle with a comfortable ride doesn’t handle very well. Sometimes a good-handling vehicle has an uncomfortable ride. The Liberty managed both a poor ride and lackluster handling, which is a stunning lack of achievement.”
TheCarConnection.com’s car experts don’t hate the Liberty’s road manners nearly so much, and tend to agree with the point made by EdmundsInsideLine.com about the SUV’s suspension. “The new small Jeep is still a truck at heart, and it's well behind its car-based competitors when it comes to ride quality, body control, steering action and general responsiveness.”