Under the hood of the Liberty sits a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine, which is torquey enough, but acceleration is nothing special, nor is fuel economy. It's also quite coarse and comes hooked only to a four-speed automatic transmission. Buyers can choose between rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, although 4WD models get slightly worse mileage than the RWD models. With 4WD, EPA ratings are just 15 mpg city, 21 highway. New for 2010 is an Eco lamp indicator that lets drivers know when they are driving in a fuel-efficient manner.
Last year, Jeep upgraded the Liberty’s on-road manners by tweaking the SUV’s suspension and steering. Kelley Blue Book states, “at freeway speeds, the revised suspension provides a smooth and quiet ride, yet on winding roads the steering is responsive and body lean is well controlled."
On-road ride quality is one of the Liberty's low points. As a tall, narrow vehicle with a pitchy ride, the Liberty results in lots of "head toss" on rough roads; there's also a fair amount more interior road and wind noise than in more carlike compact crossover vehicles. Last year, Jeep Liberty models received upgrades to their chassis, including stiffer rear axle shafts and retuned springs, shocks, anti-roll bars, and a steering gear valve meant to improve the vehicle’s steering and handling. Seating isn't particularly spacious either, though the Liberty does have space enough for four adults and the backseats fold forward for more cargo space.
All those criticisms won't matter as much if off-road ability is on your list, as the Liberty is very able on trails, with a low range and under-body shielding. 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.
According to Kelley Blue Book, "it is away from paved roads where the Jeep Liberty really shines, with two highly capable four-wheel drive systems, All-speed Traction Control, Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist and anti-lock brakes with rough road detection giving the Liberty truly impressive off-road credentials.” When trail-running, Truck Trend observes, “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.”
Edmunds complains about the Jeep’s performance in 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.”
"On the road, the Jeep’s ride and handling could be charitably described as unfortunate," says the New York Times. "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.”