2011 Jeep Liberty Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 12, 2011

The 2011 Jeep Liberty is at home on the trail, but if you plan to do most of your driving on paved roads you can do a lot better.

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.

Review continues below

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.

7

2011 Jeep Liberty

Styling

The 2011 Jeep Liberty looks boxy and trucklike—and ready for the trail.

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. 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.

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 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. For 2011, there's a new steering-wheel design with steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

Review continues below
5

2011 Jeep Liberty

Performance

The 2011 Jeep Liberty performs well off-road; otherwise you're bound to be disappointed.

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.

The Liberty remains offered in a choice of rear or four-wheel-drive layouts. Four-wheel-drive models don't track quite as well on the road, but in either model the steering is reasonably responsive. That doesn't translate to great maneuverability, as it feels uncertain especially over choppy highway surfaces, but it does translate to good low-speed maneuverability, which some city-goers who take weekends on the trail will appreciate.

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.

Review continues below
5

2011 Jeep Liberty

Comfort & Quality

An unforgiving ride, unrefined feel, and lots of hard plastic spoil the Liberty's fundamentally good packaging.

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.

Interior materials, while they've been glossed up a little bit more in recent years, still feel too drab and hard. It fits the part, admittedly, but it's a little disconcerting when comparing it to other affordable vehicles that span this range of ability, like the Suzuki Grand Vitara or, to some extent, the Subaru Forester.

Despite the ride quality, the Liberty is very able on trails, with a low range and under-body shielding, as well as an interior that, when you get down and dirty, feels well put together if not reassuring in its materials.

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7

2011 Jeep Liberty

Safety

Safety equipment for the Liberty is quite good, but there's not enough information out there to declare the same for its occupant protection.

The 2011 Jeep Liberty doesn't omit any essential safety features. Side-impact and side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control, active head restraints, and several other electronic off-road aids are included.

But its crash-test credentials aren't nearly as good; it 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.'

The 2011 Liberty hasn't yet been rated in the revised (and more stringent) federal NCAP tests introduced this year. However, in the previous NHTSA tests, the 2010 Liberty scored an excellent five stars in all frontal and side categories.

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8

2011 Jeep Liberty

Features

The Liberty offers enough to make shoppers happy, whether they're looking for a well-equipped off-roader or a reasonably luxurious utility vehicle.

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.

For 2011, the audio systems have been revamped. All models get steering-wheel controls, while the new upgrade system is DVD and MP3 compatible and comes with a touch screen and 30-gigabyte hard drive, and has built in Garmin navigation and Sirius Traffic and Travel Link services in its top configuration.

There are plenty of cool options, such as a music hard drive system, rain-sensing wipers, and a Sky Slider sunroof, if you don't mind the higher price tag.

Review continues below
5

2011 Jeep Liberty

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Jeep Liberty is not for those who value going green.

Small families—especially those who are environmentally minded—could do a lot better than the 2011 Jeep Liberty. With fuel economy ratings as low as 15 mpg city, 21 highway, the Liberty gulps fuel at the rate of much larger SUVs, and there's little payoff in interior space or performance. Compared to most compact to mid-size crossover vehicles, the Liberty is not only less spacious and comfortable, but also less fuel-efficient.

That said, for vehicles with serious off-road ability, figures like these are typical—with a number of vehicles including the Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Xterra, and Toyota FJ Cruiser also rated in the teens for city driving.

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