2012 Jeep Liberty Sport Review

We take a spin in Jeep's mid-size SUV.

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August 15, 2012

2012 Jeep Liberty Sport Review

As car reviewers, we have an obligation to be mean when it's called for, and with the Liberty, that's called for plenty.

The Basics
Today's class of mid-size SUVs is generally lacking old-school offerings, but those who want to relive the old days might find the current Jeep Liberty to their liking.

That might sound kind of harsh (notice we didn't put 'good' in front of 'old days') but sometimes the truth hurts. There's a difference between 'retro cool' and 'outdated' and the Liberty falls on the wrong side of that line.

A new Liberty based on a Fiat platform is likely in the pipeline, so hope is on the way. For now, though, the Liberty reminds us of Chrysler before the alliance with Fiat, and that's not a good thing.

2012 Jeep Liberty Features & Prices Our Liberty featured such standard goodies as a fold-flat front passenger seat, a 60/40 split-fold rear seat, an auxiliary port, satellite radio, an MP3/CD media center, remote keyless entry, a tilt steering column, power heated exterior mirrors, and an auxiliary 12-volt outlet, all for a base price of $24,975.

Options included the Customer Preferred Package 28B ($345, included Bluetooth, map lights, a universal garage door opener, and auto-dimming rearview mirror) and the $995 Popular Equipment Group (white-letter tires, fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, temperature and compass gauge, alarm, cargo compartment cover, deep tint sunscreen glass, and black side roof rails). That plus the $795 destination charge brought the as-tested total to $27,110.
2012 Jeep Liberty On the Road Our mothers taught us that if we can't say anything nice, we shouldn't say anything at all. Well, as car reviewers, we have an obligation to be mean when it's called for, and with the Liberty, that's called for plenty.

We'll start with the good stuff, though. The Jeep's steering feel pleasantly surprised us--it's accurate and nicely weighted, and gave the rig a sportier feeling then were we expecting. The 210-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 also was a pleasant surprise, giving us better acceleration that one would expect from the anemic power numbers (only 235 lb-ft of torque). We're not saying the Liberty is fast, just that it's faster than we thought it would be.

So it's too bad that the engine is thrashier than a farm tractor, with the refinement to match. Folks who remember the '80s fondly might appreciate the noises from the engine bay, but modern buyers won't.

We also experienced handling issues, which we think might be blamed on the tires. The Liberty exhibited typical truck-type SUV handling in the dry (read: lots and lots of body roll) but a trip down our favorite twisty road in the rain was downright terrifying at times, even with the traction control on, and even when we reigned ourselves into a slower speed. Driving this thing on wet pavement reminded us of our driver's ed years. Slipping and sliding can be fun, but not in a top-heavy SUV like this. It's like getting a roller-coaster ride for free.

Mushy brakes and an automatic transmission featuring only four forward speeds didn't help, either. We get that no one is looking to buy this trucklet for performance, but a little more competency would go a long way. Here's hoping that the next iteration either goes crossover or at least finds the Grand Cherokee's blend of off-road prowess and on-road performance.
2012 Jeep Liberty Exterior The first-generation Liberty was curvy and svelte, relatively speaking. The current gen is boxy and truck-like and kind of boring. Let's hope for some Italian-style flair from Chrysler's alliance with Fiat on the next Liberty.
2012 Jeep Liberty Interior The Liberty's cabin struck us as outdated and overly utilitarian, even by Jeep standards. We bemoaned the lack of a dead pedal and small front footwell, and the materials feel low-rent. We also carped about the lack of a USB port.

On the other hand, we did find one positive: we really dug the clever lift-out load floor in the cargo area.
2012 Jeep Liberty Fuel Economy and Safety Our Liberty came equipped with traction control, ABS, hill-start assist, hill-descent control, stability control, brake assist, and electronic roll mitigation.

Fuel economy is labeled at 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, and we averaged a dismal 14.5 mpg overall.
2012 Jeep Liberty Final Thoughts It's tough to love, or even like, this Liberty. Sure, it's a relative value at $27K, but it offers little in the way of creature comforts and it can be a chore to drive. It's got utility chops, but even within the Jeep lineup buyers can do better.

And really, that's part of the problem. The Wrangler offers more utility, and the Grand Cherokee does a much better job of coddling. The Liberty should be offering the same balance that the GC does, but it's not even close.

Eventually a new Liberty will arrive, and it will probably be much better, if other recent Chrysler products are any indication.

Perhaps better days are ahead for the Liberty. For now, retro (the real kind, not retro chic) can be yours for under $30K.

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