If you enjoy the sound a tractor-trailer makes when it's firing up, the Liberty diesel might be the SUV for you. By making a diesel engine available as a substitute for the standard gasoline V-6, starting in 2005, DaimlerChrysler's Jeep division transformed the vehicle's personality. What is a wholly satisfactory small SUV with gasoline power turns into a snarly little devil with the diesel.
With a gasoline engine, the Liberty has 210 horsepower and comes with either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The 2.8-liter diesel four-cylinder develops only 160 horsepower, but torque output reaches 295 pound-feet at a low 1,800 rpm. Only a five-speed automatic is available with the diesel.
Ride and handling characteristics don't differ appreciably from a gasoline-engine Liberty. Solidly constructed, the Liberty maneuvers easily, courtesy of quick steering with moderate effort. Riding easily on smooth pavement, it takes rougher surfaces relatively well, too. Offroad, the Liberty approaches star potential.
Front-seat space is ample, but legroom in the backseat is marginal if the front seat is pushed rearward substantially. Long-legged front-seat riders could leave little knee space for occupants in the back. Visibility is good all around, but radio buttons and markings are especially tiny.
Standing outside the Liberty while it's idling, the noise isn't so bad. Inside, though, the familier diesel rattle assaults one's ears with a vengeance as the vehicle starts off. Though the sound dies down at cruising speed, you get the impression that someone forgot to put sufficient insulation into the vehicle. An occasional whiff of diesel fuel can be noticed, too. Acceleration is on the tepid side, compared to a V-6.
Three trim levels are available: Sport, Limited, and classic-style Renegade, which has a flatter hood and a taller grille. An Electronic Stability Program is standard. Side-curtain airbags are optional. Base price for a four-wheel-drive Limited with the diesel engine is $26,580 (including destination charge).