1993-2002 Jeep

2002 Jeep Liberty

Jeep Cherokee's replacement was the 2002 Jeep Liberty, an all-new design larger inside and out, but with traditional Jeep styling cues and, naturally, serious off-road capability.

Designed to appeal to a new breed of SUV buyer who expected comfort and refinement, it was the first Jeep with independent front suspension, rack and pinion steering, and available curtain side airbags. The link-coil solid-axle rear suspension was similar to Grand Cherokee's.

2002 Jeep Liberty
©Chrysler LLC
The 2002 Jeep Liberty replaced the Jeep Cherokee and was the first Jeep with independent front suspension and curtain side airbags.

In addition to the four-cylinder engine was a new V-6, which was derived from the 4.7 V-8 and provided a 5,000-pound towing capacity, tops among compact SUVs. Sport models had contrasting-color wheel-arch cladding, while upscale Limited Editions (shown) had a monochromatic look and available leather upholstery.

Jeep was dismayed when early customer-research clinics interpreted the first Liberty styling prototype as a "mini Grand Cherokee." So designers went back to the drawing board to blend the Dakar and Jeepster show vehicles into this final result. Liberty is sold in 90 countries, but outside North America it's marketed under a familiar old name: Cherokee.

"Uniframe" construction is said to be stiffer and lighter than body-on-frame assembly used by truck-based competitors. Two four-wheel-drive systems are available: part-time Command-Trac and optional full-time Selec-Trac.
An innovative swing gate/flipper glass design provides access to the cargo area. The spare tire is externally mounted. Round gauges have black-on-beige graphics and a 65/35 split rear seat features one-handed folding.

Amplifying the newness of the Jeep Liberty, DaimlerChrysler made a surprising selection of temporary "spokesperson" to launch the vehicle at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. He was none other than Ken Kesey, author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," among other novels, and guru of sorts to the Sixties counterculture.

Kesey appeared on a small, elevated stage to the accompaniment of vibrant sound effects in the darkened meeting space, filled to capacity with journalists. The vague sounds were meant to represent traffic, prompting Kesey to launch into a quiet, rhapsodic evocation of highways: quiet highways, small-town highways -- the byways of the American past. "Blue highways," in fact, of the sort described by William Least Heat Moon in his travel memoir of that name.

People could "get anywhere," Kesey explained, "simply by following the blue highways." They "still exist [but] you have to want to look for them . . . Blue highways are not for everyone." Rather, they're for people who "let trips take them." The new Liberty just might "help knit the blue highways together again," Kesey asserted.

Three examples then drove onto the stage -- one of them down a simulated off-road byway. Jeans-wearing Jeep general manager Tom Sidlik called the 2002 Jeep Liberty "a new Jeep for a new adventure," meant to attract "a whole new kind of Jeep buyer" without losing the hard-core enthusiasts.

Sport and Limited editions were offered. The Sport model has contrasting mold-in-color fascias, fender flares, and bodyside moldings. The Limited projects an upscale monochromatic look.

After promising an appealing price, DaimlerChrysler announced in late March 2001 that the base Liberty Sport would list for $17,035 (including a $585 destination charge). A 4x4 Sport was offered $18,545. Limited prices started at $21,795 (or $23,305 with four-wheel drive).

Liberty is the first Jeep with available side-curtain airbags. An optional off-road group includes Trac-Lok and all-terrain tires. Skid plates covering fuel tank and transfer case are available.

Early reviews found things to like about the Liberty. "Approach and departure angles are best in class," according to Car and Driver. "Refinement and noise abatement were high priorities during the development." Ward's Auto World reported that the KJ is "the stiffest Jeep yet," according to Jeep body director Phil Jansen -- 45 percent better than Cherokee in bending and 30 percent in torsional rigidity.

The Jeep Liberty will have a big reputation to uphold. "Jeep is not a brand of a product." said Broomall, "it's a lifestyle." Jeep owners wave to each other, he noted, the way drivers of British sports cars did 40 years earlier.

"Exciting breakthrough products made this company," said Dieter Zetsche, new head of the American portion of DaimlerChrysler, during the Liberty's Detroit debut. "[And they] will do so again."

For more information on Jeeps, see:

  • History of Jeep
  • Consumer Guide New Jeep Prices and Reviews
  • Consumer Guide Used Jeep Prices and Reviews