The Rodeo's optional V-6 produces about the same power as the Jeep Liberty, but it has less weight to push around. The automatic transmission shifts unobtrusively as needed, making the engine seem very responsive. Both sport and winter modes are available - features not yet available in Chrysler transmissions. Winter starts in a higher gear for added traction, while sport downshifts more readily and delays upshifts under heavy throttle. We especially liked the sport mode because it drew more power out of the engine without getting in the way, and we suspect its impact on gas mileage was small. The Liberty's V-6 seems less powerful but more refined, and its five-speed automatic is very soft but shifts quickly.
Both vehicles have a part time four wheel drive system and can go off-road. The Rodeo Sport can have an open back with a soft cover , though taking off the fiberglass back roof and side panels is moderately difficult and time-consuming. Our test model's fiberglass back included its own sunroof, with a rather inconvenient removable shade; the front has a similar sunroof, making a total of two with the fiberglass back. Neither one can be opened completely, but they can be propped open about two inches by a hand-operated control. The Liberty encloses you completely with steel, not as much fun in the summer, but more spacious.
The spare tire mounted on the back of the Rodeo Sport, like that of the Chevy Tracker, impinged on rear visibility - the Liberty's lower tire helped rear vision. Likewise, the Rodeo has a rear seatback which must be folded over all the back seats, and the Liberty has a split seatback so that you can fold over half the seatback, while one of the back seats can stay occupied.
Both have whitefaced instrument panels which are clear and easy to read, comfortable seats, and sensible controls. The Liberty's chrome-ringed gauges gave it a more classy look, as did tasteful applications of chrome here and there.
The Rodeo's handling is surprisingly good for its class, though you have to watch out for tire squeal on initial acceleration. The ride is fairly firm and every bump is felt though cushioned. The exhaust and engine sound good on acceleration, and there is a pleasant differential whine on deceleration. Compared with the Liberty, the Rodeo seems faster, better handling, but much stiffer and less comfortable.
The Rodeo Sport, though smaller than the Rodeo, is spacious inside. Headroom is good in both vehicles. Storage space behind the rear seats is not enormous but is conveniently shaped.
The Rodeo Sport seemed like a better package, overall, than competitors like the Tracker and Pathfinder, and more fun if possibly not as practical as the Cherokee. The rear soft top provides some of the fun of the Wrangler with more daily-driver-friendliness. However, the Liberty is a far more refined package, offering Grand Cherokee-like amenities at a reasonable price. We suspect few will be torn between the two - they serve different purposes. The Rodeo Sport's spiritual competitor at Jeep is more the Wrangler than the Liberty.
For more details on the Rodeo, visit automobilereviews.com. For more details on the Liberty, visit our Jeep Liberty section.
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