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On Tuesday, April 4, 2007, Jeep brought the 2008 Jeep Liberty into the light. Rain was falling, and most of the press stayed indoors, watching through glass; still, many ventured into the covered stands, and some got wet or hid under umbrellas. I held an umbrella with one hand and a camera with the other.
Frank Klegon walked up to the podium, set up among the faux boulders, accompanied by an assistant carrying an umbrella, and said, “This is my friend, Noah.”
He then described the 2008 Grand Cherokee, showing the first photos we’ve seen of the interior, and describing it as a major upgrade. Changes include much more woodgrain and more soft-touch surfaces.
Both the Liberty and Grand Cherokee gained electronic off-roading aids and better aerodynamics (for better mileage and lower wind noise); the Liberty got more features and slightly better mileage, and the Grand Cherokee got a huge power boost and slight gas-mileage hike from the 4.7.
After a short introduction, smoke billowed out of the summit of the faux mountain, two large doors opened, and out came the Liberty, perched atop a carousel held up above the artificial rocks. The silver Liberty made a complete rotation, and then a new, burgundy colored Liberty drove up — its sunroof opened — and an umbrella popped out.
We followed the Liberty into the warm, dry Jeep tent, where handlers wiped it down and dried it off. The cargo bay looks more useful; the interior has been upgraded, with a more attractive dashboard including thin chrome lines on the gauges.
Rick Reuter answered our Four Questions for the Liberty: Why did they drop the diesel and the 2.4 engines? Why the 3.7 instead of the 3.8? And why the four-speed automatic? Rick answered the questions with an air of conviction that may come from having two Jeep Libertys in the family. These are his answers, paraphrased:
We also asked how, with greater weight and the same powertrain, and a similar though improved drag coefficient, the Liberty could increase its gas mileage so much. According to Rick, this was largely a matter of reducing rolling resistance, wind drag, and parasitic losses. Brake-specific fuel consumption was helped by changing EGR programming; and the electronic throttle tightened engine control. Overall, Rick felt that real world gas mileage increased even more than EPA estimates.
Our next question had to do with styling, so Rick called over Ralph Gilles, who remains friendly and approachable despite his auto-world fame. We wondered about the risk Jeep was taking in so dramatically restyling a vehicle which has been an unquestionable hit, going from a more curvy style to the more rugged, blocky style; since most Liberty buyers have been women, we wondered if that would be an issue.
Ralph responded that historically, women will buy a man’s car; what they liked about the Liberty was mainly the manageable size, which made it easy to park, fun to live with, and easy to own. It now looks more capable and rugged, which should appeal more to men, while still keeping the form factor liked by its current buyers. One styling cue he pointed out was the round headlights behind squarish lenses; they made the lamps oversized to scale the vehicle and keep it looking small and playful; the roundness gives it personality, the squareness ruggedness.
The big question on the minds of many people is, what does the Dodge Demon concept look like under the skin? In short, what kind of suspension and architecture does it use?
The Demon itself looks good but not awesome; it's not a “gotta-get-it-now” car, at least not from a styling view. The Viper, even watered down, is about as desirable as a sports car can get. The Demon doesn't come close - its presence is not as strong as the Viper-influenced Saturn Sky, and the big Dodge grille looks out of place on the sleek little car. The Demon certainly is small; it looks much smaller than the Hornet, though they're about the same size. The interior is fairly plain except for the nicely embroidered seats.
Other than the minivans, the Demon appeared to be getting the most attention from the press, but in any case, the Chrysler-Dodge area (the two brands were not clearly separated) was much more sparsely populated than Toyota and Lexus were.
Making another appearance were the seat displays from Detroit, so you can experience Swivel ’n’ Go seats Without having to get into a van. We did get into a Stow-n-Go van to try out the comfort of the odd-looking rear seats, which are at a very uncomfortable looking angle. Surprisingly, once we moved up the headrest - which appeared to be set for three year olds - the seats were quite relaxing and moderately supportive.
The new Dakota looks more integrated and sleeker up front than the 2007 models, though the side and rear views are almost identical. The cartoonish chrome grille has been downsized, so that the hoodline is straight; and the metal is a dull silver rather than a bright chrome.
The result is a tidier, more compact looking truck that differentiates the Dakota from its somewhat-bigger cousins, the Rams. The honeycomb grille, copied by Ford but originally debuting on the 1993 Ram, works well with the more modest front lines.
The Sprinter was there in force. The step up to the cab was slippery, having been sprayed with a plastic shiner. Inside, the ram's head logo on the Mercedes-specification steering wheel told us this was a Dodge; the cruise control remains the Mercedes favorite, with the awkward extra stalk on the left, and the controls are all from Stuttgart. The use of thin brightwork dresses up the otherwise unexciting dashboard. The cargo van is cavernous but dark, with only a couple of dim dome lights and the light from the large door opening; the passenger van looks much dressier inside.
There are several interactive displays in the Dodge area, and a video describing the uniqueness of the SRT line.
Also within the Chrysler area was the Nassau concept car, which somehow did not look as good this time around as it originally did. Perhaps that was because it was lifted up to an unnatural height, changing the viewing angle and hiding the detailed gauges.
To get into the New York Auto Show, you have to get a thorough dousing of Toyota. First, you go past the Scion exhibit with the huge Scion wallstand of cars; then you go into the show, and taking up more space than just about anyone else is Toyota, in the most prime spot. The next best placement is probably from GM.
The FJ Cruiser, Toyota’s answer to the Wrangler and Liberty, had headlights that made it look crosseyed because they were too close to the center of the grille, a honeycomb grille from the 1993 Ram, and rearview mirrors that made it look as though it had Dumbo ears. Gas mileage is the same as the Wrangler — 16 mpg city, 19 highway.
With its faux bumper, one would hope it wouldn't get driven particularly fast. It has a strange looking gearbox, and no legroom in the back.
Chrysler is in their traditional place both upstairs and downstairs; Jeeps and Dodge trucks are downstairs, Chrysler and Dodge upstairs. Downstairs, the Dodge trucks are moderately prominent and far closer to the entrance and exit than the car displays upstairs; they also take much more floor space. Toyota’s trucks are relegated to the side wall, next to Dodge, in the same places as last year.
The Chrysler/Dodge car display on the upper floor is all the way in the back, across the aisle from Maserati, who you might remember from Iaccoca’s flirtation with investment bankers, which proved that you don’t bring Chrysler upscale just by throwing in the name of a European luxury automaker; and from Bentley, now owned by Volkswagen, which served wine for its own announcements.
Minivans are in both the upstairs and downstairs displays; absent are the Imperial, 2008 Grand Cherokee, and, oddly, the real Dodge commercial trucks. There are two Sprinters and no chassis-cabs to lend an air of toughness, which would be handy given neighboring Ford’s new slogan, "Tougher than tough." It takes a tough engine to spit out spark plugs!
And here are more photos...
2007 Detroit Auto Show
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