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The Jeep Liberty and the Jeep Cherokee

A retrospective by MoparNorm

The coil link that Cherokee used is still coveted by thousands. It's what a Jeep is, and no amount of excuses by European managers in the past or present will change that fact; when the coil link leaves Wrangler, Jeep is dead.

The mission should not be how to justify an independent suspension, it should be how to modernize a solid axle suspension.

The original Liberty (KJ) wasn't far off and actually held the Cherokee (XJ) buyers, but only for one purchase cycle. It was an interior improvement, but the cheapness of the interior finish and the quality of the materials did not hold up well. Daimler used the cheapest possible components for ball joints and suspension bushings. Because of the unibody construction, the parts which should have isolated the cabin from road noise and vibration (and had done so in the Cherokee) actually broadcast road noise and every pop and groan of the suspension into the cabin.

The Liberty rode better over washboard, in a straight line, but the IFS suspension in any other application was terrible and severely tarnished the Jeep reputation for off road capability. The IFS had less articulation that the coil link on the XJ, the IFS was unable to match the VCI of the Cherokee, it was expensive to modify, and it was beyond the ability of the average aftermarket folks to correct. There is an old adage that "Jeeps are Built, Not Bought." When you take away the average Jeeper's ability to affordably customize their Jeep, you have shot yourself in the foot.

The Liberty went from Jeep 6 in-line power to buzzy V-6 wheeze. Towing rating may have actually improved, but usability suffered. Jeeps and RPM do not go hand in hand.

Liberty was not as "balanced" as the Cherokee. Liberty had more cargo volume, but it was less usable because it was vertical space and width, not length. Liberty suffered because it erroneously went toward the short and tall look of the Dakar Concept Wrangler and not toward the classic long-and-low Cherokee look.

Liberty lost the wheel well size of the Cherokee, Liberty lost the usable ground clearance of the Cherokee. Liberty is limited by tire size and front differential strength. (At rest an IFS suspension can match the static height of a coil link axle. However, a coil link axle remains a constant distance in relationship to the wheel, the axle moves with the suspension. In an IFS suspension the differential is fixed to the body and when a wheel travels during jounce and rebound, the entire vehicle travels down, closer to the ground. There are times, at moderate speed, on simple dirt roads, when my Liberty oil pan is less than 4" from the ground. I have on many occasions, struck the differential skid plate on a rock no larger than 3" tall. )

There are many things I enjoy about my Liberty, such as the additional creature comfort while getting to the trail, the additional width, the multiple driving positions that come with 6 way power seats, and the dash layout. However, once I reach the trailhead, it pales in comparison to the Cherokee. There should never be a situation where a Jeep becomes less capable than the model before it, after all that is Jeep's purpose for being.

The challenge for Jeep is to keep its off road ability while finding ways to improve comfort and ride on the pavement without ruining its 4 wheel drive abilities and then using marketing to lie about it...

"CherokeeVision" wrote:

The XJ design tried to offer as much as possible and tried not to take away too much when compromises were made. Features that I appreciate and do not want to do without include amber rear turn signals, oil pressure gauge, maximizing glass space (not the gun slit styling of the Nitro/Libety). The XJ seemed to be designed around helping the driver do the maximum. Visibility, information, etc. Even the low roof height while at the same time providing ground clearance. Easier to use the roof rack and probably helped reduce the center of gravity a small amount. Even then it had more window space or height than the vehicles that have come after it.

The XJ was so successful because it was basic, but basic in a way that made sense. Vehicle usefulness came first. Driver use came first. The XJ put both the Sport and Utility into one package. There have been tradeoffs made ever since.

Bob Sheaves wrote:

The MidEast and SEA were a bit "recalcitrant" on the name Liberty. The crash changes and suspension design were used as excuses, in my opinion, by DCX management [to kill the XJ design]. What you also need to remember is that Bob Batchelor also left during this time and once he left, DCX steamrollered over Chrysler's Jeep Truck Engineering personnel.

unklemunky wrote during the launch of the original Jeep Liberty:

Daimler is saying they took the Jeepster concept and the Dakar concept and combined them to produce the Liberty. The Dakar (essentially a four-door Wrangler) was a decent looking rig and would have been a vehicle that filled a hole that there wasn't a Jeep available in right now. The Jeepster, a "fun roadster" but not serious heavy duty vehicle, would have appealed to the "cutesy" crowd more.

They damaged the Jeep name with this KJ (Liberty) model. Yes, it might ride a little smoother (IFS), and it might have some other minor appointments compared to past Jeep models. But it is larger on the outside, smaller on the inside than a comparable current Cherokee - and 500 lbs heavier compared to comparable Cherokee models, with barely better rated engines - which see "peaks" in very high RPMs.

Jeeps have long been "low end power" vehicles...they were meant to be tough, not just fast. They had to have low end power or they wouldn't have been serious work vehicles! Now, they're just a posh All Wheel Drive vehicle.

There are two important things to differentiate between here that often get muddled, and have been misinterpreted (particularly by Chrysler). The first is Tradition. The second is Heritage. We hear a lot about "Jeep Heritage" but the Wrangler is not as true to the "Heritage" - it is true to the "Jeep Tradition," more than any other Jeep vehicle.

When Jeep began to mean something to the public, it was as a work vehicle. It wasn't a toy, not meant just for trail bopping. It's backwards now....99% of all 4wd talk seems to be play (or onroad security) and not work...especially in respect to Wranglers!

When CJs were first pushed to the public after WWII, one of their big markets was farmers; you could get a PTO and equipment to go with your CJ2A. My grandfather had one for that reason. They weren't as practical as a real tractor in many cases, but they did find a market for people who wanted a vehicle that could go/do what others couldn't. Then came the Willys wagons and pickups....again, extending the service to their owners principle. Pickups for more serious, harder work, and the wagons to business men, sportsmen, even families for a more capable family "truckster."

From the late 1940s until 1992 when the Comanche disappeared, Jeep had a pickup in the lineup. Pickups are usually the work side of a line....minus a pickup, you lose a lot of seriousness in a vehicle, not to mention toughness in future designs lacking full truck integration in the line.

Jeep continued to add service and work vehicles to their lineup. Forward Control pickups in the late 50s, the J-series (Gladiator/Wagoneer) lineup in early 60s. They also had a "FleetVan" (milk truck type) in the early 1960s. Around 1964 or 1965, you had three different pickup lines to choose from, a Fleetvan (2wd), a couple CJ models, a DJ model (mail Jeep), a few wagon forms, and it was incredible.

Now, there are three vehicles...period. The Jeep Cherokee came out in '74 as a more sporty 2 door version of the Wagoneer, and took over where the Commando failed to yield much response....competition to the Scout, Broncos, and Blazers.

In 1984, the Cherokee and Wagoneer were downsized into the XJ models (the large wagon continued as Grand Wagoneer until 1991). These models continued something that had been another important aspect of "Jeep Heritage"...."maximum vehicle in minimal space." Jeeps had never been bloated ....they were tight vehicles, most of them designed as 4wd vehicles from the ground up. It may have had some to do with Jeep always being an independent, but Jeeps were "smaller" overall, but still had a full size capability in their class, including the full size pickups.

The FC models, the Wagoneer, the Willy's pickups, and obviously the CJ models, even the XJ Cherokees, continued the "most vehicle in less space" heritage. In a 1970s ad for the pickups, they had higher ground clearance than comparable full size GM/Ford/Dodge trucks, but load height (tailgate height) was lower, and overall height, width, and length were less, yet still seated 3 in the cab (bench seats), and a full load for plywood in the back. Shortbeds were longer than GM/Ford/Dodge at 7 feet long - but were shorter, including cab, than 6-6.5 foot beds on GM/Fords/Dodges. You had a more maneuverable, accessible, and economical truck that was capable of a full work load.

On the IFSJA forums recently someone also found a review from a 4wd magazine 1975 of the big name vehicles, and Jeep came in with the best mpg ratings on average....across all their reviews. Jeep "Heritage" is about giving you a lot of vehicle in a small space, and a vehicle that is tough as nails and can get you in/out of places that others leave you stranded.

Jeep Tradition has more to do with the short wheel base Jeeps...the ones viewed as the traditional type Jeep.....small and aggressive.....capable of getting you to the near ends of the earth, but also capable of basic travel (but little cargo room!). Unfortunately, the CJ/Wrangler have become toys for the most part.

When the XJ Cherokees came out as 1984 models, they were sporting a length of about 10" less than a K-car! Yet, in that small space, Jeep packed in a fully capable (albeit smaller than previous Jeep wagons) little truck, with a decent cargo area and four doors. The competition didn't step up to 4 doors until 1991, and when they did, they were notably longer than a 4 door Cherokee.

When they came out in 1983, the XJ models were rated 71.2 cu feet cargo capacity (rear seat down). In 1987, they changed to 71.8, coinciding with the firewall adaptation to make room for the inline 6 engine, theoretically cutting into interior space, but AMC did it well and got more room for cargo inside!!

In the 1990s, this dropped to 69.0 cu feet, until 2001, when it was dropped to 66.0 cu feet, though supposedly no changes were made.

What's the Liberty got? How about 68.7 cu feet? That's only 1 cubic foot more than a K-car wagon....they were 67.7! Yet, Liberty has an outside swing spare, while Cherokee has an inside spare! If you compared apples to apples there, you'd see a big difference. The Liberty is longer, wider, much higher, and much heavier than a Cherokee, yet has a fair amount less interior space, particularly for cargo.

The Liberty is not a bad vehicle, it is just not worthy of the Jeep name, and certainly not as "successor" to the Cherokee.

...(with regard to the independent front suspension:)

There is a lot of concern that DCX is aiming to put IFS on all Jeep models in the future. Having seen the Liberty near a Cherokee, I took visual comparisons.....the Cherokee actually hangs down less in the front, and about the same overall elsewhere, than the Liberty, and the suspension looks a lot more durable on a Cherokee.

The Liberty is following the market and not leading it as the Cherokee did. Which is the sad thing here: the market had used the Cherokee as the benchmark since 1984 for compact SUVs. Now, Jeep is "copying the imitators."

There are some areas that the Cherokee could have used some improvements, but Chrysler/DC totally blew it on this one. They couldn't upstage the Grand Cherokee, so they had to keep it shorter, yet "bigger" than the Cherokee - and with more comfort and roominess inside. Since they only had about 15" to expand length, they went up.

Don't forget the obligatory "7 slot grille and round headlights" for the front - the "trademark fetish" - it has nothing to do with the real value of the vehicle, just DC's trademarks.

The spare tire had to be put outside as a swingout - imagine putting a spare tire inside an area that sports 68.7 cu feet minus the spare tire - with the spare it would be less than a K-car wagon (which had a spare-donut- inside).

And since many have the impression that higher HP ratings are important...regardless of RPM....they sell vehicles - hence the new engines!

The Jeep name is on the verge of "losing its trademark;" it's been watered down and doesn't have "tough" to it anymore. Jeeps can "play hard," but that's it; it used to be "work hard," then people realized that if something could work hard it could also play hard. The logic does not work in reverse.

BTW.....for those who are familiar with my postings, I have owned Jeeps for most of the past 13 years.....most are the older full sized. I may not be an expert, but I know more than the average duck when it comes to Jeeps, and I have long been "proud" of the Jeep name. I am having a hard time saying that now

DeSoto 44 added: [Visit his Web site!]

We're not exact opposites on the Jeep-loving spectrum, but we do have some pretty strong differences.

You're completely right when you said the Liberty (or any other Jeep these days for that matter) isn't fully geared towards heavy-duty work...and you pointed out Jeep's logic behind that move as well. Only a tiny fraction of Jeep-owners use their Jeeps for why have their line-up geared towards that tiny fraction? The Liberty is what most buyers are looking for (no counting for judgement there). It is like all the other SUVs on the road today, except it has the Jeep nameplate and hopefully will stand up to the test of time as its predecessors have. The Liberty will most likely be successful at the dealerships, because people are looking for Jeep-quality in everday cars. Jeep has spent the last, what, 60 years building up this reputation for's about time they used it to their advantage.

The Liberty isn't a dog in its performance. I saw a hour-long special on SpeedVision a few weeks ago that showed a test run of the Liberty alongside some modified CJs. The Liberty came along with relative ease; its independent front suspension held up great against some ugly obstacles. In some cases, the Liberty was actually outperforming the CJs. The rack-and-pinion steering allowed it to do some pretty tight maneuvers, that the other Jeeps had to go around. Also, its lower center of gravity let it take a slanted river bed that the CJ had to angle itself to get down (dont ask me how the center of gravity is lower in that vertically-stretched beast, but it was...they pointed it out). So, if the Jeep can make it to the river for fishing, then provide a smooth ride on the highway home...what's the harm?

As for the engine, I'll miss the 4.0 as much as the next guy. But the new engine will be more than adequate for how the typical Jeep owner will use it. If someone needs a vehicle to do some really extreme work, they're not going to buy a new Jeep anyway when an old Cherokee or Wagoneer will do the same thing for a fourth of the cost.

The fact that it's not the worker the Cherokee was is irrelevant in today's SUV market. You hit it right on the nose when you said customers are just looking for impressive horsepower figures and a name they can trust.

Drew Beck wrote:

My relationship with Jeeps goes 'way back--I learned to drive in a '48 Willys CJ-2A when I was 8 years old (all of us kids on the farm learned to drive in this thing!). My thoughts on the Liberty are: It's probably the best vehicle of its type on the market. I'd rather have the Liberty than any of the other small to mid-sized SUVs out there.

That being said, I'd rather have a Cherokee than a Liberty for my own vehicle. The Cherokee is many hundreds of pounds lighter (especially in AWD/six-cylinder form), more compact externally, and I have a strong attachment to the torquey and bullet-proof 4.0L inline six under the hood. Yes, I'm a little sentimental about the powertrain, but that's a big part of the Cherokee's appeal for me.

I haven't driven a Liberty yet but hope to soon. I want to like it, but I'm really disappointed with the vehicle's weight. Same with the latest Chrysler/Dodge minivans--those things weigh a good 500-600 lbs more than the earlier models. Yes, they are probably safer in a collision, but all that weight extracts a penalty in fuel economy, tire wear, etc.

Jeep Liberty main page An engineer's view of the Liberty Jeep Cherokee/Liberty forumJeep Cherokee

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