What's that? I'm sorry, I can't hear you. I just finished test driving the 2006 Jeep Liberty Limited 4X4 CRD -- the diesel SUV, and boy are my ears tired. The $25,990 2006 Jeep Liberty Limited 4X4 CRD ($31,835 as tested including the $956 diesel option) is one of only two diesel SUVs on the market -- the other is the $130,000 HUMMER H1 Alpha. Jeep includes a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty with every Liberty. Will our shores soon be awash in diesel SUVs? Let's drive the Liberty CRD and decide...
From the outside, the diesel Liberty is identical to the gasoline version, except for discrete "CRD" badging. "CRD" stands for "Common Rail Diesel," which describes the Liberty's in-line 4-cylinder 2.8 liter turbo-diesel engine. CRD systems use high injection pressure to get fuel into the combustion chamber, resulting in higher fuel economy and cleaner burning diesel. The system is very popular in Europe, and in its third generation is just starting to break through here in the US due to emissions standards.
Liberty is a smart SUV design. It looks like the offspring of a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a Wrangler, snatching styling cues from each end of the Jeep lineup to create a unique look all its own. The traditional Jeep seven slot grille nails the heritage, along with a flat hood and trail-worthy stance. My test vehicle had nice 16" x 7" Luxury Aluminum Wheels, which filled the big fender wells nicely. Fit and finish on the Liberty was very good throughout, with rich paint and tight gaps and seams. There's a little bit of a Tonka toy quality to the Liberty -- it is definitely a cute ute, not an intimidating vehicle by any means. It's a very civilized design, but not overly grown up. There's no poser power in driving the Liberty.
In the Driver's Seat
Liberty looks like the offspring of a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a Wrangler, snatching styling cues from each end of the Jeep lineup to create a unique look all its own.photo © DaimlerChrysler
You sit up high in the Liberty, with a good view of the road ahead. I wish the driver's seat was a more comfortable perch, though -- it's a little hard, and the thigh support is too short. My test Liberty had leather seating surfaces, part of a "Customer Preferred Package" ($1,570) that also included a premium 6-Disc CD/AM/FM Stereo and Selec-Trac Full-Time 4WD. The leather wasn't the best quality, and the rest of the seat was covered in cheap imitation leather and cloth -- yuck.
For the most part, the Liberty's interior is simple and practical. On the passenger's side, it's downright plain. The dash is very straightforward, with rotary analog gauges and big air-conditioning and heat controls. The plastics and man-made materials on the dash and doors are a little cheesy, not the highest quality, especially in places that you have to touch and see all the time. If the materials were at the level of the design, the interior would be great -- as is, it's just okay.
Because of the short flat hood and the high seating position, sightlines to the front of the Liberty are great, and with the big greenhouse, the view all around isn't bad, either. With its short overhang front and rear, Liberty is a breeze to park in the smallest of spaces.
On the Road
Common Rail Diesel is a highly advanced system, with a great technological pedigree. My totally shallow analysis, based on the science of opinion, is that it is a bad application in the Liberty. Not only is the engine way loud -- you can't hold a conversation driving around town in the Liberty with the windows up -- it doesn't deliver enough horsepower to keep up with traffic on the freeway. Diesel's big design advantage is tons of low-end torque, and the Liberty CRD has that -- 290 lb-ft at just 1800 rpm. But with a meager 160 peak hp coming at 3800 rpm, the CRD engine just doesn't have what it takes to motivate the 4000 lb Liberty appropriately. I could learn to live with the diesel if it was tremendously efficient, but the CRD is rated to deliver just 22 mpg city/26 mpg highway. That's an improvement over the Liberty's gas-powered 3.7 liter V6, which gets 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway, but at such a performance penalty. Add in the $965 upcharge for the diesel engine, and the CRD starts to look like a difficult choice.
On the positive side, the Liberty does deliver a civilized, comfortable ride in most situations. Anti-lock 4-wheel disc brakes provide adequate stopping power, and the Liberty feels controlled and stable on the road.
If you want a compact SUV with a diesel engine, the 2006 Jeep Liberty Limited 4X4 CRD is your only choice.photo © DaimlerChrysler
If you want a compact SUV with a diesel engine, the 2006 Jeep Liberty Limited 4X4 CRD is your only choice. That's easy. The real question is whether or not the diesel application is the right one for the Liberty, and further, whether the Liberty is the right vehicle for your needs. If you tow a trailer regularly, or if you need gobs of torque for off-road driving, the diesel may be your best option. You should definitely test the gas-powered Liberty, which accelerates better and is quieter than the diesel. I think you'll find the gas engine's 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque more useful in general.
The compact SUV market is exploding, with many excellent choices at very competitive prices. Toyota's RAV4 was redesigned for 2006, with great results. Honda's Element is a cool vehicle. Ford's Escape, Hyundai's Tucson, Kia's Sportage and Suzuki's Grand Vitara are also worth a look. Opinion is divided over the Pontiac Torrent -- I didn't like it, but others did (go figure).
The Europeans are devoted to diesel. I suspect that it will be a while before Americans join the parade. The Jeep Liberty CRD will not lead the band, worthy though the Liberty is as a compact SUV. Stick to the gas for now, and leave diesel to the eighteen wheelers.