It's really official now. DaimlerChrysler has debuted the all-new 2002 Jeep Liberty at the North American International Auto Show in Detriot. According to the associated press:
The Liberty, which will go on sale around June of this year, will compete against such popular models as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and a host of upcoming models such as the Saturn Vue.
All feature some form of four-wheel drive, and use frame and suspension designs that have more in common with cars than trucks and offer a more car-like ride. Prices for the Liberty weren't announced, but will likely be in the $18,000 to $23,000 range.
Where the Liberty aims to stand out from its competitors, which are similarly priced, is in off-road ruggedness, even though industry research shows that 95 percent of SUV owners never drive over anything rougher than potholes.
``The emotional research we do says that one of the real hooks of driving an SUV is the notion of safety and security and capability, even if an owner has no intention of ever using it off-road,'' said Tom Marinelli, vice president of the Chrysler Jeep division. ``That's why we're focused on the duality of the personality here.''
Chrysler expects about 15 percent to 20 percent of Liberty owners will go off-roading, and the company is going to great lengths to assure its loyal customers that the Liberty is just as capable off the road as any other Jeep. The Liberty was tested on the rough Rubicon trail in California, and its four-wheel drive system and rear suspension shares components with the Grand Cherokee.
But all that off-road brawn comes with a penalty in weight and cost. The top line model of the Liberty weighs 3,857 pounds, about 400 pounds more than the similarly sized Ford Escape. To haul all that weight, the Liberty relies upon a larger, less fuel-efficient engine.