Well summer has finally hit San Francisco and it is time to jump in the Jeep and head out to the back country. It makes no difference if your back country is the local park or venturing to the ultimate off-road park down in Hollister, the Jeep Liberty is a vehicle that will take you there comfortably.
With adventure in mind, I headed out in my test Liberty toward the Jackson State Forest west of Willits in Mendocino County. Granted the forest trails are not what a rugged off-road enthusiasts would say were number ten on the rock crawling scale. However, this is one of the most beautiful areas in the world. It helps to take a Jeep along just in case you encounter the deterioration caused by the long and strong storms the North Coast experienced this last winter.
After picking up the Liberty 70th Anniversary special edition Jeep loaned me, I headed out following 101 to the little lumber/cowboy town of Willits. My stomach was telling me I better not pass up the eats served up by two of my favorite Willits eateries, Ardella’s or Loose Caboose. I decide on the Loose Caboose, a sandwich and salad joint operated by a friend. The friendship is important, but it is the food at this railroad-themed shop that brings me back often. It will be hard, but when you go, make sure to save room so you can walk around the corner to the general store, JD Redhouse for a slice of Kimmey’s homemade fruit pie. I can almost guarantee you will walk out with a whole pie under your arm. After all, you need emergency rations on your trek, just in case.
The 70th anniversary Liberty has so much to offer beyond what other models might. Other than the numerous anniversary badges on the seatbacks and front fenders this Liberty wraps nearly all touch surfaces in leather. This adds a whole lot of luxuriousness to this capable Jeep.
The 3.7-liter V-6 engine is a new generation of Jeep engines. If this power plant lasts half as long as the near bullet-proof 4.0-liter straight-six that served Jeep for so many years, it will be around for a long time. I see this as more than a strong possibility. This V-6 is smooth and powerful with good horsepower and, even more important, excellent torque.
Thankfully, Jeep doesn’t equip the Liberty with any version of a Continuously Variable Transmission they install in a few other models. The Liberty, much to my approval, receives a real four-speed automatic. Although, I would like to see a five-speed automatic with manual mode and paddle shifters. Yes, I have gotten so used to driving with those paddle shifters I miss them when I test a vehicle absent of them. However, Jeep equipped the Liberty with a shifter that allows the driver to manually shift from drive down through the gears all the way to first, most important when out four-wheeling,
This is where I start to really enjoy the Liberty. I don’t need to shift the four-wheel drive system into low range and first gear. But, I know I will need this mode soon. As I head further down into the forest off Highway 20, west of Willits, the Redwood and Douglas Fir grow high toward the sun, blocking out the drying rays. The rutted road becomes more so the farther I venture. The mud gets heavy and sticky, clawing at my tires. As I begin to lose traction I move the Command-Trac II four-wheel drive system into four-wheel high to give the Liberty better grasp on the mud. The terrain isn’t quite so steep as to need low range. That will come soon.
One of the major contributors to keeping control of a vehicle during off-road excursions is the type of tire. Mud and snow is the most common tire fitted by original manufactures. However, if you do any driving through mud or snow it might be wise to look into either replacing the standard tires for a set with more aggressive treads. I know a number of folks who have two sets of tires, one set for winter and another for the rest of the year.
Modern day sport utility vehicles, like the Jeep, are much more capable at keeping you out of trouble. This is not only so while out on the highway with stability control and anti-lock brakes, but when on the trail with innovations such as hill descent and hill start assist. Hill descent modulates each of the four brakes, individually, to make it easy to control the vehicle while driving down steep hills on loose gravel, sand or mud.
I found the hill descent worked extremely well on a steep hill that was so muddy I could not keep my footing while checking the area. As I edged over the top, all I could see was sky and the tops of trees. The correct way to proceed with hill decent is to place the shifter in low gear and the four-wheel system into low range, place both feet flat of the floor and let the system “walk” you down. It is one of those “trust” issues that make you pucker a little, but hill decent works. This is a feature that you only have to experience once before you are a convert.
I will be the first to say I am a real diehard Jeep fan. Yet, as I embarked on my test of the Jeep Liberty, I promised I would be impartial. I was until the end, when I as I washed the mud off the Liberty, a passer-by remarked that I must have had a good friend if they would come out and pull you out from being as stuck as the mud indicated. I just smiled and said, “Actually I didn’t need help the Jeep never let me down and got me home with no help.” That is why I like these vehicles as much as I do.