EVERY GALLON YOU PUMP into your tow vehicle means an extra gallon of fuel for your boat. So don't shun Jeep's Liberty because it lacks V-8 power and a full frame. This new-for-2008 compact SUV hauls five passengers, tows 5,000 pounds, and runs more miles between fill-ups than any of the big rigs on the market.
Jeep changed just about everything in this revised edition except the 210-hp V-6 engine. For instance, the spare now stows under the floor, a far better arrangement than the previous external spare and side-hinged tailgate, a combination that nearly guaranteed you'd bang into the winch stand of your trailer.
To stretch mileage, I tested a model without Jeep's vaunted dual-range four-wheel-drive system. The new Liberty comes with standard traction control, so I was curious to see if launch ramp performance would suffer. Skipping four-wheel drive saves $1,610 and nearly 200 pounds of curb weight. A 19' Regal bowrider and single-axle trailer served as my 3,780-pound test payload.
The V-6 and four-speed automatic combo provide adequate but not sparkling acceleration and passing ability. But Liberty's four-wheel disc brakes shone, repeatedly halting my rig from 60 mph in a safe stopping distance with minimal fade. Cruising at 70 mph, my fuel monitor registered just under 14 mpg. I scored 12 mpg overall, 10 percent better than most trucks I test.
My launch ramp concerns were answered resoundingly. Traction was excellent. The Jeep Liberty's traction control system snubbed wheel spin so quickly that I could motor up and out of the water without hesitation.
Jeep blessed the new Liberty with major creature comforts and interior upgrades such as attractive metal accent plates and soft-touch trim. Unfortunately, there are a couple of questionable options. The $1,200 Sky Slider sunroof gathers rays like a convertible, but when it's closed, the wind whistles under its seals. And the $1,550 infotainment system includes touchscreen navigation that was too finicky for me to manipulate without getting distracted.