Jeep Liberty Limited

Let Freedom Ring

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.