By Keith Burton
Finding the right tow vehicle for your boat depends on a lot of issues. How heavy is your boat, what type of trailer does it have, and more importantly, how much power the vehicle has for pulling a boat and trailer down the road. All this usually means a big pickup truck or SUV with an equally big thirst for fuel, even if it is a diesel version.
But big doesnít necessarily have to mean a big vehicle. Indeed, many folks are looking for smaller, more efficient alternatives to huge pickups and SUVs but that can still tow a boat, has four doors and room for a small family. They want a vehicle that could actually be easy to drive and maneuver around town.
Unfortunately, that list of vehicles is very short. Most small SUVs have small engines and if they can tow, are usually limited to 3,500 pounds or less. And that brings us to our featured vehicle, the 2006 Jeep Liberty Diesel.
The Jeep Liberty Diesel is a small midsize SUV that is available in both gas and diesel engines, and both versions have a maximum towing capacity 5,000 pounds. But it is the diesel version that we like because of one major issue. Torque.
The gas versions of the Liberty include a modern 3.7- liter overhead cam V6 with 210 horsepower and 235 ft.lbs. of torque. This is ample and makes for a pleasant vehicle. But the diesel is a 2.8-liter turbo diesel inline four that pumps out 160 horsepower, and 295 lb.ft. of torque. And it is this whopping torque that makes all the difference when pulling a boat and trailer down the road and up a boat ramp.
The Jeep Liberty is unique in the world of midsize SUVís in itís rated capacity to pull a heavy load. Its 5,000 pound tow rating (when properly equipped) is well within the weight of most family runabouts and ski boats. And the Libertyís maximum tongue weight of 750 pounds is better than most.
On the Road
The diesel engine in the Liberty is a modern, high-pressure direct rail fuel injected engine that is a far cry from diesel engines in the past. It rarely smokes, and the smell of diesel fuel is a distant thing, only really noticeable if you are seeking out that unique smell just to say, ďAhah!Ē
This modern diesel also means that it is far quieter than diesels of the past, but it isnít nearly as quiet as the gasoline version. Still, for some of us folks, there is a certain satisfaction in the sound of mechanical things, and the Liberty diesel is one of those things. I like it.
This is not to suggest that the Liberty diesel is noisy. It is not. Inside the cabin you are only barely aware that the engine is running. But outside, you can tell that something other than a gasoline engine is under the hood.
Do you have a big bladder? Highway driving range is approximately 500 highway miles on a tank of fuel, the best in the mid-size SUV class. The Liberty dieselís estimated mileage is 21 city/26 highway, providing up to 32 percent better fuel economy than comparable gas engines.
And if you are like us that go giddy over a good warranty, the Liberty diesel engine has a limited warranty good for 5-years/100,000-miles.
Stepping on the accelerator pedal is also a distinctly different experience. Unlike gas engines, most diesels are initially slow to rev up. That is partially true here. What you experience at first is that the Jeep Liberty diesel seems sluggish to gather speed, but it is an illusion. All you need to do is push deeper in the long-travel pedal, and after an initial pause, you are off like a scolded dog. It is actually fun when you get used to it. But in normal driving, the Jeep Liberty diesel drives and performs quite normally.
Actually, it drives and performs quite well.
Around town, the Libertyís tight 35.9-foot turning radius and short 104.3-inch wheelbase means parking places you would have to ignore in a Chevy Tahoe, are easily accessible. Surprisingly, Jeep engineers have done a remarkable job at making the Liberty handle very unlike what you would expect in a Jeep. The ride is firm, but not punishing. It easily handles most potholes and road bumps that would have other vehicles bounding and crashing around. And that is part of why it is a Jeep. The Liberty with its 4x4 two-speed transfer case, is just as capable off road as other Jeep vehicles.
For the 2006 model year, Jeep has added an Electronic Stability Program, or as they call it, ESP (donít you love those automobile industry acronyms?) as standard equipment to its stack of customer benefits.
ESP enhances driver control and helps maintain directional stability under all conditions. It also includes Electronic Roll Mitigation (ERM). Jeep says that their ESP system provides the greatest benefit in critical driving situations such as turns and when driving on mixed surface conditions such as patchy snow, ice or gravel. If thereís a discernible difference between what the driver asks through the steering and the vehicleís path, ESP applies selective braking and throttle input to put the car back onto the driverís intended path.
Jeep says their system is calibrated to offer more control of the vehicle under a variety of conditions, and is not intrusive in normal or even spirited driving. ESP includes an advanced Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), all-speed Traction Control System (TCS), four-wheel Brake Traction Control System (BTCS), Electronic Roll Mitigation (ERM) and Brake Assist.
Got all that?
On the highway, the Liberty diesel seems to come on to its own with a hushed engine note and it practically loafs along even at extra-legal speeds. There is also plenty of reserve power for passing and wind noise is not at all intrusive.
Steering is fairly light but the Liberty diesel maintains a true course without too much correction and with a wheel that offers good feedback. But keep in mind that anytime you are towing not to suddenly make lane changes and to keep your speed less than you would normally.
Inside the Liberty
If you not visited a Jeep dealer since your last off-road Wrangler, you might be surprised at how nicely finished the interior of Jeepís other vehicles have become. The Wrangler remains the premier off-road version everyone has come to love and know, but the Liberty, while looking much like a tarted-up Jeep Wrangler with a roof, is much, much different.
First off, the Liberty is not a chassis-on-frame vehicle. It is built with a strong unitized body that is both stiff and relatively lightweight. This body means all the interior bits and pieces can be mounted firmly so that rattles and creaks are minimized.
The dash is attractively designed with an attractive, even up-scale texture complete with easy to see gauges. The leather seats in our Limited version are comfortable. The back seat area is plenty roomy for two, but putting three across would be a bad experience for the center rider. The Libertyís width is no where near that of a larger vehicle.
The rear seats fold down to add to the luggage space. But even when they are up, storage behind was better than in some other small SUVs. Cargo volume with the rear seats up is 29 cubic feet. With the seat down it is a huge 69 cubic feet.
Cupholders are plentiful front and rear and we found the Libertyís audio system, which can be equipped with a Sirius satellite radio, is plenty powerful and easy to use.
One of the really cool things about the Jeep Liberty is how you can customize it right from the dealer. There is a wealth of options and additions that you can add that can liberate your Liberty from the look of others. These include lightbars for the grill and roof, skid plates, and a host of safety and running gear upgrades.
Are there some downsides. Well, yes. The Liberty is not a large vehicle so it may not be suitable for some towing demands where size and weight are needed. It is also a bit narrow inside. But that is a quibble actually. The 32 percent improvement in fuel use over a gasoline engine is somewhat offset by the current higher price of diesel fuel over regular gasoline.But the increase in torque, and known durability of diesel engines are huge pluses that add value and performance to a vehicle that can tow a boat and trailer.
Overall, the Jeep Liberty diesel offers a real solution for folks that donít want a huge SUV or pickup but have a boat they want to tow. It is comfortable, very stylish in the Jeep kind of thing, and offers the torque of a V8, the performance of a V6 and the mileage of a four cyclinder. Now the only question remaining is how much. Look for prices between $25,500 to $30,000 for a well equipped model.
2006 Jeep Liberty Diesel
Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger pickup
Length: 174.4 in.
Height: 70.2 in.
Width: 71.6 in.
Wheelbase: 104.3 in.
Weight: 4,306 lbs. 4x4 V6 Double Cab
Fuel capacity: 20.5 gals.
Track F/R 60.0 in./59.7 in.
Maximum towing capacity: 5,000 lbs. with tow package
Ground Clearance: 9.4Ē
EPA mileage estimates (city/highway): 21/26
Price Range: MSRP $25,500 Ė $30,000
2.8-liter direct-rail injection 4-cylinder diesel