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Was the Jeep Liberty the Worst Redesign Ever?

Most cars are redesigned every few years. A design gets old and stale, and BOOM! The automaker is (usually) right there with another one. Or, in the case of the Volvo XC90, a design gets old and stale, and BOOM! The automaker is right there with another one 6 years later.

Now, most redesigns are excellent and obviously necessary, and they dramatically improve the car in question by modernizing the styling, improving the technology and revising the engine for more power and better gas mileage. Which leads me to my thesis for this article: I think the 2002 redesign in which the Jeep Cherokee became the Jeep Liberty might be the worst of all time.

Allow me to set the stage. It’s the late 1990s, and Jeep has just facelifted the Cherokee, a boxy icon living in a sea of increasingly rounded competitors. The Ford Escape is coming. The Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V are already here. They focus on fuel economy. They use 4-cylinder engines. They have more modern safety equipment and technology. The Cherokee is starting to look… old.

So, in 2002, it happens: Faced with ever-increasing competition, the Cherokee is killed off. Its replacement is the Jeep Liberty — and the worst redesign in automotive history has just been perpetrated. See the 2002 Jeep Liberty models for sale near you

The primary reason the Liberty’s redesign was so bad is that it didn’t really improve any of the Cherokee’s flaws. The Cherokee was considered too rough and outdated to compete with newer rivals, but the Liberty’s 3.7-liter V6 was still harsh, noisy, slow to respond and tremendously inefficient. More importantly, the Liberty’s interior wasn’t exactly the modern design Jeep needed, with inexpensive plastics, cheap materials and those famous center-window switches that were ergonomically awful.

Worse, the Liberty actually seemed to worsen some of the Cherokee’s features. Styling is the most obvious example: The Liberty took the Cherokee’s classic lines, which had been around forever, and made an enormous amount of weird changes, adding curves to the hood, circular headlights, an inexplicably tall rear section and generally unusual proportions.

Also gone was the Cherokee’s simple and reliable 4.0-liter 6-cylinder engine, which — though not a powerhouse — was tremendously durable. The Liberty also gained a rear-mounted spare tire and a swing-open tailgate that nobody really wanted. And then there was the name: To avoid confusion with the Grand Cherokee, Jeep decided to switch “Cherokee” to “Liberty,” ending decades of built-up brand allegiance with the Cherokee name.

Although the Liberty sold fairly well with a different buyer base, Jeep quickly moved to right its wrongs. The Liberty was completely redesigned in 2008, losing the tailgate and bringing back the boxy Cherokee look. Jeep has tried desperately to recapture that look ever since ditching the Cherokee — first with the Commander, then with the Patriot and now with the Renegade. Then, a few years later, the Liberty was dropped altogether in favor of… well, another Cherokee.

But it was never quite the same, and the market agrees with me: Used Cherokee models, loved for their appearance and their off-road capabilities, now sell for $10,000 in perfect shape. A used first-generation Liberty, no matter how nice, won’t even approach half that. Such is life when you’re the worst redesign of all time. Find a 2002 Jeep Liberty for sale

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1.  My jeep is around 12 years old . Love that it is small. It has not once broke down .  this year my granddaughter wanted to find a jeep liberty like mine , because she loved it so much.  You hit two generations of women , when you made the cute liberty.  My granddaughter is 17 and I am 61.  Sad that Jeep is not making another one , that is small and cute, more for women.  I have also had comments  from both men and women, on how cool the back door is the way the window comes up and then the door opens out.  You made a cute/awesome jeep that women gravitate to, and you didn’t even know it . 

  2. I have a 2004 Renegade and like it a lot.  I had a Cherokee prior to that.  My KJ was lifted 2.5″ and one step up in tires which has served me well.  I have had a great time towing behind my RV and mild off-road.  I have been at 13,000 feet in Colorado and -? in Death Valley and everything in between. It has served me well so not in agreement with your assessment, It is now 15 years old 90K miles and I plan to keep it for another 15 years. With the lift and standard skid plates, I go where I want with confidence. 

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