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Liberty Rolls Over In 'AutoWeek' Test

Nov 21, 2001 | USA Today

A respected auto-enthusiast magazine rolled a Jeep Liberty sport-utility vehicle in a slalom test last month, raising the specter that DaimlerChrysler's hot-selling model could be tagged unsafe.

Jeep says that would be unfair because Liberty is safe, isn't rollover-prone, and the violent braking and swerves in the magazine's test are not real-world conditions.

A lot is at stake. Liberty, priced $17,000 to $29,000, is selling fast without rebates or 0% financing common on other models, and without much discounting by dealers. It even outsold DaimlerChrysler's hip PT Cruiser last month.

The Nov. 26 AutoWeek, arriving at subscribers now and on the Web site, details the Liberty test. Kevin Wilson, executive editor, writes: "Hundreds of cars and trucks have undergone this same test, with the same two drivers using the same methods, since 1992. Only the Liberty has rolled over, though two other SUVs — the BMW X5 in July 2000 and the Land Rover Discovery in August 1999 lifted two wheels off the pavement."

AutoWeek reports that DaimlerChrysler hired an accident reconstruction expert, who estimated the Liberty was traveling 37 to 42.8 miles an hour at the time it rolled over twice, and that it appeared to have been spinning and skidding as it began to roll. The vehicle was a rear-wheel-drive Liberty Sport with 3.7-liter V-6 engine.

The expert found a difference of as much as 10% in pavement friction at key points on the course, and suggested the Jeep might have "slid on pavement with low grip and then hit the high-friction surface, helping initiate the roll," Wilson writes. The Liberty wrecked as it swerved past the seventh of eight traffic cones, 70 feet apart.

"Obviously we're always concerned about the reputation of the brand and its vehicles, and that's been heightened by the recent Ford tire (recall) issue," says Jeep spokesman Rick Deneau. "I think tests show that our Jeep vehicles perform better than others."

He says that Jeep duplicated the slalom at the company's Chelsea, Mich., proving grounds, where the pavement friction is constant, and "didn't lift a wheel off the ground."

Jeep engineers drove steadier, trying to maintain a speed. AutoWeek drivers braked, accelerated and steered harder to find "the handling limit by seat-of-the-pants feel," Wilson writes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database has no complaints of Liberty rollovers. NHTSA gives Liberty a rollover rating of two stars out of five, meaning the agency believes a Liberty in a single-vehicle crash has a 30% to 40% chance of rolling. Most SUVs get two or three stars.

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