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Published: Sunday, 1/14/2001

Jeep fans ride high at roll-out of Liberty

The Liberty makes a splashy debut in Detroit, passing the inspection of hundreds of showgoers. The vehicle hits the market in the summer. The Liberty makes a splashy debut in Detroit, passing the inspection of hundreds of showgoers. The vehicle hits the market in the summer.

DETROIT - Two-time Jeep Cherokee owner W.C. Trapp and his wife, Ann, have decided what soon will replace her Eagle Summit wagon: the Toledo-made 2002 Jeep Liberty.

The Armada, Mich., couple were among hundreds of people circling Libertys yesterday during the first day of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, trying to get a good look at the Toledo-born brand's newest compact sports utility vehicle.

The Trapps were among those raving about the Liberty, which will replace the Toledo-made Cherokee for the 2002 model year. Liberty models will be made in a new $750 million DaimlerChrysler factory on Chrysler Drive in the spring and arrive on dealership lots in the summer.

“It's not too big, but yet it's roomy enough,” said Mrs. Trapp.

“If this is just as rugged as mine,” Mr. Trapp said of the Liberty, “I'll be more than happy.”

Before the Liberty was unveiled at media previews for the Cobo Center show last Sunday, some die-hard Cherokee fans were anxious about losing the 17-year-old SUV's boxy shape, solid-axle suspension, and proven engine. Many showgoers yesterday, though, were pleased with the Liberty's looks and many features.

The Liberty, which is slightly shorter than a Cherokee but has more headroom, will be on display at the show through next Sunday.

Ted Miller of Springfield Township is convinced he will make the Cherokee's successor his first Jeep.

“It's a very sharp car,” he said. “It still has a Jeep style to it. It's different, but it's not different, for a Jeep.

“I think it's going to be a hot seller like the [Chrysler PT] Cruiser.”

Price will help determine how popular the Liberty will be, some dealership managers and others in the industry have said. DaimlerChrysler has not announced a price for the Liberty, but it is expected to be in the low to mid-$20,000 range.

Jeep could sell a lot of Libertys if the price started around $18,000, said Dave Turner of Perrysburg, whose 18-year-old son, Chris, is looking to replace a Ford Ranger with a Jeep.

Other showgoers yesterday agreed the Liberty should start about $18,000 to $19,000 for a Sport model. Some put $25,000 to $30,000 as their top price for a fully loaded Limited Edition model of the SUV, which should get slightly better gas mileage than the Cherokee's 15 miles per gallon in cities and 20 mpg on highways.

Former Suzuki Sidekick owner Russell Barr of Center Line, Mich., said he is interested in a Liberty because it would have power for pulling a boat. The Liberty's V-6 has 210 horsepower and 225 pounds of torque, and the SUV can tow 5,000 pounds.

Sarah Watson of Detroit said she has wanted a Jeep for five years. While she likes the Detroit-made Grand Cherokee, the Liberty's size is better for her to handle while its styling fits better than a Toledo-made Wrangler, she said.

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