While performance is always at the top of Mopar Muscle's list, Mopar aficionados who are looking to purchase a contemporary SUV should consider Jeep's new Liberty-the soft-styled Cherokee replacement that was recently launched for the 2002 model year. Featuring a uniframe body design and the new V6 SOHC Powertech engine, this latest offering from Jeep (known around parts departments as the "KJ" platform) is a trendy alternative to Brand X SUVs and was designed from a clean sheet of paper to keep the Jeep heritage intact.

For starters, the new Liberty chassis is very rigid and quiet, and the designers gave it plenty of high-strength steel for added crash protection, especially in critical areas such as the footwells, A-pillars, roof structure, and longitudinal rails. While it looks smallish and "cute," the all-new Liberty is actually some 7 inches longer than the old Cherokee and has 3 more inches in wheelbase. Perhaps what makes it look the way it does is the 6.7-inch increase in the height of the roof.

Traditional Jeep styling cues were retained along the way, including the ever-present seven-slot grille and round headlamps, reminiscent of vintage Jeeps from by-gone eras. The headlight bulges were creatively sculptured into the lines of the hood, and like any Jeep worthy of a ride on the famed Rubicon Trail, the spare tire is still proudly mounted on the outside rear of the vehicle. Redesigned or not, this is a Jeep!

Power for this latest Jeep is a cut-down V6 version of the rugged 4.7L V8 new-generation DCX mill that sees duty in the larger Grand Cherokee model; chopped off by two cylinders, it displaces 3.7 liters with 210 horses and 235 lbs.-ft. of torque. Two transmissions are available (a four-speed automatic with overdrive and a five-speed manual with overdrive), and for those who enjoy struggling to reach highway speeds, a 154hp inline four-banger (2.4 liter) is also optional, with manual transmission only. Two- and four-wheel-drive versions can be ordered, and a newly engineered, coil-sprung independent front suspension system (4WD version) is also part of the package.

In terms of price, MSRP ranges from $16,000 to $23,000, and most true off-roaders agree that there's a lot of bang for the buck with the Liberty. However, with the redesign, there's also an extra 800 pounds added to the gross vehicle weight over the previous Cherokee model (a fully equipped Liberty tips the scales at 3,857 pounds, and for those of us who notice these things, the power is a bit lacking in stock form.

So when Larry Weiner and the Performance West Group got ready to build a "what-if" image design on the Liberty and the new 3.7 Powertech mill for the SEMA show, it was a given that power would be added. The result was this "Solid Gold Bullion" (House of Colors' Yellow) painted "Patriot" Liberty. Without question, the first of the new Liberty models to receive any aftermarket attention, this supercharged rig is a one-off vehicle, but could be easily reproduced with off-the-shelf parts from various SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) member parts manufacturers.