I’ve had three Jeeps before: a ‘92 Black Cherry Cherokee Sport; a ‘98 Dark Green Cherokee Sport; and an ‘01 Patriot Blue Wrangler Sport (my current vehicle). I love them all, but was especially happy with the Cherokees.

Alas, they stopped making them in ‘01 and, while I’d love to have a third one, the newest ones are now four years old and have upwards of 40,000 miles on them, often with no warranties.

So I’ve begun the process of looking into a lease on a new ‘05 something or other and the most likely suspect is a Liberty Renegade or Sport. Now as much as I love the Cherokee and hated Daimler for ending the marque in ‘01 and replacing it with what I originally thought of as a girly car, I have to admit that I took a test-drive of a Liberty Sport on Saturday and it pretty much changed my mind.

I still far and away prefer the Cherokee, but the Liberty isn’t quite as … silly as I thought. It handles beautifully, has a solid ride, is loads more quiet than the soft-top Wrangler I have now (of course) and comes with enough bells and whistles to change my mind.

I also drove the redesigned ‘05 Grand Cherokee and was expecting to be happy with it. I came away disappointed. There wasn’t much wrong with it; it’s just that it’s entirely the wrong Jeep for me. I felt like a hetero dad on his way to the mall to pick up the wife, 3.4 kids and dog. The GC is just huge. It seemed like major overkill.

The one problem I had with it was the visibility. The windows are so narrow, especially at the back, that I was scared I was going to back into something. Obviously, my point of view is skewed by spending the last four years in the Wrangler, with it’s big ol’ windows and short body. But the GC was just … well, I felt like I was in a box. And looking out the front wasn’t much better; two very thick front pillars obstructed my left and right scanning/peripheral vision in an annoying and potentially scary way.

Disappointed with the GC, I didn’t even get it out on the freeway like I did the Liberty. I’m still a bit squeamish about the Liberty’s … okay, sue me if you think I’m being misogynistic and maybe I am … sort of girlie looks. But the way it drives and handles and everything else pretty much made me change my mind, for the most part. I mean, if I can’t have a brand new ‘05 Cherokee, well, maybe this is almost as good.

So, why not another Wrangler? I love my Wrangler. It handles beautifully and it’s easy to park and maneuver and I like the convertibility of the soft top. I like the shorter body. But.

The ride is rough. It did fine when we came to AA from San Francisco, but it was rough. And there was no cargo room (the poor beagle was squashed in there for eight days). And the cargo thing is my biggest objection. Getting groceries is hell, especially in bad weather.

With my arthritic hands, unzipping that window makes my knuckles bleed in the winter. And you get dirty. And there’s not enough room for groceries, which go skittering all over the place. One of the Liberty’s big pluses for me the other day was discovering a row of multiple grocery bag hooks in the cargo space. Woo-hoo!

The Wrangler is a great second car, something to have fun with. I love it and enjoy driving it, but it’s not practical. If I had the money, I’d just pay off the lease and keep it and go get a Liberty or even an ‘01 Cherokee and be very happy. Alas, I’m not in that position; I’m a poor grad student and future teacher.

The other thing: I got pretty ripped off in San Francisco on the Wrangler. I can actually reduce my embarrasingly high lease payment with an ‘05 Liberty. And in spite of the rumors about its low gas mileage (which won’t be a shock to me; the Wrangler is hitting 17 around town), saving money on the payment is the most important deal. I don’t drive long distances.

The Wrangler only has 20,765 miles on it. The lease officially ends in April, but they’re willing to end it early if I’ll get a new one.

Works for me. I’m doing my research and I’m going to a couple of dealers tomorrow to see what we can work out.