Jeep Patriot — traditional Jeep values

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We agree that the Jeep Patriot properly equipped is the most adept of the growing number of compact crossover vehicles at handling off-road conditions.

Outfitted with the Freedom Drive II package with lockable four-wheel drive, low-range gearing and a nine-inch ground clearance the compact car-based Patriot can successfully negotiate mud, rocks and fallen tree limbs as perhaps found on an old, abandoned fishing trail in the back woods. The same deep-woods conditions may be daunting for such competitors as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson and Ford Escape.

But those same vehicles are generally more efficient and comfortable in hard-pavement driving.

And that's where about 99 percent of the small crossover SUV driving is done.

So it begs the question, is the Patriot the best selection for the daily chores of a typical family?

That depends on your point of view. If you like the traditional Jeep look, look no further. Nothing in the expanding Jeep arsenal comes closer to the traditional Cherokee look since the beloved Cherokee was terminated several years ago. We admit that the squared-off style in a modern suit of clothes is intriguing. The familiar Jeep grille out front tells casual onlookers that this is indeed a Jeep. And that look alone is synonymous with rugged off road in the minds of many people.

The driving position is more traditional than any other small SUV. The hood looms our front like cars and trucks of old. And we admit we like the look, perhaps because it's so different from the rounded short-hood designs of today. We also like the no-nonsense look of the interior with its straight-forward controls. Hard plastic is in evidence throughout the cabin, but to us it doesn't subtract from the Jeep's pleasing interior layout. The wide center stack is encased in an aluminum-like finish adding to the appeal. The gauges are clear and easy to read.

And for the second model year of the Patriot — it entered the market in 2007 along with its less-desirable stablemate the Compass — can be outfitted with navigation in the top-of-the-line Limited model.

Some nice touches include a large open storage bin above the glovebox on the passenger side. It's deep enough and big enough to hold all sorts of traveling trinkets including cellphones, sunglasses, loose change and even a small box of tissues.

The seats are comfortable and rear-seat passengers have scads of head room — no rounded roof creating claustrophobic feelings — and legroom is generous for a vehicle stretching out only 173 inches.

The second-row seats fold flat creating a decent-sized 63-cubic foot cargo capacity. Luggage capacity — the space behind the second-row seats — is also generous at 23 cubic feet. And the that portion of the load floor is covered in an easy-to-clean rubberized substance.

We found the body structure in our Limited 4X4 test vehicle solid, devoid of squeaks and annoying rattles, and ride quality on a par with most vehicles in the segment. The Jeep is relatively quiet inside with no more intervening road and wind noises than can be expected in a 20 grand machine.
The steering is accurate and the extraordinary short 35-foot turning circle made the Patriot a snap to park in tight spots.

Jeep gives customers a mixed bag of standard equipment in the Sport trim level for a starting price of $16,345. For instance, the 16 grand brings air conditioning, roof rack, an AM-FM radio with CD and MP3 player, four-wheel ABS with brakeforce distribution, stability control, traction control and tire-pressure monitoring.
Such niceties as keyless entry and power windows and mirrors must be ordered in one of several option packages starting at $2,225.

Probably the best bet is to move to the Limited trim where those things and other equipment such as 17-inch wheels and Sirius satellite radio are standard for a base price of $21,060 in front-wheel drive.

Adding four-wheel drive to either trim level is about a $1,400 upgrade. And then getting the so-called Trail Rated Freedom Drive II off-road package adds at least another $745 depending on configuration. For most people, bad-weather peace of mind is all that's needed and with standard Freedom Drive I you won't get an ultra-low final-drive ratio, hill descent control or extra ride height. But you will get a lockable four-wheel torque split for winter-road conditions.

So now for the big letdown.

The most disappointing aspect of the Patriot is the drivetrain. And the drivetrain is obviously one of a vehicles most important features. The 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine makes 172 horsepower, but mated to continuously variable transmission, seems to zap much of its meager energy. We were surprised to learn the Patriot has a curb weight of only 3,500 pounds.

To get up to speed entering a four-lane highway was an exercise in seriously depressing the gas pedal. This results in a lot of sound and fury before vehicle speed reaches speed you would normally associate with the racket.

Once on the road things return to normal at least until a sudden surge of power is needed for passing and then again it takes a few seconds for forward progress to catch up.

With the CVT, the Patriot has been measured from 0-to-60 mph in a leisurely 10 seconds. At one point, we had four adults on board and the 4-cylinder seemed even more strained.

The better choice is the five-speed manual, which gives the Patriot a better feel. Carefully picking your gears can yield a respectable 0-to-60 time of 8.7 seconds and presumably — we haven't driven the manual version — it gives the SUV a different personality. The problem here is that most people don't want to shift for themselves.
Automakers presumably use the CVT to increase gas mileage. But if there's any fuel savings here it isn't apparent in the EPA numbers. Our four-wheel drive tester was rated at a rather anemic 22 mpg highway and 20 city. Mileage increases to 23 city and 28 highway with the manual.

If you like the Jeep look and/or want Jeep's formidable four-wheel drive prowess, then the Patriot is a good choice. The Patriot has a lot of likable qualities. But there are better choices for those who use their small crossovers as people and cargo haulers and who want a measure of security in bad weather conditions.


Base price: $16,345; as driven, $27,755
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 172 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 166 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.7 inches
Length: 173.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,516 pounds
Turning circle: 35.6 feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 23 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 63 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 22 highway, 20 city
0-60: 10 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V

The Good

• Nostalgic Jeep Cherokee styling
• Excellent head and leg room
• Excellent off-road capability for segment

The Bad

• Disappointing gas mileage

The Ugly

• Performance from 4-cylinder engine mediocre