Pros: Low-entry price; available 4x4 off-road package; good fuel economy; IIHS Top Safety Pick

Cons: Crude engine; poor acceleration; average resale; loud interior

The virtual mechanical twin of the Jeep Compass, the Patriot offers a more traditional Jeep look (think 1990s Cherokee) and a sticker price starting at about $4,000 less. Of course, to get the lower price you have to give up lots of the Compass's standard equipment, such as power windows and door locks. But don't fret, because moving up the trim line from the Sport to the Limited brings most features desired by today's savvy buyer while still keeping the price well under $25,000.

Beyond the lower price point, the Patriot offers a bit more headroom and cargo space than the Compass. However, you can still load up the two vehicles with identical equipment and reach the same $30,000 sticker price. Because the Compass and the Patriot use the same engines, transmission and suspension as well as seats and dash, the choice really comes down to price and which car's look is more appealing.

Comfort & Utility

Comparable in size to the Subaru Forester, the Patriot is an efficient package that can comfortably accommodate four adults (five in a pinch), or, with its rear seats folded flat, hold a weekend's worth of gear. You can even fit a snowboard inside, thanks to the fold-flat front seat. Reclining rear seats ensure that passengers will find long trips a bit less tiresome.

You'll find plenty of places to hide smaller items inside the Patriot, with a large bin above the oversize glove box and a deep center console storage spot perfect for hiding everything from water bottles to cell phones. To ensure that your muddy hiking boots don't ruin the Patriot's cargo area, the floor panel is reversible, providing an easy-clean plastic surface.

One of the most original ideas offered on 2012 Jeep Patriot is the available articulating flip-down speaker bar. Attached to the rear tailgate, the speakers can be aimed outward so everyone can enjoy their favorite tunes. There's also a removable rear cargo light that doubles as a rechargeable flashlight, and an available 115-volt, two-prong outlet.

Seating comes in standard cloth, with the Latitude and Limited trims equipped with heated front seats. The Limited includes leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control and 17-inch bright aluminum wheels.

Technology

Among the Patriot's more enticing features is its UConnect suite of electronic communications and entertainment devices, which include Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and voice commands for operating the audio and iPod controls. Opt for the Limited trim's navigation radio, and you'll get maps by Garmin as well as SiriusXM Travel Link that provides gasoline prices, traffic, weather, sports and even movie schedules.

Standard equipment for the mid-level Patriot Latitude trim includes fog lights, heated power side mirrors, a tilt steering wheel and cruise control. The Limited trim adds a six-way power driver's seat and a vehicle information center. Available on Latitude and Limited models is the 368-watt Boston Acoustics nine-speaker sound system complete with liftgate articulating speakers and a 90-watt subwoofer.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The 2012 Jeep Patriot offers a choice of two fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engines. Sport and Latitude 4x2 models include a 2.0-liter engine producing 158 horsepower and 141 lb-ft of torque, while the Limited and 4x4 trims upgrade to a 2.4-liter engine good for 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the Sport and the Latitude. Jeep's continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT2) with AutoStick is standard on Limited and optional on Sport and Latitude versions of the Patriot.

Fuel economy for the 2.0-liter engine is rated at 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway for the manual and 23/27 mpg with the CVT2. The 2.4-liter is rated at 23/28 mpg with the manual transmission, and 21/27 mpg with the CVT2. Patriot 4x4s lose about 1 mpg from each figure.

The Patriot offers two 4x4 systems. One is pretty much a part-time setup that comes on line only when the front wheels begin to slip. The second system, called Freedom Drive II, uses a specially adapted CVT automatic transmission that includes a low-range gear set and a 19:1 crawl ratio for slow crawling over rocks or down steep grades. The system also includes a 4WD Lock mode that uses the vehicle's ABS, traction control and Hill Descent Control to help the Patriot handle off-road expeditions.

Safety

Standard safety equipment for the 2012 Jeep Patriot includes anti-lock disc brakes, electronic traction and stability control, front and rear side curtain airbags and front seat active head restraints. Available on all trims are front-seat-mounted side impact airbags. The Patriot is a Top Safety Pick of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Driving Impressions

The Patriot looks better on paper than it feels out on the road. Neither engine choice offers quick acceleration or smooth operation. The engines idle rough, have a coarse sound and generally feel crude. The continuously variable transmission doesn't help matters much, holding the throttle wide open for prolonged periods and filling the cabin with raucous engine noise.

Things are somewhat better when it comes to ride and handling. The Patriot delivers a fairly stable and smooth ride, but its steering is vague, with lots of play in the wheel and a slow response time. At highway speed, there is a lot of road noise in the cabin, mostly in the form of tire noise.

Other Cars to Consider

Honda CR-V - The CR-V offers much more civilized ride and handling, more front-seat legroom, more horsepower and better resale value. The Patriot costs much less, has a longer powertrain warranty and is designed for light off-road use.

Subaru Forester - The Forester offers standard all-wheel drive and an optional turbocharged engine. The Patriot has a lower base price and offers many more entertainment and communication options.

Suzuki Grand Vitara - The Grand Vitara offers a better powertrain warranty, a higher tow rating and standard Garmin navigation. Both the Suzuki and the Jeep offer a true off-road 4x4 system. The less expensive Patriot is much easier to find given Jeep's more extensive dealer network.

AutoTrader Recommends

If you're looking at a Jeep over a Honda or Toyota, you've probably got some sort of off-roading in mind. For this reason, we think the best Patriot to own is the Latitude 4x4 with the 2.4-liter engine and the Freedom Drive II drivetrain. This model is nicely equipped puts you in line for the most desirable options, such as the articulating sound bar and the Boston Acoustics audio. Its ability to rock crawl and venture off-road gives the Patriot a leg up over the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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