The 2014 Jeep Patriot is billed as the best-priced SUV in America. That may be true, but as the old axiom goes, you get what you pay for. In the Patriot, you get a compact crossover SUV that shares its powertrains and platform with the underwhelming Jeep Compass. Both the Patriot and the Compass are descendants of the humble Dodge Caliber hatchback, yet the Patriot does its best to wear the Jeep name with pride.
With styling that recalls Jeep products of the mid-1990s, the Patriot rocks a semi-retro vibe that may work for first-time Jeep buyers. And because the Patriot offers a Trail-Rated version with a 4x4 crawl mode, it's more effective off-road than light-duty rivals like the Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage. At the very least, Jeep's engineers deserve a round of applause for taking the frumpy, front-wheel-drive Caliber and somehow turning it into a fairly serious trail-busting machine.
Interested in the 2014 Jeep Patriot? Here's what you need to know...
What's New for 2014?
The 2014 Patriot receives standard front-side airbags and a new 6-speed automatic transmission.
What We Like
Low entry price; real off-road capability
What We Don't
Crude engines; budget interior; poor acceleration; elevated road noise
$16,990 to $26,990
The base Patriot engine is a 2-liter 4-cylinder rated at 158 horsepower. Front-wheel drive is mandatory. The transmission is either a 5-speed manual or a new 6-speed automatic for 2014. With the manual, it yields 23 miles per gallon city/30 mpg highway, while the automatic returns 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway -- roughly the same as the old continuously variable automatic (CVT).
The upgraded engine (standard on Limited) is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, good for 172 hp. Front-wheel drive is standard, but two different all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems can be ordered, including the off-road-ready Freedom Drive II, which keeps the old CVT and features simulated low-range gearing. All other 2.4-liter Patriot models roll with the 5-speed manual or the 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy starts at 23 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with the manual, dropping to 21 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with the 6-speed automatic (21 mpg city/27 mpg hwy with AWD) and 20 mpg city/23 mpg hwy with the Freedom Drive II/CVT team.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Jeep Patriot is available in Sport, Latitude or Limited trim.
The Sport ($16,990) starts with 16-inch wheels, fog lights, cruise control, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel and a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio input. Remarkably, air conditioning is not standard; nor are power windows or locks. Both can be added at extra cost.
The Latitude ($21,190) classes things up with air conditioning, powered accessories, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary controls, heated front seats (including driver height adjustment), reclining rear seatbacks and a 115-volt power outlet.
The Limited ($24,990) tacks on the 2.4-liter engine (optional on other trims), 17-in aluminum wheels, leather seats (with driver power adjustments), a trip computer, automatic climate control and an upgraded sound system with satellite radio.
Specifying the Freedom Drive I all-wheel-drive system bumps prices up by $2,000. Freedom Drive II is available at additional cost and adds simulated low-range gearing, skid plates, an oil cooler and other off-road-oriented driving aids. Also available at additional cost are a sunroof, a touchscreen infotainment interface with digital music storage, a navigation system (Limited only), a USB port, Bluetooth and premium Boston Acoustics audio (with flip-down tailgate speakers).
Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes with 4-wheel discs on all-wheel-drive models but inferior rear drums on front-wheel-drive models (except Limited FWD), stability control and six airbags (front, front-side and full-length side curtain).
Last year's Patriot received four stars overall in government crash tests, including three stars for frontal impacts and five for side impacts. Notably, the tested model lacked the then-optional front-side airbags, which are standard for 2014 -- and the government had yet to test a 2014 Patriot's side-impact resistance as of this writing. However, since the Patriot received five stars even without those side airbags, the results aren't likely to change.
Behind the Wheel
The Patriot may look like a cool SUV in photos, but it quickly reveals its mediocrity once you hop inside. The cabin materials are about as cheap as you'll find these days, and we can hardly believe that the Sport comes standard with crank windows, manual locks and no air conditioning.
On the road, neither engine accelerates well, and both are rather crude and loud. The new 6-speed automatic is more satisfying than the CVT, but it can only do so much. While the Patriot delivers a fairly smooth ride, its steering is vague, with lots of play in the wheel and slow response time.
If you opt for the Freedom Drive II, the Patriot will do a decent impression of a real SUV in the bushes, but it sends the price skyward. Adding insult to your pocketbook's injury, you'll be stuck with the CVT.
Still, if you're looking for a compact crossover with genuine off-road chops, the Patriot with Freedom Drive II is on a very short list of candidates.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford Escape -- The Escape handles like a Focus on stilts, which is essentially what it is, and its technology offerings are top-notch.
Mazda CX-5 -- The CX-5 is the most rewarding compact crossover to drive on pavement and its fuel economy puts the Patriot to shame.
Subaru Forester -- Roomier and more refined than the Patriot, the Forester offers standard all-wheel drive and an optional turbocharged engine.
Although the Freedom Drive II doesn't come cheap, it's the Patriot's clearest advantage over the competition. If off-roading is a pastime or necessity for you, consider trying this pumped-up Patriot on for size.