The Jeep Patriot is an all-new compact SUV with plenty of room inside, using a powerful and economical 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that gets an EPA-rated 25 city and 29 highway miles per gallon, with four-wheel drive and a five-speed manual transmission.
It's basically built on the platform of the Dodge Caliber, but you'd never know it. It's unmistakably a Jeep, and looks like a cross between a Liberty and the new Compass; or maybe a three-quarter scale version of the big Commander.
Although the Patriot is more than four inches shorter than the redesigned 2007 Honda CR-V, there's nearly an inch more legroom in the rear seat: a healthy 39.4 inches. The standard 60/40 split rear seat folds flat, and a flat-folding front passenger seat is optional; with all the seats flat, you can put an eight-foot kayak inside.
The Jeep Patriot is a terrific value, starting at $14,985 including freight, with two-wheel drive, manual doors and windows, and no air conditioning. More reasonably equipped, in 4WD, it's a couple thousand dollars more, but still relatively inexpensive.
Standard equipment includes the manual transmission, vinyl seats, AM/FM/CD/MP3 with four speakers, halogen headlamps, rear wiper, roof rails, fold-flat rear seats, brake traction control, and 16-inch steel wheels with all-season tires. Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes, multi-stage front airbags, side airbag curtains, electronic stability control and electronic roll mitigation.
As it's programmed in the Patriot, the optional Continuously Variable Transaxle (replacing the automatic transmission) is too weird to be comfortable. The same CVT is used in the Jeep Compass, and it works well. The difference is that in the Compass (and Dodge Caliber) the CVT has autostick, so you can manually shift it.
Its 2.4-liter engine makes 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, and that's plenty. You can be going uphill at 75 miles per hour, and it will still accelerate for you. The independent suspension is as good as the engine, delivering steadiness and comfort in every abusive situation we could find for it, during a long day of driving on every surface from patchy two-lanes, to hard-packed dirt roads, to sandy off-road trails, to shallow rivers, to deep gullies. For the off-road parts, we drove a Jeep with the optional Freedom II off-road package that makes the Patriot Trail Rated and raises the price by about $2000.
On twisty roads and maneuvering around-town, the Patriot feels light and nimble. The turn-in is sharp. The body is well isolated from the wheels. You can hit a bump with one wheel without your head being tossed. You can hear the tires hitting the expansion strips on the freeway, but you can't feel it.
With the CVT in low range, Hill Descent Control is automatically engaged. This keeps the Jeep under five mph and under control, going down steep hills, even icy ones. You can take both feet off the pedals and it will do its thing.
The Jeep Patriot comes in two models, Sport and Limited, with a choice of 2WD and 4WD.
The Sport 2WD ($14,425) and 4WD ($16,175) comes standard with a 172-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission, vinyl seats, AM/FM/CD/MP3 with four speakers, halogen headlamps, rear wiper, roof rails, fold-flat 60/40 rear seats, and 16-inch steel wheels with all-season tires. Air conditioning and cruise control do not come standard, and the windows, mirrors and door locks are manual.
Air conditioning is optional ($850). Power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote entry are part of a Power Equipment Group ($995). Another package has cruise control. A more complete package includes all those things plus tinted windows, map and dome lights, driver seat height adjustment, fold-flat front passenger seat, reclining rear seats, 115-volt outlet, foglamps and roofrail crossbars.
The Limited 2WD ($19,985) and 4WD ($21,785) adds most if not all of the options in the groups, as well as 17-inch aluminum wheels, foglamps, passenger grab handles, chrome roofrails and other trim, and leather-trimmed seats.
A Continuously Variable Transaxle is available for the 2.4-liter engine as well as a 2.0-liter engine.
The off-road package is called Freedom Drive II, and uses the CVT with lower ratios; it adds skid plates, tow hooks, foglamps, all-terrain tires and a full-size spare tire. The Freedom II package is available for Sport 4WD ($19,175) and Limited 4WD ($23,130).
Options include a Trailer Tow Prep Group with engine oil cooler and wiring harness ($130); a 458-watt Boston Acoustic premium sound system with nine speakers and steering wheel controls ($495); six-disc CD ($320); 6CD with navigation ($1395); Yes Essentials seating material ($250); heated seats ($250); sunroof ($800); and 17-inch all-terrain tires ($140).
Safety features include frontal airbags, curtain airbags; electronic stability control, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution.
The Patriot is unmistakably a Jeep. It looks like a Jeep all the way: more so than the stylish Cherokee or big boxy Commander. The windshield and backlight are relatively vertical, and the bumpers are defined and not molded into the fascia. They're silver on the Limited and body-colored on the Sport; we think the Sport is cleaner looking.
The Jeep Patriot is considered a compact, built on the platform of the Dodge Caliber, but you'd never know it, because it doesn't look that small. It's almost exactly the same size as the new Jeep Compass but it looks more rugged, lacking the rounded edges of the gentrified Compass. It looks more like a Liberty, or maybe like a baby Commander. It's classic, the way it should be.
The seating position is high in the Patriot, two inches higher than in the Caliber; with the upright windshield, the forward visibility inspires confidence. The Jeep Patriot Sport's standard front seats have manual adjustment, and come in a material called Vinyl Tech; they're okay, but the optional material called Yes Essentials also fits this Jeep's character. Our seats were a boring Pebble Beige; Slate Gray looks better. Leather in the Limited is great, but seems to overdress the Patriot. In either leather or cloth and vinyl, the materials are two-tone.
The dashboard and instrument layout is simple, and the gauges are a tidy white on black with glowing orange needles. The climate and sound system controls are easy to understand and operate. The vinyl panel, with a center stack trimmed in brushed aluminum-look plastic, doesn't try to be stylish; the lines are pretty square, but who cares?
The space between the seats includes a nook for change, two fixed cupholders, and the parking brake lever. A short armrest flips up to open the main console compartment, where there's a pocket for a cellphone or iPod. It slides forward three inches for shorter drivers.
The door pockets are on the small side, but can hold six CD cases; much of the space there is taken up by the six- by nine-inch speakers. The door handles are easy to use. There's a nice tray over the good-sized glove compartment that's big enough for books.
Although the Patriot is more than four inches shorter than the redesigned 2007 Honda CR-V, there's nearly an inch more legroom in the rear seat: a healthy 39.4 inches. That's the same as the Compass and a couple inches more than the Liberty, longest of the three.
The standard rear seat is a 60/40 split that easily folds flat, by flipping up the seat and flopping down the seatback. Reclining rear seats are optional, as is a flat-folding front seat. With everything folded flat, there's a spacious 62.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and room for an eight-foot-long kayak, ladder or whatever.
With just the rear seats folded, there's still 54.2 cubic feet; and with all the seats in use there's 23.0 feet in the back, good for any compact SUV. The rear cargo area is something called Ultra Floor, a washable and removable vinyl. No worries with dogs and lawn mowers.
Chrysler uses this 2.4-liter World engine in a lot of vehicles. Depending on things like electronic programming and the transmission that's used, it feels different each time. In the Jeep Patriot, it feels great. Jeep has found the power, 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. This is not your father's four-cylinder. You can be going uphill at 75 miles per hour, and it will still accelerate for you.
We don't have a knee-jerk love of manual transmissions, but in the case of the Patriot, the optional Continuously Variable Transaxle, or CVT, is just too odd. It's all in the programming, says Jeep. The same CVT is used in the Jeep Compass, and it's terrific. The difference is that in the Compass (and Dodge Caliber) it has autostick, so you can manually shift the CVT.
Left to its own programming, the CVT makes the Patriot feel like it's powered by a big rubber band. It will go from 0 to 90 mph without shifting. Put your foot on the floor on a freeway onramp, and it will rev to 6000 rpm and stay there, intensely if not loudly, as the speedometer needle climbs. That's backwards. It's supposed to be the tachometer needle that climbs. Your ear wants to hear something different. It's unsettling, because you remain in a state of anticipation. Maybe you get used to it.
But this is only under full throttle. When you lift your foot off the gas, the tach drops as the revs are cut by half. The Patriot can also lope along at 80 mph and a mellow 2600 rpm. The Patriot forums, when they get rolling, should be interesting. At speeds below about 50 mph, when the CVT kicks down for better acceleration, it does so slowly and with a small thump. And often, in the mountains.
The five-speed manual gearbox was a relief, a joy to use, even with its long throw. The lever comes out of the center stack as it should, above the driver's right knee, an improvement over being on the floor near the right thigh. The five-speed made the Patriot feel like a Jeep. It brought out the potential of the World engine. It didn't try to mess with the power. The acceleration felt much stronger.
The suspension is as good as the engine. We gave it a good test over a 20-mile stretch of dirt road: hard-packed, potholed, a layer of loose dust, lots of uphill and downhill curves. The Patriot was stable and confident. We drove fast, and used the brakes hard; the ABS frequently activated on the slippery dust, with the all-season (not all-terrain) tires. We aimed for some of the potholes, including a 50-foot-long row of little ones. The independent suspension eagerly ate them up. Along came a washboard surface, and the Patriot stayed true. We hit an elevated cattle crossing at 30 miles per hour and tensed for an impact that never came. The Dodge Nitro, a Patriot cousin and competitor, would have been hammered. The Patriot did a great job in these conditions.
On paved country roads the Patriot feels light and nimble. The turn-in is sharp. The ride is steady over rough asphalt patches. The body is well isolated from the wheels. You can hit a bump with one wheel without your head being tossed. You can hear the tires hitting the expansion strips on the freeway, but you can't feel it.
We finally found the limit of the suspension, when we hit a big dip in the middle of a curve at a high rate of speed for the corner. The Patriot struggled to remain stable, but succeeded. Anything less than a sports car would struggle in that situation, let alone an SUV.
We ended the day with the Patriot on an off-road trail in the Arizona desert, led by a member of the local Jeep club. This time we were in a Patriot with the trail-rated Freedom Drive II off-road package. It adds one inch to the ground clearance for a total of 9 inches, allowing a 29-degree approach angle, a 33-degree departure angle, a 23-degree breakover angle, and enabling the Patriot to ford 19 inches of water, that last part thanks to more body sealing and higher drivetrain vents.
This package also gives the CVT a low range with a ratio of 19:1, good for crawling over obstacles. We crossed some ridges and ditches that raised one front or one rear wheel two feet in the air. It felt effortless, as the Patriot just slowly and securely picked its way over. We made a sharp U-turn that showed off the tight turning radius. In a sand pit, the off-road brake traction control dabbed the brakes of the slipping wheel or wheels, and pulled the Jeep through.
In low range, Hill Descent Control is automatically engaged. This keeps the Jeep under 5 mph and under control, going down steep hills, even icy ones. You can take both feet off the pedals and it will do its thing.
We hit a sandy gulley and floored it, racing up to 45 mph, engine screaming at nearly redline with our foot on the floor, and the CVT kept in low range because it's usable up to about 45. The main thing is, driving flat-out in a straight line over the washboard surface, with the wheels bouncing every which direction, the Patriot remained controllable, responsive and tracked true. We hit a couple washboard curves, trusting in the stability control to keep the Jeep from bashing into the rocks, and it did. Below 35 mph, the ESP only uses the brakes to keep the Jeep on the line; about 35 it also cuts the throttle, if necessary.
The all-new Jeep Patriot more than fills the bill, it defines new territory. For about $17,000 it offers 4WD Jeep capability in a compact SUV with a strong four-cylinder engine that gets an EPA-rated 25/29 mpg. The suspension is superb: stable and comfortable in all situations. Cargo capacity in the Patriot is large because all the passenger seats can easily fold flat. With a full complement of safety features, it will be hard to find more capability and value for the money.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Scottsdale, Arizona.
Copyright © 1994-2007 New Car Test Drive, Inc.