If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Jeep Patriot was the Cherokee reincarnated; the last utilitarian Jeep with solid axles, four doors and a real back seat. Instead, this boxy “baby Jeep” is the most unlikely offspring of the Chrysler/Mitsubishi alliance that gave birth the “plastastic” Caliber and the Compass (aka the Lady Jeep). Unlikely how? Because the Patriot is as attractive as the Caliber is ungainly.
From the outside, the Patriot hit the nail on the head when it was released in 2006 with slab-sides, horizontal tailgate, trapezoidal wheel arches, “Wrangleresque” headlamps and high beltline. While 2011 brought major changes to the hot mess that was the Compass’s exterior, only minor tweaks were applied to the Patriot. Those tweaks followed the “don’t fix it if it ‘aint’ broken” mantra; the only exterior tweaks are revised fascias and some standard equipment like fog lights and an increased ride height on the base 4×4 model. (Models with “Freedom Drive II are unchanged.) The overall form screams Jeep, and that’s just how Jeep shoppers like it.
As a testament to how awful the interior was on the 2007 Patriot, Chrysler hasn’t refreshed the interior once but twice. In 2010 Chrysler killed the awkward “silver effect” center stack and replaced it with a monochromatic hard plastic dash with round vents. 2011 brought another raft of improvements ditching the old steering wheel and Mercedes-like cruise control stalk for the thick-rimmed corporate steering wheel, better upholstery, revised doors, armrests and switchgear. While plastics are a notch below the Honda CR-V and the new Ford Escape, the Patriot starts $6,500 less than the Japanese competition and $2,500 less than even the Kia Sportage. Given what you find in other $16,000 vehicles, the plastics finally are firmly (and honestly) competitive. However, should you option your Patriot Limited up to the nearly $30,000 ceiling, the plastics may seem out-of-place for the price tag.
The Patriot delivers excellent cargo capacity despite being shorter than the RAV-4 and CR-V. As we have said at TTAC before, pay little attention to the official cargo numbers from each manufacturer – the way they are measured doesn’t always translate to real-world useability. While the Patriot is around 10 cubes behind the RAV-4 and CR-V, the square cargo area makes the space extremely useable for bulky items. With the rear seats folded, the numbers are essentially a tie in my real-world comparison and the Patriot trumps with a folding front passenger seat for schlepping those long IKEA purchases. If your cargo is primarily of the human persuasion, the Patriot’s boxy form provides adequate headroom and for a quartet of 6’5″ Americans which is more than can be said of the competition.
With a low starting price and a focus on off-roading, corners had to be cut somewhere and the gadget fund took the hit. The base radio and speakers are adequate for people who need basic entertainment; for others, stepping up to the “Media center 430” gets you a 6.5-inch touch screen and the ability to browse your tunes off USB drives. Fortunately, we had no problem playing iTunes AAC files on the head unit. A further bump up to the 430N model (only available in the Limited) gets you the same head unit with a Garmin designed navigation system on the 6.5-inch screen. Moving up the option list to the more expensive head units does nothing to the stock speakers, so if you are looking for a bit more boom, a 548-watt, 9 speaker Boston Acoustics system is also available. The navigation system is easy to use but lacks voice command for destination entry that Ford’s SYNC offers. Buyers beware that to get the integrated flip-down “tailgate boombox” pushed heavily on Jeep’s web page, one has to opt for the $1,295 “sun and sound” package (which includes a moonroof and those Boston Acoustics speakers).
As before, if you need some Bluetooth/Apple iDevice love, be ready to pony up $475 for the uConnect package to add these items. This is a serious omission when most states in America have a hand-held phone ban in place and the competition is starting to offer Bluetooth as standard on some models. Despite the gadget options being somewhat limited, package costs can add up rapidly with the fully loaded Patriot Limited ringing in at $29,260 (just a whisker away from a Grand Cherokee Laredo) so shop wisely.
Power numbers remain unchanged at 158HP and 141 lb-ft for the 2-liter and 172HP and 165 lb-ft for the optional 2.4-liter engine. With Jeep’s renovation budget being tight we won’t see the revised “Tigershark” engines with improved NVH characteristics under the Patriot’s hood for a while. While both engines can still be described as “gutless and unrefined”, Jeep improved the CVT tuning and sound isolation making the cabin quieter than before. With 3,346lbs to motivate, acceleration in our tester was leisurely but interestingly faster than the “non Trail Rated” model, scooting to 60 in 8.4 seconds vs 9.0 thanks to the lower gearing provided by the Freedom Drive II package.
Jeep would like shoppers to believe the Patriot is the cheap, fuel-efficient alternative to the rest of the Jeep lineup. However the reality is somewhat different because of the Dodge Caliber based AWD system. Unlike the rest of the Jeep lineup, the Patriot has no transfer case, no low-range gearbox, no locking differentials and no center differential. Like most FWD biased systems, the open front and rear differentials are connected via an electronically controlled wet clutch pack. This means that if all wheels have traction and the system is fully locked, the power is split 50/50 (front/rear). While this operation is essentially the same as the systems on the competition, what Jeep does to make the system “Trail Rated” is drop in a lower final drive ratio, tweak the traction control software and raise the ride height to 9-inches. The drop from a 6.12:1 to 8.1:1 final drive is what allows Freedom Drive II package to advertise a 19:1 “rock crawl” ratio (still considerably lower than the rest of the other Jeeps). This is also the reason fuel economy dives from 21/26MPG to 20/23MPG. FDII’s tweaked traction control system applies the brakes to the wheels that are spinning without reducing engine power to imitate a limited slip differential. Because this essentially “consumes” engine power (because the braking wheel is turning the energy into heat in the brakes) the wheels that do have traction don’t really get a larger share of the power than if all wheels had traction. This also means that if you are using the feature for a long time, especially in combination with steep down-hill runs, brake overheating becomes a worry.
On the road, the tall and narrow proportions of the Patriot and tall ride height conspire to make the Patriot less nimble in the corners than most other crossovers. The flip side is a soft ride that is more comfortable than many CUVs with sporty aspirations. We took the Patriot to Hollister Hills SVRA and it acquitted itself on the basic traIls, as well as some very moderate ones without issue. As with most stock SUVs, the limitation isn’t snazzy AWD systems, but ground clearance. While the “brake lock” system proved helpful in off-camber situations (deep diagonal ruts), it demonstrated that plenty of slip is needed before the system intervenes. Also, because the brakes essentially consume their wheel’s share of engine power, it leaves the Patriot feeling somewhat out of breath. Despite these short comings I have no doubt that none of the competition except perhaps the Range Rover Evoque (which uses similar software) would have been able to follow us. While our foray into the mud proved the Patriot isn’t the efficient replacement for your lifted Wrangler, it is a vehicle that can handle life on a farm, ranch, or rural countryside without getting stuck as easily as the competition.
While I have to agree with the “forum fan boys” that the Patriot isn’t a real Jeep despite the trail rated badge, it is probably the most capable CUV on the market. The combination of utility, fuel economy that isn’t abjectly horrible, a low starting price and an interior that
no longer makes me want to put my eyes out is finally competitive makes the Patriot a CUV that should be at the top of your list if you live in the country. If you’re a city dweller, the off-road looks and low price of the FWD Patriot is also quite compelling. After spending a week with the Patriot, the only problem I foresee with the baby Jeep is convincing shoppers to take that second look at the Jeep dealer.
Jeep provided the vehicle, one tank of gas, and insurance for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 3.2 Seconds
0-60: 8.38 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.66 Seconds @ 82.2 MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 19.9 MPG over 675 miles