Part Wrangler, Part Grand Cherokee, All Jeep
by Joe Tralongo
Due to their manageable size, good fuel economy and sure-footed all-wheel drive ability, the small SUV’s popularity continues to grow. And while most can surely tackle snow and rain, few can handle the uncivilized outdoors. Enter the new Jeep Patriot, a compact SUV built from a car platform, powered by a frugal and peppy four-cylinder engine and blessed with Jeep’s Trail Rated certification. Although the Patriot shares much of its design with the new Compass, its more than passing resemblance to the much-loved Cherokee makes it palatable to Jeep enthusiasts and regular Joes alike.
In front-wheel drive form, the Patriot offers a compelling alternative to the more expensive Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson. Fuel economy is near 30 mpg on the highway and you can get a manual transmission on both the base and Limited trim. A number of cool features include a Boston Acoustic sound system with articulating rear speakers perfect for tailgating, UConnect Hands-Free Cell Phone technology (Bluetooth) and a removable flashlight that doubles as a rear cargo light. All the gadgets in the world, however, can’t make up for the hard plastics and visible flash (excess plastic trim meant to be cut away after the molding process) around the door handles and side panels. In terms of interior polish, the Patriot still has some catching up to do. On the other hand, the front seats are extremely comfortable on long trips.
When outfitted with the Freedom Drive II four-wheel-drive system and the CVT automatic, and we can forgive whatever little nitpicks surfaced in regards to the interior. The Freedom Drive II system can tackle obstacles above and beyond the four-wheel drive systems of the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. Thanks to its Electronic Hill Descent Control, the Patriot can slowly inch its way down steep or uneven terrain without driver intervention, and although the Rubicon Trail is probably off-limits, the Patriot can venture confidently over most off-road venues. Unlike most truck-based SUVs that toss you around like a rag doll at a rodeo, the Patriot’s suspension keeps everything under control, making for a most civilized off-road driving experience. If outdoor excursions are your thing, the Patriot’s got the right blend of size, economy and capability.
With a starting price just below $15,000, it’s hard to argue with the Patriot’s value. Of course models at this price feature crank windows and mirrors adjusted by pushing on the glass itself; fine for the driver but quite the stretch when adjusting the passenger side mirror. The Power Equipment Group adds power mirrors, windows and door locks, as well as keyless entry and adds a mere $995 to the bottom line. While most front-wheel drive models will probably scoot out the door for around $20K, a fully-loaded Limited with a CVT automatic transmission and Freedom Drive II four-wheel drive can run as high as $28,000.
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