Monday, December 24, 2012

Jeep Patriot - An Affordable All American 4x4

The Patriot may be the forgotten Jeep. It is neither the glamorous and highly regarded new Grand Cherokee nor the legendary Wrangler--direct descendant of the heroic World War II four-wheeled life-saver. It may, however, be a car that a lot of people will enjoy owning and driving.

With the all-American Patriot, assembled in Belvidere, Illinois, you get a car that really looks like a Jeep, from the upright, slatted nose with round headlights to the squared-off, protruding wheelwells to the handy roof rails. Its cousin, the Compass, with which it shares a platform, was knocked for looking too soft, but there's no issue with the Patriot. It actually resembles the longtime favorite Jeep Cherokee, which helped to pave the way for compact SUVs in the 1980's.

The three models start with the Sport and move up through the Latitude and at the top, the Limited. Knowing that many people like SUVs for practical reasons but never take them off-road, you can get a Patriot with front wheel drive only. No-one will know that your car is no more of an offroader than a standard sedan, but it could save you some money and improve your fuel economy a bit.

However, you can order two levels of four-wheel drive. My test car, a Latitude model in a handsome Cherry Red Crystal Pearl Coat, had the higher capacity version, known as Freedom Drive II (are you sensing a naming theme here?) Freedom Drive I offers a full-time active system that's nice to have in inclement weather. You can lock the wheels into four-wheel drive for deep snow and sand conditions, but it's really meant for on-road safety, not exploring on the trails. This system, along with seat-mounted airbags, helped earn the Patriot a "Top Safety Pick" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for the 2012 model.

Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package adds what you need for some fun in the dirt and rocks. It has a transmission with a low 19:1 ratio crawl gear when it's switched into offroad mode. It also comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and all-terrain tires. You get the skid plates to protect the underside of the car, tow hooks and a full-size spare tire. Best of all, you receive the much honored "Trail Rated" badge. If you're really serious about climbing rocks, though, you will want to upgrade to the extra-rugged Wrangler, but you can't touch it at Patriot prices.

There's a special Freedom Edition Patriot this year. It comes in only red, white or blue and features a star on the hood and rear quarter panel, plus some extra comfort and convenience content. Best of all, Chrysler donates $250 to a military charity for each one sold.

Patriots come with one of two engines. The standard engine in the Sport and Latitude levels is a 2.0-liter four that puts out 158 horsepower and 141 lb.-ft. of torque. With a five-speed manual transmission, you can get  a remarkable 30 miles per gallon on the highway. The five-speed manual comes only on the Sport. When you step up to higher levels the continuously variable automatic is standard.

Standard on the Limited and optional on the other models is the 2.4-liter engine with 172 horsepower and 165 lb.-ft. of torque. You'll lose two mpg on the highway compared to the 2.0-liter, but the extra power should be welcome in daily driving.

The EPA gives the Patriot with 2.4-liter engine and automatic ratings of 21 combined (20 City, 23 Highway). I got 18.7 mpg in mixed driving.  The Green Vehicle Guide numbers are 6 for Air Pollution and 4 for Greenhouse Gas (2012 model). Obviously, there are vehicles with better numbers than this--and some that are worse. 

Thanks to dual variable-valve timing, the engine makes the most of the torque curve for higher performance. My tester had this engine and it seemed eager to get up and go, although I didn't take it on any rock climbing expeditions.

Like pretty much every car that has levels, the Patriot gives you more when you  move up. The Sport has a lot going for it already for its low price, including the safety of electronic stability control and hill start assist and conveniences like cruise control and an outside temperature display. The Latitude, as the middle and likely most popular level, throws in power windows and locks, air conditioning, keyless entry, heated seats, and niceties such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 115-volt power inverter. The Limited, of course, is where you get leather seats with power adjustment, an electronic vehicle information center, a nice audio system with SiriusXM, climate control, and all the trimmings.

The Patriot wasn't as nice when it debuted for the 2007 model year, but over the last few years, new ownership has put money and effort into upgrading every vehicle sold by Chrysler. The inside of the Patriot, while not luxurious, feels well crafted and substantial. Pieces fit together well. It's really a baby Grand Cherokee more than just the least expensive 4x4 sold in America.

This is a highly affordable choice in the compact SUV market. Prices for a manual-equipped Sport with no options start at just $16,920--a remarkable number indeed. My Latitude tester with four-wheel drive and some audio upgrades came in at $26,220.

My only concern about Jeeps is their tendency to not be highly favored by the sharp-eyed folks at Consumer Reports, although reliability ratings are above average. It's likely that the vehicle's age is a factor here, but sales of Jeeps are up--so plenty of folks still want to own one.

Many changes are on the way for Jeep, including a new small SUV based on a FIAT platform. But for the real all-American four-wheeling deal, this is a very reasonable way to take it to the street--and off the road.


Fernando Gonzales said...

A very beautiful truck!

Successes with the blog!


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Bonney Bwire said...

I personally believe the patriot has cool features for people who are not so much into the extra rugged off roading jeep. Its subtle features make for a car that anyone would love to own.
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