Patriot adds a useful small SUV to Jeep's lineup

March 02, 2007|by DAN LYONS / Motor Matters

Small sport-utility vehicles are in a big growth market. Sales of compact SUVs soared to more than 500,000 units in calendar year 2006, up 34 percent over 2005 levels. By some estimates, this segment will double from its current level by 2010, and triple by 2016.

With that in mind, it's no surprise that every automaker is busy developing a compact SUV - or two. On the heels of its car-based, Compass sport-utility, Jeep now follows with its second new compact sport utility for the 2007 model year - the Patriot.

Jeep's newest model is also Jeep's lowest priced model. Available in Sport and Limited versions, Patriot prices start at $14,985 for 4x2 and $16,735 for a 4x4. Two 4x4 systems are available optionally. Freedom Drive I is a full-time, all-wheel-drive system. Under normal conditions it operates in front-wheel drive, but power is automatically shifted to the rear wheels in response to wheel slippage.


Freedom Drive II is also a full-time, active 4x4 system, but one geared more toward Jeep's traditional trail-rated customers. Offered as part of an Off-Road package, the system includes a low gear setting suitable for technical maneuvers like rock crawling. Also included in the Off-Road package are 17-inch all-terrain tires, undercarriage skid plates, a full-size spare, tow hooks, fog lamps and a heavy-duty cooling system.

Hill Descent Control holds the vehicle at a fixed rate of speed (5 mph) on downhill passages, without the need for the driver to hit the brake pedal. And off-road brake traction control helps keep forward momentum whenever one wheel loses its grip.

My test drive included hundreds of miles on city and highway roads, and a large sampling of off-road driving, including rock crawling, trails and sand washes. Patriot took easily to the dirt. With angles of approach/break over/departure measuring 29.6/23.3/34.2 degrees, respectively, there's little to get hung up on underneath. Ground clearance is 9 inches, and Patriot can ford water up to 19 inches deep. The Jeep's compact size makes it easy to navigate tight trails.

Back on pavement, Patriot also acquits itself well with a comfortable ride and a stable feel going down the road. While a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is available on the base 4x2 models, most Patriots will be equipped with the 2.4-liter World Engine, the motor that we logged our miles on. It's matched with a five-speed manual transmission or optional Continuously Variable Transaxle, and I've driven both. The 2.4-liter makes 172 horsepower and 165 lbs.-ft. of torque; EPA estimates the gas mileage of a 4x4 with CVT at 23/26, city/highway (25/29 with the manual).

The 2.4-liter matches well with the Patriot platform. Like any four-cylinder vehicle, passing and steep grades require some downshifting for best performance, and for this, the manual transmission is ideal. The CVT works well too, though I find that driving any CVT takes a bit of getting used to in one respect. Since CVTs are continuous, they don't have the distinct shift points that our ears are conditioned to hearing.

The Patriot's forward cabin will fit most any size passengers. Controls are easy to reach and operate. The lid for the center console slides forward 3 inches to double as an armrest for your inside elbow. The upright bodylines, large windows and tall-in-the-saddle seating position make for good visibility. Six-footers will fit snugly in back with same-size passengers in front. Access to the back storage area is via a one-piece, lift-up hatch door (duck, if you're more than 6 feet tall).

The vinyl cargo floor is removable and washable. Lift-over height is low and cargo capacity is large. Volume ranges from 23 to 54 cubic feet in back, depending on how many rear seats you fold. Tailgaters take note: the available, 458-watt Boston Acoustic sound system includes nine speakers, two of which are mounted on the liftgate. When you swing it up, you can swing the speakers down, facing rearward, to add the soundtrack to your party.

Other notable options include a self-recharging, removable flashlight, a 115-volt electrical outlet, a tire pressure monitoring system, a trailer-tow preparation package and a navigation system that can help drivers find their way both on- and off-road. The available moonroof lets you look to the stars, though it adds wind noise at highway speeds, too.

The new Patriot is a welcome addition to the Jeep lineup - especially in the entry-level slot. The company's seventh model combines versatility, on/off-road capability and classic Jeep looks in a very affordable package.

Copyright, Motor Matters 2007

The Herald-Mail Articles