2011 Jeep Patriot Expert Review:Autoblog
The year was 2006, and Chrysler was fresh off the successful launch of the gangsta 300 and the oddly well-received Dodge Charger. The future looked bright for the Pentastar, with a plethora of new products set to arrive for the 2007 model year. The Chrysler Sebring and Aspen, the Dodge Caliber and Nitro and the Jeep Compass and Patriot were all primed to turn the car-buying world on-end. Or not. The Aspen is now history, the Sebring and Nitro have been abject failures, and the Caliber, Compass and Patriot, all of which share the same platform, haven't come close to meeting expectations.
But one vehicle almost had a shot: the Patriot. Despite mudding Jeep's crystal-clear brand DNA by adding a front-wheel drive soft-roader to the mix, the Patriot's all-four cylinder lineup and better-than-advertised fuel economy arrived just as gas prices rocketed into the stratosphere. So why did it flop? That's a novel unto itself, but the key culprits included poor interior materials and questionable build quality that conspired with a lackluster ad campaign and the overarching sense that Chrysler was teetering on the brink.
But in spite of all of that, the crew from Auburn Hills didn't leave the Patriot for dead. They upgraded the interior, made a host of hardware changes and reworked the rugged little crossover to be more competitive for 2010. We were keen to sample the fruits of their labors, so we picked up a fully-loaded 2010 Jeep Patriot Limited to see if the sum of its upgrades have made this front-drive stepchild a viable alternative in a crowded field of small crossovers.
Photos by Chris Shunk / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Looking at the Patriot from the outside shows a few cosmetic changes. Our tester was, however, equipped with the Patriot's attractive new 17-inch wheels, fog lamps and an additional inch of ground clearance courtesy of the Freedom II Package. But beyond some fresh new rollers and the visual cues that come with the off-road pack, the Patriot still looks like the visual successor to the Jeep Cherokee Classic, and we're okay with that. After all, the Patriot's most important upgrades are found inside.
Opening the driver's door of our Optic Green Metallic tester, it took all of two seconds to figure out that Chrysler's design team made substantial changes to the Patriot's once unbearable innards. Gone is the landfill-grade plastic on the dash, center stack and doors, replaced by far more tolerable swaths of, admittedly, hard-touch materials. Sure, we would love to see and feel soft, leathery fare, but the Patriot's upgraded bits are largely class competitive and with an entry sticker of just over $18,000 with destination, lamb skin accents aren't exactly a cost efficient option.
But do "substantial upgrades" and "class competitive" equal "nice interior?" Yes and no. First, here's what we liked: The comfy, leather-cladded seats in our tester provided great lateral support for both light off-roading and pedestrian errand-running. The leather-wrapped steering wheel had a great feel, and the switches and buttons were easily accessed, losing much of the cheap sensation of its predecessor. Our tester was also gussied with tastefully applied chrome appliqués that gave the otherwise stark black interior a kick of visual flare.
Also included was a host of infotainment options that car buyers have come to expect. Navigation, MP3 connectivity, satellite radio, UConnect hands-free system and 30 gigs worth of storage are all present and accounted for, and it didn't take a degree from MIT to get everything to work properly. Chrysler's 6.5-inch navigation system may bet a bit out of date compared to other OEM systems on the market, but it wins on ease of use.
We also enjoyed the 368-watt, nine-speaker Boston Acoustic sound system, which provides high quality sound at a reasonable cost. Two of those speakers are attached to the hatch and folds down when open – they're a perfect tailgating companion to be sure, but a bit flimsy-looking upon closer inspection. The upgraded sound system with the hard drive storage, moonroof and nav combine to be a $2,580 option; a relative bargain compared to other options on the market.
Yet while the Patriot's interior has improved dramatically since its 2007 debut, there are a few remaining issues. Our "Limited" tester will set buyers back a hefty $30,510, placing it against much more polished competition, yet the doors and center arm rest are still covered with hard, unattractive plastics at the major touch points. The massive opening above the glove box is still an ergonomic oddity and running our hands over the edges reveals sharp plastic that just doesn't pass muster. In short, you get the sense that the Patriot has gone under the knife, but the surgeon only hacked out part of the cancer and is still charging you full price.
Even worse is the powertrain. The Patriot continues to be saddled with an anemic 2.4-liter mill that provides the bare minimum of acceleration. We know we're talking about a 3,315-pound utility vehicle equipped with a Trail Rated 4WD system, but it would be nice to feel like we could get out of our own way when the need arises.
That said, the Patriot's 172-horsepower, 165 pound-feet engine is perfectly adequate around town, but taking off from a stop or passing on the freeway can be a white-knuckled chore. And it's not like we're getting world-beating fuel economy in exchange for sacrificing get up and go. The Patriot's trip computer averaged just over 22 mpg during a week of mixed driving, which isn't horrible, but certainly not worth the four-pot's atrophied muscle. And while it doesn't feel like Chrysler's "World Engine" is working very hard, it sure sounds like a soprano without a voice coach. Or a gaggle of bees ricocheting around the crank case.
When we looked over the Patriot's list of equipment, the 2.4-liter motor wasn't the only red flag. Chrysler opted for a continuously variable transmission to manage its asthmatic powerplant, a tranny that tends to agitate rather than inspire. But while we braced for the worst, we quickly discovered that the CVT wasn't part of the Patriot's powertrain predicament. In fact, we hardly noticed that droning "one-speed" sensation found with many CVTs – the transmission eased the engine into the optimum RPM range without fuss or muss.
We managed to travel about 500 miles during our week with the Patriot, and while we are left wanting more power, we had no qualms with the little ute's ride and handling. The Patriot doesn't have the off-road chops of it's Liberty sibling, but the little CUV is far more comfortable around town. On paved roads, the Patriot goes Clark Kent, behaving like other crossovers in its class. Pot holes are tackled without drama, the brakes are solid, the steering decently weighted and body roll is nicely controlled. However, unlike many of its competitors, this Clark Kent has some surprising off-roading superpowers.
That's right, the very same front drive "soft-roader" that Jeep enthusiasts derided has an available "Trail Rated" package for those who enjoy the road less traveled. Our tester came equipped with the aforementioned Freedom II package, which incorporates a one inch higher ride height over the Freedom I package, a 27.5 degree approach, 23 degree brakeover and 31.4 degree departure angle. The Freedom II package also includes its own CVT configuration with a class-leading 19:1 low ratio for crawling over rocks, undulating uneven surfaces and clearing otherwise troublesome rough spots. Fog lights, tow hooks, 17-inch all-terrain tires, a full-size spare and an air filtration system are among the other features included in the package.
We didn't have any undulating hills or Mojave-style rocks at our disposal, so instead we set out into a field filled with dirt, mud and several hidden holes that would leave most vehicles stuck and stranded. The water-mud mixture we tackled ranged from four- to 10-inches deep, with six-foot tall grass hiding large rocks and even larger water-filled crevices. Thankfully, the package includes additional body sealing and high-mounted drivetrain vents to traverse 19-inches of liquid fun. At one point there was some deliberation as to whether or not we should step into the swamp and take some pictures (our better judgment told us not to), and while we were noodling over our options the Patriot began to sink. Naturally, we got a bit nervous and decided to back out before we had to make an apologetic call to Chrysler. But to our amazement, we escaped so effortlessly that we popped the slush box back into D and retraced our steps to show the mud who's boss. We never even came close to getting stuck, but the smiles were seemingly frozen in place for quite a while. It appears Jeep takes its Trail Rated badge very seriously and to our amazement and delight the brand's DNA remains intact.
When we first analyzed the Patriot on paper, we couldn't wrap our heads around why Jeep would build a vehicle almost identical in size to the Liberty, but minus the off-roading capability. But after a week's worth of plebeian runs and inspired flogging, there is one big reason anyone would buy the Liberty at a $5,000 premium. The engine. While the Patriot is more comfortable, almost as roomy and has 90 percent of the capability of its more rugged sibling, its uninspired powertrain remains its Achilles' heel. Outfitted past $30k, the Patriot is certainly a tough pill to swallow, but its increased fuel economy, improved road manners and off-road ability give it a reason for being. It might've been born under a bad sign, but in its second life the Patriot is worth a second look.
Photos by Chris Shunk / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Compact SUV delivers affordable capability.
The Jeep Patriot is unmistakably from the Jeep garage, with its squared-off lines, seven-slot grille, and round headlights. The Patriot and its sibling, the Jeep Compass, are based on a car platform, but still deliver moderate off-road ability.
For 2011, Jeep Patriot has been significantly updated. The 2011 Patriot features fresh styling, upgraded suspension and steering, new interior materials, and a revised model lineup. The updates make the 2011 Jeep Patriot a noteworthy improvement over the 2010 model.
The four-door Patriot has plenty of room inside. There's adult-size headroom and legroom for rear-seat passengers. The 60/40-split rear seat folds flat, and a flat-folding front passenger seat is optional; with all the seats flat, you can slide an eight-foot kayak inside, for example.
Two four-cylinder engines are offered The larger of the two, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, makes 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, is EPA-rated at 23 mpg City, 28 mpg Highway with the manual transmission, and is standard equipment. It delivers good power; put the pedal down while cruising uphill at 75 miles per hour and it will accelerate. The smaller engine is 2.0 liters, makes 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque and is EPA-rated at 23/29 mpg with the manual transmission. The optional Continuously Variable Transaxle works well and we found the Auto Stick manual-shift feature useful.
We found the Patriot light and nimble on twisty roads and when maneuvering around town. Turn-in is sharp. The body is well isolated from the wheels: You can hear the tires hitting the expansion strips on the freeway, but you can't feel it. The independent suspension works well. During a long day of driving on patchy two-lanes, hard-packed dirt roads, sandy off-road trails, shallow rivers and deep gullies, it delivered steadiness and comfort in every abusive situation.
The Patriot is available with front-wheel drive or a choice of two all-wheel-drive systems, one that Jeep qualifies as Trail Rated. Those who like to go off the pavement (or tow more than 1000 pounds) should choose the Trail-Rated Freedom II AWD system. This uses gearing about 20-percent lower than the other models for steeper climbs and descents, but if you mistake it for a 4WD with a low-range transfer case like a Wrangler or Grand Cherokee you'll soon find yourself well and truly stuck.
The 2011 Jeep Patriot comes with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and a choice of engines with manual and automatic transmissions.
Patriot Sport ($15,595) comes with cloth upholstery, carpeting, fog lamps, tinted glass, reclining front seats, 60/40-split folding rear seat, cruise control, smart-key engine immobilizer, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA four-speaker stereo. All-wheel drive versions also have the 2.4-liter engine and rear disc brakes. Options include front side airbags ($250), 17-inch aluminum wheels ($640), air conditioning ($895), media center radio ($350), and the Power Value package ($1,405) with remote keyless entry, power windows/door locks/heated mirrors. An all-weather group ($795) adds tow hooks, block heater, floor mats, daytime running lights, aluminum wheels and P215/65R17 tires.
Patriot Latitude X ($22,195) gets the big engine and rear disc brakes, chrome trim, climate control, leather upholstery, power driver's seat, Sirius radio and a 6CD/DVD audio system. Options include upgrades to radio ($290) with Garmin navigation ($695), Boston-Acoustics speakers ($650), plus the Sun & Sound, Security & Convenience, and tow packages.
Optional on any Patriot are UConnect Phone with Bluetooth and/or Web service and a smoker's package. The Freedom II Off-Road group ($550) upgrades 4WD models with a bigger alternator, skid plates, electronic traction assists, tow hooks, floor mats, P215/65R17 tires and full-size spare; it requires the CVT2L automatic transmission ($1050). (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Safety features on all Patriot models include dual front airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control, electronic stability control with rollover mitigation, and active front head restraints. Torso-protecting front side impact airbags are an option we recommend.
The Patriot has Jeep's favorite styling cues, namely round headlights and seven vertical openings for a grille, in a boxy shape with fairly upright windshield and hatch. Unlike jelly bean-shaped competitors, Patriot's box shape translates to a more spacious feeling inside because the roof doesn't curl in on you, and the vertical rear end allows more cargo inside and better sheds snow and ice in the winter.
For 2011, the front end styling has been cleaned up, a little neater and tidier than before. On Patriot Latitude X models much trim is done in bright surfaces but we find the body-color trim of the other models more appealing, and more befitting a Jeep. Tow hooks and roof-rail crossbars are optional, and we'd prefer the fog lamps were further apart.
Eschewing trends to make everything lower and more car-like, the 2011 Patriot rides a little bit higher than the 2010 version and it has half-an-inch more ground clearance. You won't find that a benefit until it's the half-inch that makes a difference but it doesn't hurt in Patriot's quest to make a cute-ute look more macho.
For 2011, the rear end gets an update to match the front and it's the biggest improvement. Although it's acceptable for trucks and genuine four-wheel drives to have lots of mechanical bits visible underneath it's less desirable in a compact crossover. To that end the rear bumper on the 2011 Patriot is deeper and almost totally hides the muffler that looked like a large industrial afterthought on earlier versions.
The Jeep Patriot is considered a compact, although it looks larger. With a lot of space between front and rear wheels and overall length less than 15 feet, the lack of bodywork beyond the wheels adds dimension and improves backcountry accessibility. It's only a couple of inches from identical height and width and the ground clearance matches many heavy-duty pickup trucks.
The standard wheels are 16-inch steel. Attractive 17-inch aluminum wheels are standard on Latitude and X models, and optional for the Sport. The Patriot looks much better with the aluminum wheels, or get your own when the tires wear out and use the original steel wheels with dedicated winter tires.
A high seating position gives the Jeep Patriot driver a commanding view of the trail. The Patriot Sport's front seats have manual adjustment and come with cloth upholstery; the Latitude has heated cloth seats which we prefer for four seasons. The Latitude X gets leather upholstery which previously seemed to overdress the Patriot; it fits better in the revised 2011 interior but we're still adapting to Jeep and leather in the same sentence.
Interior materials have been revamped for 2011. Soft-touch panels line the top of the doors, the pockets have cleaner edges, the three-spoke steering wheel shared with the Wrangler has cruise and audio controls on it and the console is improved.
The cabin layout is functional and roomy. The dark 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. Jeep says the available UConnect Tunes system can hold up to 6700 songs, which can be ripped from a CD or USB memory stick. We thought the doors sounded kind of tinny when they were closed.
The space between the seats includes a nook for change or cell phones, two fixed cupholders, and the parking brake lever. The center console is split for two levels of storage and is now padded.
The door pockets are on the small side, but they can hold six CD cases; much of the space is taken up by the 6x9-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.
The standard rear seat is a 60/40 split. It folds flat easily. Simply flip up the seat cushion and flop down the seatback. Reclining rear seats are optional, as is a flat-folding front passenger seat. With the rear seats folded flat, there's a spacious 54.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Fold down the passenger seat, and the Patriot has room for something eight feet long. With all the seats in use there's 23 cubic feet in the back, comparable with any compact SUV.
The hatch glass does not open separately but the hatch itself isn't that heavy. A removable carpeted floor lines the cargo area and hides a real full-size spare tire underneath on most models. That cargo deck is a relatively high 31 inches off the floor so the maximum cargo height opening is 27.4 inches, and taller people should watch their head beneath the open hatch.
The Jeep Patriot comes with a choice of engines. The larger 2.4-liter engine works best. It has good power, with 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, and is responsive where it needs to be. You can be going uphill at 75 miles per hour, and it will still accelerate. Our only criticism is that it sounds gruff under heavy throttle. Fuel economy for the 2.4-liter engine is an EPA 23/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.
The 2.0-liter engine offers nearly as much power and slightly better fuel economy. The 2.0-liter engine makes 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque and is EPA-rated at 23/29 mpg with the manual transmission. The smaller engine needs to be revved quite a bit to make power, however. So for the minimal price difference and the extra torque, we recommend the larger 2.4-liter engine.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is a joy to use, even with its long throws. The lever comes out of the center stack above the driver's right knee, an improvement over being on the floor near the right thigh. The 5-speed makes the Patriot feel like a Jeep. Properly used, it brings out the potential of the engine.
The suspension works well in all conditions. 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 Patriot did a great job in these conditions.
On paved country roads the Patriot feels light and nimble. The ride is steady over rough asphalt patches. The body feels well isolated and you can hit a bump with one wheel without your head being tossed.
We also drove a Patriot with the trail-rated Freedom Drive II off-road package. It adds one inch to the ground clearance for a total of 9.5 inches, allowing a 29-degree approach angle, a 34-degree departure angle, a 22-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. (To put things in perspective a Wrangler Rubicon fords 30 inches and a Range Rover Sport almost 28.) Unfortunately, Freedom Drive II is not offered with the manual transmission.
Both AWD systems have a locking center differential that sends half the power to the rear wheels. They also have a brake lock differential that can shift the power from side to side on each axle, important in slippery terrain. The Freedom II package also gives the CVT a low range with a ratio of 19:1, good for crawling over obstacles.
We tested the Freedom Drive II combination on an off-road trail in the Arizona desert, led by a member of the local Jeep club. 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.
The Freedom II package includes Hill Descent Control that is automatically engaged when in Low range on steep downhill grades. It 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. It's a great setup.
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 stayed in low range because it's usable up to about 45 mph. 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 of 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; above 35 it also cuts the throttle, if necessary.
The Jeep Patriot offers off-highway capability in a compact SUV with a capable four-cylinder engine that gets decent fuel economy. The suspension is stable and comfortable, and cargo capacity is useful because all the passenger seats can easily fold flat. The interior updates for 2011 have improved the cabin greatly.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Scottsdale, Arizona, with correspondents Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago and G.R. Whale from Los Angeles.
Jeep Patriot Sport 2WD ($15,995); Sport AWD ($17,695); Latitude X 2WD ($22,195); Latitude X AWD ($23,895).
Options As Tested
Sport Package 26B ($4,985) includes CVT2L automatic with Autostick, remote vehicle start, 115-volt auxiliary power outlet, 17-inch aluminum wheels, 215/60R17 touring tires, body-color door handles, heated front seats w/driver-side height adjuster and passenger-side fold-flat, reclining rear seat, illuminated keyless entry, Latitude badging, power heated fold-away mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel w/audio controls, power windows and speed-sensitive power door locks.
Jeep Patriot 4WD ($17,695).
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