Can Jeep's New Creation Hang With The "In" Crowd?
Confession time: I've never been off-roading or rockcrawling. And until Editor Cappa handed me the keys to Jp's Jeep Patriot test vehicle, I didn't even know how to drive a stick.
What does it all mean? I'm exactly who Jeep is targeting these days. As a 25-year-old copy editor for Jp Magazine and Diesel Power who commutes five days a week and enjoys a somewhat active lifestyle outside the office, the company is pushing hard for me to buy its product.
That might explain why I was allowed to drive the Inferno Red Crystal Pearl (seriously, that's what its color is called on Jeep's Web site) Patriot all over town for two weeks. Cappa wanted a different perspective on the driving experience, and I was more than happy to lend a helping hand-racking up a huge expense report in the process. I just needed to answer one simple question: Would I buy this car?
After Cappa gave me a quick driving lesson in the neighborhood across the street from our building in congested West Los Angeles (don't fret, this wasn't my first manual-transmission encounter-my friend Chris let me wear out his truck the previous night), I made the bold decision to take the Patriot home. Yes, that means I tackled stop-and-go traffic on the wretched 405 freeway right off the bat.
Luckily, the drive went OK-I only stalled twice. But I noticed some small things about the Patriot that immediately turned me off:
* The incredibly high dashboard: Cappa would argue that my 5 foot, 6 inch frame is to blame for that, but I blame the Jeep engineers who decided that a huge, blocky dashboard was a good idea. It felt like driving around in a box.
* The awkward window controls: It just felt like the window-control buttons were placed in a strange spot on the arm rest attached to the door.
* There were some radio issues: The MP3 hookup either didn't exist or it was impossible to find. Also, it was impossible to set the radio station presets. Why would setting the presets take more effort than simply holding down a button for five seconds?
* After the engine is off: I pulled into my garage, shut down the car, took the key out, and the radio kept blaring as I sat in total darkness. Where were the lights, and why was the radio still playing? I wasn't a big fan of either post-key-removal problem. I know, those are nitpicky things, but that's the type of stuff I would look for when buying a car.
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I thought it would be a good idea to hit the road while the Patriot was at my disposal. I consulted my girlfriend Gwen, and we thought it would be fun to head out to the Santa Barbara area for some wine-tasting because that's what mid-20s people do. We invited Chris and his girlfriend Melinda to come with, and our quasi-"Sideways" journey was on.
Believe it or not, I wanted to use this mini-trip as a way to figure some things out on the Patriot: What would the fuel mileage look like? Would everyone be comfortable on the long drive? How would it handle off-road (well, relatively off-road)?
After the overnight trip, I had some answers. We traveled 217 miles on the first tank of gas, and when it was time to fill up again, it took 9.62 gallons to replenish. For those scoring at home, the Patriot got 22.6 mpg. On the second tank, we went 256 miles and put 11.24 gallons back in when it was fill-up time-which came out to 22.8 mpg. I liked the consistency, but the fuel-economy numbers failed to live up to Jeep's claims of 26 mpg (city) and 30 mpg (highway), according to the company's Web site. Most of the driving done on those two tanks of gas was on the open highway with a little traffic here and there, so I can't imagine it getting much better.
Everyone was comfortable on the two-hour drive in the Patriot. That's pretty impressive considering Chris is 6 feet 2 inches tall and Melinda is 5 feet 10 inches, and they both said the backseat was great. Gwen (5 feet 6 inches tall) had no complaints with the passenger-side seat, but she didn't like the boxy dashboard and awkward window-control location either. While we're on the subject, the trunk didn't have nearly as much space as I thought it would-the four of us barely fit our overnight bags in there. For some reason, I was expecting more.
I wouldn't say we took the Patriot off-road like true Jeepers, but there were enough unpaved roads to get an idea of how it felt. Based on my limited experience, I'd say it handled those situations really well-compared with how my '06 Honda Civic would do, that is.
All in all, I'd be interested in buying a car like the Jeep Patriot. For the most part, I rarely drive with more than one person with me, so the Patriot would provide the kind of extra space that would be ideal for everyday use.
One of the Patriot's main selling points is its price. I went on the Jeep Web site and put together a Patriot of my own that included the automatic transmission and an air-conditioning unit. The net price, including the destination fee, came out to $16,885-about $300 less than I paid for my Civic. That alone is enough to pique my interest.
Well done, Jeep, I'd say you hit the nail on the head by figuring out what will speak loudest to a 25-year-old: the price. I'm willing to look past the boxy dashboard, mediocre fuel mileage, and horrible commercial campaign if a salesman at my local Jeep dealership can get me in a Patriot for 1.9 percent financing.
Maybe I'd even learn how to change my own oil if I owned a Jeep-that way, everyone in the office would quit making fun of me.
For the Jeep Enthusiast
Let's just get this out of the way. If you're looking for a Jeep to lift, put larger tires on, and off-road frequently, you shouldn't even consider the Patriot an option. Having said that, Jp has never really championed any of the cute-ute Jeeps. Till now.
The Patriot has an appeal that we can't really explain. It's like the car everyone wants to drive once they get behind the wheel. The boxy styling could be the saving grace. Its partner in chassis, the Compass, could easily be mistaken for a suppository (we'll pass on the Compass and the anal pill, thanks.) Instead, the Patriot looks like a real SUV, only smaller, but you don't realize its small stature until you get up close. It's like somebody hit it with a shrink ray, and that's not all bad with fuel prices hovering at more than $3 a gallon.
Inside you'll find there is more space than there should be. In fact, it's more comfortable to ride in than any of the seats in the much larger Jeep Commander. However, if you're more than 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, or have a wide bottom, the front seats will feel as if you're shoehorned into a kindergarten chair. At 5 feet 11 inches tall and 185 pounds, the seats are perfect. They hug the side of your body when sweeping through fast corners, which the Patriot eats up easily.
You'll think the shifter looks awkward sticking out of the middle of the dash, but you'll quickly realize it's located perfectly once you start slinging gears in the twistys. The engine and manual five-speed tranny combo are a dream. The Patriot feels sporty with the short-throw shifter, especially when you keep the rpm above 3,500.
I also had a chance to get behind the wheel of a Patriot with the optional auto tranny (CVT, or Continuously Variable Transaxle). I wouldn't recommend it. In front of the manual tranny, the 2.0L is quiet and predictable, but it would have to be much quieter to make the CVT an acceptable option. With the CVT, the engine revs unpredictably and constantly. It feels like something is slipping even though it's actually working properly to maintain peak power and fuel economy. It may be a "green" solution to automatic transmissions, but I don't think the world is ready for it yet.
The Patriot drives small. If you're used to being behind the wheel of a Wrangler or larger truck or SUV, then you'll feel neutered in the Patriot. But if you've been behind the wheel of small cars your whole life, you'll feel like you've just reached puberty.