We just passed 10,000 miles in our long-term Patriot, and nearly a year into our test period, we've come to think of it as a "Cherokee XUV": A versatile all-season performer that's fairly well suited to a variety of on- and off-road situations. Keep its limitations in mind when you venture off the pavement, and you've got an enjoyable daily driver and weekend camp rig that can take you to quite a few places you wouldn't think possible. It also looks a lot like a latter-day XJ, which counts a lot for us right away.
What largely sets the Patriot apart from your garden-variety crossover rig is its Freedom Drive II all-wheel drive system, which uses throttle input and wheel-speed sensors to engage an electronic coupling in the rear differential, which in turn distributes torque via electric current, front to rear, as tractive needs dictate. When shifted into "Low" mode, the transaxle is recalibrated to deliver the equivalent of a 19:1 gear reduction; and torque output is split 50/50, front-to-rear, via a "Lock" toggle when in Low gear. In normal operation, the FD-II system provides variable torque splits according to driving speed and road conditions.
On easy to mid-grade trails, the Patriot is surprisingly capable. Besides the obvious lack of a real "crawler" gear, the little Jeep's only real limiting factors are its low ground clearance, its pavement-biased rolling stock, and its relative lack of flex. The Freedom Drive II package, fortunately, includes full skidplating for the transaxle and fuel tank, which helps compensate for the Jeep's low stance, and tires can be replaced at an owner's discretion. (Want more flex? Get a JK already.) The Freedom-Drive II system, while somewhat loud in operation, is undeniably effective, and the ABS-actuated traction control system does a good job of mimicking the behavior of a typical limited-slip on loose surfaces, too.
We're still of two minds about the Jeep's pavement manners. On the one hand, we really appreciate its tight turning circle, responsive brakes, and easy maneuverability on congested thoroughfares, and visibility, fore and aft, is excellent all around. On the other hand, we're still not quite accustomed to the "seems to be slipping though it really, really isn't" Jatco CVT transaxle and the buzzy 2.4L World four-banger, which strikes us as in need of direct injection, turbocharging, or ... something. The Patriot really isn't terribly underpowered-it simply seems that way-but wringing a few more ponies out of the engine would make it a lot more fun to drive.
Mileage has remained constant throughout the most recent test period, though our overall 18-plus mpg figure is notably below the Patriot's EPA-rated 21/24 estimate. Combine that with a smallish (13.5-gallon) fuel tank, and we start looking instinctively for a gas station every 200 miles or so. One thing that's definitely pleased us about the Patriot, however, has been its overall reliability. We've not always been as rigorous as we probably could have been with timely trips to the dealer for scheduled maintenance, but our Jeep recently passed its 10,000-mile warranty service inspection with flying colors-and no additional charges. We'll be back in a couple of months with a final look at our Patriot before she turns into a pumpkin.
Report: 3 of 4
Previous reports: Oct. '09; July '09
Base price: $23,230
Price as tested: $28,950
Four-wheel-drive system: Freedom Drive II AWD with brake traction control
Miles to date: 10,317
Miles since last report: 2,493
Average mpg (this report): 18.23
Test best tank (mpg): 23.05
Test worst tank (mpg): 14.88
This period: 10,000-mile maintenance: No charge (covered under warranty)
Problem areas: None
What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Easy visibility, tight turning circle, plenty of room for stuff
Not: Low ground clearance, small fuel tank, so-so mileage
"Tranny sounds like it's perpetually slipping, only it's not"
"Buzzy engine seems overtaxed--can we get direct injection next time?"
"Amazing how much gear you can stow with the rear seats folded"
"Super-easy to maneuver in tight traffic"
"Zero dollars for 10K service: Excellent!"