It's been slightly more than a year since we took delivery of our long-term Patriot, and after spinning 12 grand on the odo and returning the vehicle to Chrysler's media fleet, we've formed some pretty strong opinions about Jeep's controversial crossover, both pro and con. Here's our report card:
Pluses: The Patriot is commendably maneuverable in traffic, with a 35-foot turning circle that makes in-city lane changes and parking squeezes hassle-free. Visibility fore and aft is excellent, and its short rear overhang takes a lot of guesswork out of backing and filling exercises. For a smallish-looking vehicle, it's also quite roomy inside, and with the rear seats folded down, it affords 63 cubic feet of cargo capacity. (By comparison, the last-generation Cherokee XJ offered 69 cubic feet.) We've also come to appreciate the way it looks, though we think its proportions would benefit from the addition of a slightly larger tire. Our tester featured the upgraded-for-'09 interior package (complete with nav system and Sirius satellite), and our Patriot's leather seats were surprisingly comfortable on long drives.
The Freedom Drive II all-wheel drive system worked flawlessly, providing a CVT-managed 19:1 pseudo-crawl gear in "Low" drive mode. Finally, while Chrysler's product line has come in for some tough scrutiny over quality control in recent years, the Patriot's reliability has been markedly above average for its corporate fleet, and ours was no exception. It required no additional maintenance or repairs beyond the recommended dealer services. Total maintenance cost: $43.90-not bad at all for a year's worth of driving the often demanding streets (and dry, dusty trails outside) of Los Angeles.
Minuses: Start under the hood. The World 2.4L four-cylinder is buzzy and unrefined, lacks low-end power, and requires generous throttle input on long grades to stay up to speed. The CVT2 tranny obligingly allows the motor to rev at will, so a fair amount of engine noise seeps into the cab. The Goodyear Fortera tires on our tester were competent on pavement, but self-cleaned poorly in the dirt, and their tread pattern was a magnet for mud. Brake feel could get a bit spongy at times in stop-and-go traffic. Despite the fuel-saving CVT and the weight-saving lack of a transfer case and a solid axle, mileage was underwhelming throughout the test period. The Patriot's user-friendly cargo deck height comes at the expense of fuel capacity, necessitating frequent fill-ups. Off-pavement sojourns made us thankful that you can get a Patriot with tow hooks and underbody skidplating. The plastic front valance and bumper trim feel flimsy, and are a bit too easy to pull apart from the body sheetmetal.
Final Grade: We've learned to live with the Patriot's shortcomings-obviously, its lack of clearance or a transfer-case low range-because of the benefits it's bestowed on us: Reliable and versatile transport that's terrific for around-town driving, or for loading up with camp gear for a weekend in the mountains. It's not a Wrangler, nor does it aspire to be one, but if we could build one to spec (and we couldn't get a transfer case), we'd ask for direct injection for the four-cylinder, a more aggressive tire, and (possibly) some upgraded shocks for a little extra suspension capability. As our year with the Jeep comes to end, we've come to think of it as we would a comfy pair of slippers-not fashionable, and not made for every type of surface, but fully functional at the tasks for which it was built. We hope its new owners at Fiat will continue to refine it in the years ahead.
Report: 4 of 4
Previous reports: July '09, Oct. '09, Mar. '10
Base price: $23,230
Price as tested: $28,950
Four-wheel-drive system: Freedom Drive II AWD with brake traction control
Miles to date: 12,928
Miles since last report: 2,611
Average mpg (this report): 18.07
Test best tank (mpg): 23.05
Test worst tank (mpg): 14.88
This period: None
Problem areas: None
What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Reliability, maneuverability, cargo capacity
Not: Mileage, ground clearance, tires
"Skidplates get a workout off-road, even on light-duty trails"
"Folding down the rear seats an easy, one-hand operation"
"Even for AWD, tires are crappy in dirt-Geolandars next time?"
"Easier than a JK to pilot in traffic"
"Roomier than you'd think from the outside"