What, again? Before you send us any more hate mail, you're not seeing double-it's Jeep's latest entry-level SUV, the Patriot. And yes, it shares a great deal of componentry with its sister vehicle Compass, but it does offer some tricks of its own that greatly enhance its off-pavement attributes. Whether these will be enough to distinguish the newest Jeep from an already-crowded vehicle segment, we couldn't say, but as the Patriot is officially "Trail Rated" by Jeep, we thought it only proper to 'wheel one ourselves and report the results.
Like the Compass, the Patriot relies on the Chrysler 2.4L World four-cylinder engine and continuously variable Jatco CVT2 transaxle with a max low gear of 19.1:1 to send power to the wheels. (You can get a Magna five-speed manual instead of the juicebox, but you'll actually lose gearing over the CVT.) Suspension is MacPherson struts up front and links and coils in the rear. Four-wheel discs are standard, as is rack-and-pinion steering, stability control, and safety airbags are everywhere.
In normal operation, the Patriot is a front-wheel drive, with a Freedom Drive I option available to provide front-to-rear torque splits as high as 40/60. The Patriot's unique calling card is its own dedicated Freedom Drive II all-wheel-drive system, which combines CVT gearing with brake traction control, Hill Descent, full skidplating, tow hooks, a cooling package, and premium all-terrain tires.
We recently 'wheeled a FDII Patriot over some desert trails in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, and we came away with mixed feelings. With all the high-tech bells and whistles aboard, the Jeep did a pretty fair job on the trail ... at least for a faux-wheel drive. Articulation was minimal, but the computer-governed front-to-rear 50/50 torque split at speeds below 10 mph in "Lock" mode, combined with a good set of tires-in this case, Goodyear Wrangler GTAs-helped to compensate for the lack of flex and helped deliver solid traction whenever given a chance. Ground clearance, while seemingly adequate at 9 inches, is hindered by a low breakover angle between the wheelwells, and we found ourselves frequently scraping the little Pat's undercarriage over medium-sized rocks and overhangs. While the aforementioned skidplating obviously helped, we still managed to knock out an isolation bushing on the exhaust system (the heat shield?) after thumping a rock, and the balance of our trail ride was accompanied by a loud and cyclical grinding from the undercarriage that went away as soon as the terrain leveled out.
At faster speeds, on graded dirt and sandy dry wash, the Pat' is actually a lot of fun. The powerplant is still a bit buzzy and unrefined, and our tester's seats didn't lend a whole lot of side bolstering or lumbar aid, but steering feel was quite acute, and the ABS wasn't too intrusive when rear-wheel-drifting. Summing up, the Patriot with FD II was considerably more 'wheelable than we would have expected-just be ready for lots of underbody banging and clanging if the trail gets really rocky.
With the Patriot, Jeep now has seven models it can shop to the public should DaimlerChrysler decide to give Jeep its own discrete dealer network. But given the commonalities of the Patriot and Compass-not to mention the disappointing sales numbers for the WK-spinoff Commander-we can't help but wonder if seven Jeep models might represent a little too much of a good thing. Buyers will eventually decide, and a year from now, we should have a clearer picture.
XJ-like styling, attractive price, decent mileage, more 'wheelable than you might think.
Poor breakover angle, spongy seats, loud and buzzy powerplant.
Does Jeep really need two entry-level AWDs?
Vehicle model: 2007 Jeep Patriot 4x4
Base price: $14,985
Engine Type: 2.4L I-4
Valvetrain:DOHC, 16-valve with VVT
Aspiration: Sequential MPFI
Mfg.'s hp @ rpm: 172 @ 6,000
Mfg.'s torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 165 @ 4,400
Transmission: Jatco CVT2 continuously variable
Forward: 2.349 - 0.394
Max low gear (:1): 19.1
Suspension (f/r): Independent MacPherson strut, stabilizer bar/Multilink independent with coil springs, stabilizer bar
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes (f/r): Vented disc/Solid disc
Wheels/Tire (tested): 17x6.5 aluminum/P215/65R17, Goodyear Wrangler GTAs
Wheelbase (in): 103.7
Length (in): 173.4
Width (in): 69.3
Height (in): 65.2
Curb weight (lb): 3,250
Ground clearance (in): 9.0
Approach (deg): 29.6
Departure (deg): 34.2
Fuel capacity (gal): 13.5
Max towing capacity (lb): 2,000
Max EPA mileage estimates (city/hwy mpg): 23/26 (4x4)
Seating capacity: 5