Part 2: Trail Rated, Rubicon-Tested, And . . . Okay, A Fun Little Runabout, Anyway
Alright, we didn't really wheel her over the infamous Mini-Rubicon. But we just returned from Top Truck Challenge XVII at Hollister Hills, where our long-term Jeep Patriot was put to work doing one of the things it does best, using its ample interior space to haul coolers and luggage for staff members, radios for the judges, and prizes and trophies for competitors. We also got a chance to spend some time tooling around in the dirt with the Patriot, and all told, she's a fun little runabout off the pavement.
While it's infamous for hardcore obstacles such as the Mini-'Con and the Tank Trap, Hollister Hills actually sports many miles of mild- to mid-core trails that were perfect for testing out the Patriot's Freedom Drive II all-wheel drive system, which recalibrates the Jatco CVT2 transaxle to deliver the equivalent of a 19:1 gear reduction, and which locks torque output 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.)
We acknowledge the Jeep's limitations-not much flex from the unitbody chassis or travel from the independent suspension, a low-hanging air dam, and tires that are happier on gravel than in mud-but with a measure of caution and a little throttle modulation (to jump-start the traction control), the Patriot can be piloted over some fairly rough and rutted surfaces, as far as ground clearance allows. We dented the airdam against something along the way (A rock? Tree stump? Speed bump?), but fortunately, the FD-II package includes full skidplating up front, as well as for the fuel tank, so a little scratched-up plastic has been the sum of our trail abuse. Mileage for the 2.4L GEMA ("World") I-4 has ticked slightly upward during the most recent test period-most likely the result of a few long Interstate flogs-though it's still slightly below the EPA's 24/21mpg ratings for this vehicle. We'd love to see some sort of direct-injection version of the 2.4L for the next generation, because we think there's better mileage to be squeezed from it given the Jeep's reasonable (3,300-pound) curb weight and lack of parasitic drag caused by solid axles or a transfer case. Or maybe we can check off a diesel option for a version of the 2.0L VW motor that Euro-Patriots get?
Otherwise, we've no real causes for complaint-the Jeep has done everything we've asked of it, requiring no additional maintenance beyond the prescribed dealer check-up. It's earned its keep as an economical parts-fetcher, daily commuter, Rubicon warrior and weekend dirt driver.
Report: 2 of 4
Previous reports: 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: 7,824
Miles since last report: 4,350
Average mpg (this report): 19.17
Test best tank (mpg): 23.05
Test worst tank (mpg): 14.88
This period: 5,000-mile maintenance; fluid and filter changes; $34.63
Problem areas: None
What's Hot, What's Not
HOT: Visibility, maneuverability, cargo capacity
NOT: Engine noise, ground clearance, cruising range
* "Rear seat fold-down is brain-dead simple-wonderful!"
* "Front valance hangs waaay too low."
* "Tires a limiting factor off the pavement."
* "The more I drive it, the more I kinda like it."