The Jeep Patriot is unmistakably from the Jeep garage, with its squared-off lines, seven-slot grille, and round headlights. The Patriot and its sibling, the Jeep Compass, are based on a car platform, but still deliver moderate off-road ability.
For 2011, Jeep Patriot has been significantly updated. The 2011 Patriot features fresh styling, upgraded suspension and steering, new interior materials, and a revised model lineup. The updates make the 2011 Jeep Patriot a noteworthy improvement over the 2010 model.
The four-door Patriot has plenty of room inside. There's adult-size headroom and legroom for rear-seat passengers. The 60/40-split rear seat folds flat, and a flat-folding front passenger seat is optional; with all the seats flat, you can slide an eight-foot kayak inside, for example.
Two four-cylinder engines are offered The larger of the two, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, makes 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, is EPA-rated at 23 mpg City, 28 mpg Highway with the manual transmission, and is standard equipment. It delivers good power; put the pedal down while cruising uphill at 75 miles per hour and it will accelerate. The smaller engine is 2.0 liters, makes 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque and is EPA-rated at 23/29 mpg with the manual transmission. The optional Continuously Variable Transaxle works well and we found the Auto Stick manual-shift feature useful.
We found the Patriot light and nimble on twisty roads and when maneuvering around town. Turn-in is sharp. The body is well isolated from the wheels: You can hear the tires hitting the expansion strips on the freeway, but you can't feel it. The independent suspension works well. During a long day of driving on patchy two-lanes, hard-packed dirt roads, sandy off-road trails, shallow rivers and deep gullies, it delivered steadiness and comfort in every abusive situation.
The Patriot is available with front-wheel drive or a choice of two all-wheel-drive systems, one that Jeep qualifies as Trail Rated. Those who like to go off the pavement (or tow more than 1000 pounds) should choose the Trail-Rated Freedom II AWD system. This uses gearing about 20-percent lower than the other models for steeper climbs and descents, but if you mistake it for a 4WD with a low-range transfer case like a Wrangler or Grand Cherokee you'll soon find yourself well and truly stuck.
Jeep Patriot Sport 2WD ($15,995); Sport AWD ($17,695); Latitude X 2WD ($22,195); Latitude X AWD ($23,895)
The Patriot has Jeep's favorite styling cues, namely round headlights and seven vertical openings for a grille, in a boxy shape with fairly upright windshield and hatch. Unlike jelly bean-shaped competitors, Patriot's box shape translates to a more spacious feeling inside because the roof doesn't curl in on you, and the vertical rear end allows more cargo inside and better sheds snow and ice in the winter.
For 2011, the front end styling has been cleaned up, a little neater and tidier than before. On Patriot Latitude X models much trim is done in bright surfaces but we find the body-color trim of the other models more appealing, and more befitting a Jeep. Tow hooks and roof-rail crossbars are optional, and we'd prefer the fog lamps were further apart.
Eschewing trends to make everything lower and more car-like, the 2011 Patriot rides a little bit higher than the 2010 version and it has half-an-inch more ground clearance. You won't find that a benefit until it's the half-inch that makes a difference but it doesn't hurt in Patriot's quest to make a cute-ute look more macho.
For 2011, the rear end gets an update to match the front and it's the biggest improvement. Although it's acceptable for trucks and genuine four-wheel drives to have lots of mechanical bits visible underneath it's less desirable in a compact crossover. To that end the rear bumper on the 2011 Patriot is deeper and almost totally hides the muffler that looked like a large industrial afterthought on earlier versions.
The Jeep Patriot is considered a compact, although it looks larger. With a lot of space between front and rear wheels and overall length less than 15 feet, the lack of bodywork beyond the wheels adds dimension and improves backcountry accessibility. It's only a couple of inches from identical height and width and the ground clearance matches many heavy-duty pickup trucks.
The standard wheels are 16-inch steel. Attractive 17-inch aluminum wheels are standard on Latitude and X models, and optional for the Sport. The Patriot looks much better with the aluminum wheels, or get your own when the tires wear out and use the original steel wheels with dedicated winter tires.
A high seating position gives the Jeep Patriot driver a commanding view of the trail. The Patriot Sport's front seats have manual adjustment and come with cloth upholstery; the Latitude has heated cloth seats which we prefer for four seasons. The Latitude X gets leather upholstery which previously seemed to overdress the Patriot; it fits better in the revised 2011 interior but we're still adapting to Jeep and leather in the same sentence.
Interior materials have been revamped for 2011. Soft-touch panels line the top of the doors, the pockets have cleaner edges, the three-spoke steering wheel shared with the Wrangler has cruise and audio controls on it and the console is improved.
The cabin layout is functional and roomy. The dark dashboard and instrument layout is simple, and the gauges are a tidy white on black with glowing orange needles. The climate and sound system controls are easy to understand and operate. Jeep says the available UConnect Tunes system can hold up to 6700 songs, which can be ripped from a CD or USB memory stick. We thought the doors sounded kind of tinny when they were closed.
The space between the seats includes a nook for change or cell phones, two fixed cupholders, and the parking brake lever. The center console is split for two levels of storage and is now padded.
The door pockets are on the small side, but they can hold six CD cases; much of the space is taken up by the 6x9-inch speakers. The door handles are easy to use. There's a nice tray over the good-sized glove compartment that's big enough for books.
The standard rear seat is a 60/40 split. It folds flat easily. Simply flip up the seat cushion and flop down the seatback. Reclining rear seats are optional, as is a flat-folding front passenger seat. With the rear seats folded flat, there's a spacious 54.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Fold down the passenger seat, and the Patriot has room for something eight feet long. With all the seats in use there's 23 cubic feet in the back, comparable with any compact SUV.
The hatch glass does not open separately but the hatch itself isn't that heavy. A removable carpeted floor lines the cargo area and hides a real full-size spare tire underneath on most models. That cargo deck is a relatively high 31 inches off the floor so the maximum cargo height opening is 27.4 inches, and taller people should watch their head beneath the open hatch.
The Jeep Patriot comes with a choice of engines. The larger 2.4-liter engine works best. It has good power, with 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, and is responsive where it needs to be. You can be going uphill at 75 miles per hour, and it will still accelerate. Our only criticism is that it sounds gruff under heavy throttle. Fuel economy for the 2.4-liter engine is an EPA 23/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.
The 2.0-liter engine offers nearly as much power and slightly better fuel economy. The 2.0-liter engine makes 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque and is EPA-rated at 23/29 mpg with the manual transmission. The smaller engine needs to be revved quite a bit to make power, however. So for the minimal price difference and the extra torque, we recommend the larger 2.4-liter engine.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is a joy to use, even with its long throws. The lever comes out of the center stack above the driver's right knee, an improvement over being on the floor near the right thigh. The 5-speed makes the Patriot feel like a Jeep. Properly used, it brings out the potential of the engine.
The suspension works well in all conditions. We gave it a good test over a 20-mile stretch of dirt road: Hard-packed, potholed, a layer of loose dust, lots of uphill and downhill curves. The Patriot was stable and confident. We drove fast, and used the brakes hard; the ABS frequently activated on the slippery dust with the all-season (not all-terrain) tires. We aimed for some of the potholes, including a 50-foot-long row of little ones. The independent suspension eagerly ate them up. Along came a washboard surface, and the Patriot stayed true. We hit an elevated cattle crossing at 30 miles per hour and tensed for an impact that never came. The Patriot did a great job in these conditions.
On paved country roads the Patriot feels light and nimble. The ride is steady over rough asphalt patches. The body feels well isolated and you can hit a bump with one wheel without your head being tossed.
We also drove a Patriot with the trail-rated Freedom Drive II off-road package. It adds one inch to the ground clearance for a total of 9.5 inches, allowing a 29-degree approach angle, a 34-degree departure angle, a 22-degree breakover angle, and enabling the Patriot to ford 19 inches of water, that last part thanks to more body sealing and higher drivetrain vents. (To put things in perspective a Wrangler Rubicon fords 30 inches and a Range Rover Sport almost 28.) Unfortunately, Freedom Drive II is not offered with the manual transmission.
Both AWD systems have a locking center differential that sends half the power to the rear wheels. They also have a brake lock differential that can shift the power from side to side on each axle, important in slippery terrain. The Freedom II package also gives the CVT a low range with a ratio of 19:1, good for crawling over obstacles.
We tested the Freedom Drive II combination on an off-road trail in the Arizona desert, led by a member of the local Jeep club. We crossed some ridges and ditches that raised one front or one rear wheel two feet in the air. It felt effortless, as the Patriot just slowly and securely picked its way over. We made a sharp U-turn that showed off the tight turning radius. In a sand pit, the off-road brake traction control dabbed the brakes of the slipping wheel or wheels, and pulled the Jeep through.
The Freedom II package includes Hill Descent Control that is automatically engaged when in Low range on steep downhill grades. It keeps the Jeep under 5 mph and under control, going down steep hills, even icy ones. You can take both feet off the pedals and it will do its thing. It's a great setup.
We hit a sandy gulley and floored it, racing up to 45 mph, engine screaming at nearly redline with our foot on the floor, and the CVT stayed in low range because it's usable up to about 45 mph. The main thing is, driving flat-out in a straight line over the washboard surface, with the wheels bouncing every which direction, the Patriot remained controllable, responsive and tracked true. We hit a couple of washboard curves, trusting in the stability control to keep the Jeep from bashing into the rocks, and it did. Below 35 mph, the ESP only uses the brakes to keep the Jeep on the line; above 35 it also cuts the throttle, if necessary.
The Jeep Patriot offers off-highway capability in a compact SUV with a capable four-cylinder engine that gets decent fuel economy. The suspension is stable and comfortable, and cargo capacity is useful because all the passenger seats can easily fold flat. The interior updates for 2011 have improved the cabin greatly.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Scottsdale, Arizona, with correspondents Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago and G.R. Whale from Los Angeles.