Jeep Patriot is the most affordable model from the off-road brand. It looks the part with its square lines, seven-slot grille, and round headlights. Patriot and Compass are based on a car platform, but still offer moderate off-road ability, and a suitably equipped Patriot earns Jeep’s rigorous Trail Rated label.
Patriot carries over largely unchanged for the 2015 model year. Garmin navigation is an option for the Latitude model, and a new dome light replaces the removable, rechargeable flashlight used previously. Launched as a 2007 model, along with the Compass, the Jeep Patriot was updated for 2009, 2011 and 2014.
A four-door compact SUV, Patriot offers a roomy cabin for front and back seats. The 60/40-split rear seat folds flat, and a flat-folding front passenger seat is optional, allowing room for an 8-foot ladder.
Patriot is available with front-wheel drive or a choice of two all-wheel-drive systems, including the CVT2L version 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 20-percent lower than the other models for steeper climbs and descents. But be warned: if you mistake it for a true 4WD with a low-range transfer case, like a traditional Wrangler or big Grand Cherokee, you may soon find yourself truly stuck.
Two four-cylinder engines are offered. We prefer the 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 23/29 mpg City/Highway with the 5-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive and the 6-speed automatic transmission drop the estimate to 21/27 mpg, but we think Jeeps should have all-wheel traction. The 2.4-liter delivers good power; put the pedal down even while cruising uphill at 75 miles per hour, and it will accelerate with reasonable haste.
The smaller 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is rated 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque with an EPA-estimated 23/30 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission and 2WD or 22/27 mpg City/Highway with the continuously variable transmission.
Incorporating a crawl ratio for heavier-duty off-roading, a special continuously variable transmission (CVT2L) is optional on all-wheel-drive Patriot models with the 2.4-liter engine and Freedom Drive II package. This combination gets an EPA-rated 20/23 mpg.
Patriot is light and nimble on twisty roads. When maneuvering around town, turn-in is sharp. The body is well isolated from the wheels: You can hear the tires hitting expansion strips on the freeway, but you can’t really feel the impact. The independent suspension works well. We found the Patriot delivered steadiness and comfort during a long day of driving on patchy two-lanes, hard-packed dirt roads, sandy off-road trails, shallow rivers, and deep gullies.
Patriot features traditional Jeep styling cues: round headlights, seven-slot grille, boxy body shape, upright windshield and upright rear hatch. Unlike its jelly bean-shaped competitors, Patriot’s boxy shape translates to a more spacious feeling inside because the roof doesn’t curl in. In addition, the vertical rear end allows more cargo inside and better sheds snow and ice in the winter. Overall appearance of the Patriot has changed little since model year 2011.
Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass share much of their engineering and dimensional differences amount to only a couple of inches. However, variations in design details are enough to give each of those models a distinct character. A bit of additional height on the Patriot is especially noticeable.
Patriot Latitude features more bright trim, but we think the body-color trim of the other models is more visually appealing and more befitting a Jeep.
Tow hooks and roof-rail crossbars are optional. We’d prefer the fog lamps to be farther apart, but that observation falls into the nitpicking category.
Although it’s acceptable for trucks and genuine four-wheel-drive vehicles to have lots of mechanical bits visible underneath, it’s less desirable in a compact crossover. To that end, the rear bumper on the Patriot is quite deep and almost totally hides the muffler, which looked like a large industrial afterthought on early models.
Patriot is considered to be a compact SUV, though 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 away from identical height and width, and the Patriot’s ground clearance matches that of many heavy-duty pickup trucks.
Patriot Sport wheels are 16-inch steel. Attractive 17-inch aluminum wheels are standard on Latitude and Limited models, and optional for the Sport. The Patriot looks much better with the aluminum wheels. In wintry climates it’s useful to have both, with winter tires on the 16-inch steel wheels, summer tires on the 17-inch aluminum wheels.
A high seating position gives the Jeep Patriot driver a commanding view of the trail, the street, or the highway. A surprisingly comfortable driver’s seat provides massive headroom, good thigh support, but so-so back support.
Simple climate controls continue the uncomplicated approach taken in the Patriot’s interior. A small but high-mounted information screen sits on the instrument panel, ahead of the driver. The Patriot’s hand brake is strictly mechanical and practical, in stark contrast to the electronic brakes that have appeared on so many models.
Cubby storage consists of a nice tray over the good-sized glove compartment, which is big enough for books. The space between the front seats includes a nook for change or cell phones, plus two fixed cupholders. The center console is split for two levels of storage and is padded. Door pockets are on the small side, but they can hold six CD cases; much of the space is taken up by the 6×9-inch speakers.
The rear seat is split 60/40 and folds flat easily. Simply flip up the seat cushion and flop down the seatback. Reclining rear seats are optional. Upper-level models get a flat-folding front passenger seat. With the rear seats folded flat, there’s a spacious 53.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Fold down the passenger seat, and the Patriot has room for an object eight feet long. With all seats in use, there’s 23 cubic feet in the back, comparable to the space in any compact SUV. There’s a nice cargo cover, though using it would significantly limit the storage space below.
The hatch glass does not open separately, but the hatch isn’t heavy. Removable carpeting lines the cargo-area floor and hides a real full-size spare tire underneath, on most models. That cargo deck is a relatively high 30.7 inches off the ground. The maximum cargo height opening is 27.4 inches. Taller people should watch their heads when beneath the open hatch.
With its uncomplicated controls, the Jeep Patriot drives and feels like a car from 20 years ago, but in a good way. That means modern ride comfort, capable handling, useful performance, and a satisfying overall driving experience. When appropriately equipped, the Patriot can also handle an impressive number of off-road duties, despite lack of a two-speed transfer case.
We think 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. Our only criticism is that it sounds gruff under heavy throttle. Fuel economy for the 2.4-liter engine is an EPA-estimated 23/29 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission and front-wheel drive.
The 2.0-liter engine offers a bit less 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 23/30 mpg with the manual transmission and two-wheel drive. The smaller engine needs to be revved quite a bit to make power, however.
The 6-speed automatic transmission is well-behaved and delivers no unpleasant surprises. Equipped with a shift gate, it permits gear changes by feel, unlike some that require you to look down or ahead at the instrument panel to see which gear you’ve selected.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is a joy to use, despite long throws. The lever comes out of the center stack above the driver’s right knee, which is an improvement over being on the floor near the right thigh. The 5-speed makes the Patriot feel truly like a Jeep. Properly used, it brings out the potential of the engine.
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.
The suspension works well in all conditions. We drove it over a 20-mile stretch of dirt road: hard-packed, potholed, a layer of loose dust, with lots of uphill and downhill curves. The Patriot was stable and confident.
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.
We used the brakes hard on this dirt road; the ABS frequently activated on the slippery dust with the all-season tires.
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 9.1 inches, allowing a 29-degree approach angle, a nearly 34-degree departure angle, a 23.7-degree breakover angle, and enabling the Patriot to ford 19 inches of water. Unfortunately, Freedom Drive II is not offered with the manual transmission.
Both all-wheel-drive 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, which is 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 a Freedom Drive II combination on an off-road trail in the Arizona desert, crossing some ridges and ditches that raised one wheel two feet in the air. It felt effortless, as the Patriot slowly and securely picked its way over. A sharp U-turn 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 for us, and pulled the Jeep through.
The Freedom Drive II package includes Hill Descent Control that automatically engages when in Low range on steep downhill grades. It keeps the Jeep under 5 mph and under control when going down steep hills, even icy ones. You can take both feet off the pedals and let it do its thing.
We hit a sandy gulley and floored it, racing up to 45 mph, engine screaming, and the CVT stayed in low range. 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 electronic stability control only uses the brakes to keep the Jeep on the line; above 35 it also cuts the throttle, if necessary.
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 (except in the Sport edition) all the passenger seats can easily fold flat. Add the Patriot’s prowess in ordinary driving, coupled with its distinct Jeep character, and it’s an SUV that’s at home in both rough and civilized environments.
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. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.