2009 Jeep Patriot test drives: now includes “Five Months in a Patriot”
The Jeep Patriot was left off most customers' shopping lists in 2008, though it combined easy parking and driving, a convenient form, and a decent ride with the usual Jeep mobility. A marketing gap, poorly decorated interior, poorly-tuned CVT, and loud engine meant that most customers had never heard of the Patriot in the first place; or heard of it only via bad reviews; or got to the dealer only to sit in a cheap-feeling body.
It didn’t help that many Jeep loyalists claimed the Patriot was an insult, though it can apparently out-trail the Jeep Cherokee. For that, you have to thank electronic wizardry, attention to clearance, and some outstanding engineers whom Chrysler has managed to hold onto.
The new owners of Chrysler immediately got to work on the Patriot, which has failed to live up to expectations; a vehicle like this, with the Jeep brand behind it, really should be selling at double the current volume. They added sound insulation, restyled the interior as much as they could given the time and money they had, retuned the CVT, and tossed the Patriot back out into the marketplace, presumably with crossed fingers. The result is a much more attractive package which still has some inherent flaws, but also many advantages.
The Patriot is styled like the old Cherokee, and is almost exactly the same size (with a lower roof but equally good headroom); but the Patriot is quieter, safer, and gets better gas mileage, at the cost of torque and the approach angle. As for long-term durability and abusability, the jury is still out, but other testers have beaten their Patriots on rough trails without finding obvious weak spots.
Inside, the Patriot is no longer cheap-looking, at least up front. Silver and chrome surfaces break up the plastic surfaces even on the base (Sport) models; the 4WD button and shifter tops are bright chrome. The Limited’s gray interior has dark uppers and light lowers, with the cloth seats boasting a patterned inner surface and solid outer surface that matches the lighter gray of the doors well, and optional, classy two-toned leather seats.
Gauges are clear and readable, with a big tachometer (that only goes up to the engine limit, rather than going 2,000 rpm beyond) and a reasonable 120 mph speedometer with an odometer that doubled as an outside thermometer.
Controls are where you'd expect them, and are easy to use; the climate controls are convenient and easy to figure out (though without the upscale feel of the new Dodge controls), with knobs for fan, temperature, and vent selection, and buttons for a/c, recirculation, and rear defroster.
For 2009, everything is in the same place, but the original 2008 “chunky” styling has been deleted with a more conventional rounded touch, except on the doors. Controls generally have a high quality feel, as do doors and the gate.
The optional trip computer / compass / thermometer is nicely placed underneath the speedometer; easy to figure out, it's harder to use than it has to be because the single-button control is right on the gauge cluster, so the driver has to bend around the steering wheel (or dangerously go through it) to reach it. The universal garage door opener (on vehicles that have it) is integrated into the roof, by the map lights. Most other controls are fairly conventional, with door-mounted locks and window and mirror controls (mirrors also fold in, as one would expect on a Jeep). Cruise control is handled by a Toyota-style stalk. Gear-shifting is done via a conventional automatic-style gearshift, which lacks a low gear selection (with the Freedom Drive II, it’s replaced with a rock-crawling gear).
The stereo on our first test car was conventional and easy to use; the sound was good and we recommend against getting the optional Boston Acoustics speaker package with its overactive subwoofer.
A cellphone / iPod holder in the center console flipped out when needed, but the wire going into the stereo could be a bit dangerous unless carefully routed or attached to the side of the console. All Patriots have an auxiliary jack using a standard stereo cable to connect to iPods, tape recorders, Mac Minis, or any other audio devices you might have; the controls won't be integrated with the stereo itself, but it's a step up from a cassette or FM adapter.
The interior has an airy feel, thanks to big, well-placed windows; the windshield is far enough from the driver to make the Patriot seem roomier than it is. The Patriot is compact in exterior size, but not having to jam a six cylinder engine under the hood allows for more cargo and passenger space; the squarish shape also helps. Curves are great for looks, but they don't do much for interior space, which is why the PT Cruiser is so sensible and the New Beetle isn't. The Patriot also feels solid, but it's heavy in reality as well, so that's not as much of an achievement.
There's decent room in the back, but the rear seats were uncomfortable, with children and adults both critical of them; between unusual firmness and unusual contours, and a vague feeling that the car was out of control (similar to the back seat of the prior RAV4), the back seat was not the happiest place to be, at least while the Jeep was moving. Rear legroom is sufficient but not generous; the Patriot sacrificed some back-seat room for the cargo bay.
Bins include the usual covered center console, small map pockets in the doors, and an open bin on top of the glove compartment. Cupholders are the usual large openings with rubbery bubbles to hold larger items in place.
The engine is unfortunate; the old 2.4 liter used in the PT Cruiser and minivans would have been more appropriate, given its torque range. The new World Engine sounds buzzy when revved, like a cross between a leafblower and a sewing machine; and it needs to be revved high for strong acceleration, though in normal around-town driving, it's quiet enough. The engine is buzzword compliant, with dual variable valve timing (both intake and exhaust valves are varied depending on engine speeds) and other technologies, but that doesn't compensate for the lack of low-end power or the noise.
Chrysler has made numerous improvements to the CVT (though the stick-shift still feels better). The CVT-equipped Patriot no longer feels sluggish, and is peppy around town. Highway-ramp sprints are not thrilling, but they are better than before and more than adequate. The transmission is generally quicker and more responsive; one could mistake it for an automatic until pushing the throttle down. That’s when the real advantage of the CVT comes into play.
The CVT makes the most of the engine under full acceleration. The driver just has to push the pedal to the metal, and the engine will rev to its redline - and stay there as the transmission changes ratios and the Jeep speeds up. With a regular transmission, the engine can’t be kept at its peak horsepower or torque because it changes speed as the vehicle changes speed; with the CVT, the vehicle speed can change without changing the engine speed. This helps to make up for the World Engine. It also helps gas mileage somewhat by keeping the engine at a constant speed while gearing changes up and down, when possible.
When coasting, the CVT kept the engine at over 1,500 rpm, seeming to drag more than conventional automatics, which probably accounted for much of the gas-mileage deficiency. The 2009 changes fixed our concerns with slow launches and poor 0-30 times. Still, we preferred the manual transmission, and not just because of its considerable gas-mileage benefits. We found that we could quicken passing by dropping two gears (yes, two), and that the World Engine needed to be pushed over 4,000 rpm to make good power.
Gas mileage was no great shakes in our test car, which was rated at 20 mpg city, 22 highway — better than a Wrangler (15/19 with automatic), but not what some drivers might expect. To be fair, without the advanced four wheel drive system, which presumably limits gear ratios and adds weight, the 4x4 Patriot shoots up to 21 city, 24 highway. Shift your own gears alters the equation to an enviable 23 city, 28 highway (again with four wheel drive, but not the off-road-oriented low gear and other features).
The 4x4 system is electronically activated; it’s easier to quickly switch in and out of four wheel drive, with the change taking place instantly. Staying locked in four wheel drive mode on dry pavement causes tire scrubbing, so a light goes on when the system is engaged.
The Freedom Drive II on our test car provided an extra-low gear for rock crawling, automatically shutting off the electronic stability-control program and adding hill-descent control, an unusual feature in this price class.
Cornering is well within the needs of most drivers. During emergency cornering, the Patriot remained stable; and the anti-tip and stability control systems can pull people out of bad situations (though the ordinary cornering capabilities are usually more than enough). The ride is good for a 4x4, acceptable for a small, inexpensive crossover; nasty bumps are filtered out, but the ride errs on the side of firmness, one price you pay for a cheap off-road-capable car. On the other hand, if you’ve driven a Rubicon model or a Hummer H3, you may find that the Patriot is, relatively speaking, a luxury car.
Cargo space is moderately good, with a heavy plastic base that can be lifted away covering the full-size spare; there's a bit of space down there for jumper cables or whatever other little things you may want to carry. Optional nets keep groceries from flying around, and the split rear seats fold forward as one would expect. The rear seats include the LATCH car-seat system (required by law) but like other new Chrysler vehicles, the top belt has to be routed around the headrest somehow.
Crash testing showed that the little Patriot was designed with safety in mind: it achieved five stars on side crash tests, five stars for the passenger and four for the driver in frontal tests, and four stars for risk of rollover. 66% of the Patriot came from the United States and Canada, 19% from Mexico; it was assembled in Belvidere, Illinois, with an American engine and Mexican transmission (designed by Nissan’s JATCO).
Patriot is fairly inexpensive for the base model, with stability control, side airbags, stick-shift, CD player, four speakers, traction control, antilock brakes, and anti-roll system. The 2.0 liter engine is also available and it boosts gas mileage a bit. Four wheel drive is around $2,000 more; off-road packages include the automatic (CVT) transmission, but those who just want snow traversal can get the stick shift with 4x4.
Our test vehicle, a Sport 4x4, listed for $19,120 with just standard features. Those standard features are pretty impressive: side curtain airbags in front and back, stability control with roll prevention, four-wheel antilock brakes and brake assist, antitheft system, rear defogger, wiper, and washer, tire pressure monitor, air conditioning, folding rear seats, sliding front armrest, CD player, tilt wheel, four wheel drive, and trip odometer with outdoor temperature display. That’s a pretty full feature complement.
The 2009 Jeep Patriot we used for our test drive and car review, though, ran to a full $24,015 before (substantial) rebates. The main reason for that was the 28E package, which added a height-adjustable driver's seat, floor mats, stain-repellant cloth on the seats, deep-tint glass, power fold-away mirrors, power windows and locks, remote entry, cruise control, light package, reclining and folding rear seats, and 115-volt AC power outlet — for a total of $2,175.
The Freedom Drive II group added $855, and included a brake lock differential, hill descent control, big aluminum wheels, full-sized spare tire, skid plates, tow hooks, engine oil cooler, fog lamps, air filter, and wiring harness for towing. That package, though, requires the $1,050 continuously variable transmission with off-road crawl ratio. Finally, our test car had expensive paint ($225) and a tire and wheel group ($590). If it didn’t require the CVT and pound the gas mileage, we’d probably recommend the Freedom Drive II for everyone, since you can't go wrong with extra oil cooling, skid plates, and such.
Those who want a nice, convenient all-wheel-drive car for easy snow days, and who like the Jeep exterior styling, should find the Patriot to be a well balanced package. It provides many functional features at a lower price than competitors, has good ground clearance and a well designed 4x4 system, sheet metal that makes it look like a “real” Jeep, optional off-road systems that make it travel like a “real” Jeep, and a price tag that’s more in line with a high-end economy car or low-end family sedan. The hatch has good storage, at the expense of rear-seat legroom; headroom is good; the airy feel is pleasant; and gas mileage is reasonable with the stick-shift or base CVT. The down-sides are the noisy engine (though wind noise is fairly light), the need to put your foot into it for passing power, the rear seat feel (for some people), and gas mileage with the Freedom Drive II. It’s certainly cheaper, more convenient, and more efficient than most vehicles that were designed to be SUVs.
Unfortunately, the curse of Daimler will rest on the Patriot for a while, since reviews tend not to be updated frequently, and perceptions, once made, are hard to un-make. That does mean that buyers interested in the Patriot might be able to get a better deal.
We don’t know what the future holds for the Patriot, but we suspect Chrysler is busily working on fixing up the ol’ World Engine or replacing it entirely. In the meantime, there are good deals to be had on this nicely balanced, underrated little crossover.