2011-13 Jeep Patriot review: 70th Anniversary Latitude
The Jeep Patriot looks like the late Jeep Cherokee, but has a four-cylinder engine, front wheel drive, and a cute-ute chassis; outfitted with four wheel drive, the Patriot is off-road-capable, yet inexpensive and comfortable. It feels light, tight, and maneuverable, but it also has a quality feel, with solid, satisfying thunks as the doors close.
The Patriot is not quite a Cherokee off-road (heresy!), but it reportedly manages to put in a respectable showing, thanks to electronic wizardry and ground clearance, with a "crawl" ratio on the 4x4 off-road package. For the average person who only needs good snow and rain traction, a standard 4x4, without crawl ratio or skid plates, is available; it has better gas mileage than the off-road package and can be used with the five-speed manual transmission, which we heartily recommend (since it overcomes the most common criticisms of the Patriot). There's also a front wheel drive version, which is considerably cheaper than the 4x4 and gets better mileage; even this one seems to do well on off-road trails. (Stories: 2008 Patriot FWD off-road • 2013 Compass and Patriot off-road.)
Inside, the Patriot is far better looking than it was at launch. Silver and chrome surfaces break up the plastic surfaces even on the base (Sport) models; the 4WD button and shifter tops are bright chrome, and in our 2011 Latitude, the rounded black rings around the gauges were chromed for an instant uplift. Moving to the new corporate steering wheel, which combines dull silver and a chrome ring, along with audio controls on the back and other controls on the front, also helped to elevate the interior. The 70th Anniversary package also included badges on the fenders and front seatbacks.
Our test Latitude's black interior had perforated leather seats with contrasting beige stitching and trim (the contrasting stitching was also used on the steering wheel wrap, and matched the accents on the floor mats); the seats were more giving than in the past but could still be more supportive and better cushioned, especially in back (the back seats did recline, though, an unusual feature). Storage compartments include map pockets on all four doors, the glove compartment and an padded, open storage bin above it, a small dual-level center console with padded bottoms, and a small padded area under the center stack. Cupholders are the usual large openings but, oddly, the 2011 revision removed the rubbery bubbles that held items in place.
The interior has an airy feel, thanks to big, well-placed windows; the windshield, side windows, and roof are far enough from driver or passengers, front or back, to make the Patriot seem roomier than it is. The Patriot is compact in exterior size, but not having to jam a big cylinder engine under the hood allows for more cargo and passenger space; the car is "human sized," convenient to enter and exit, without any need to climb up or squeeze down.
Visibility is quite good; the large sun visors travel along their mounts for a couple of inches, and clear (barely) the center roof bulge. The DRLs are overly bright, almost indistinguishable from the full-on headlights; at night, though, just about everything that could be backlit was illuminated, including the steering wheel buttons.
Gauges are clear and readable, with a tachometer that goes up to the engine limit and no further (as it should), and a reasonable 120 mph speedometer. The trip computer (temperature/compass on lower models) is integrated into the speedometer, while the gear indicator and odometer are in the tachometer. Controls have a high quality feel, as do doors and the gate.
The climate controls are particularly well designed, with knobs for fan, temperature (either actual degrees, where equipped, or simple cold to hot), and vent selection, and buttons for a/c, recirculation, and rear defroster. Heated seats (with two levels) are controlled from buttons at the bottom of the center stack, along with stability control and the hazard flashers. Airflow came through large, unobstructed circular vents, very easy to move around to any direction or to close entirely, and more attractive than traditional square ones.
The optional trip computer / compass / thermometer is nicely placed underneath the speedometer; it's easier to use than it was in 2009 and 2010 thanks to movement of the control from the speedometer to the steering wheel. The optional garage door opener is integrated into the roof, by the map lights. Cruise control is now handled by steering wheel buttons instead of the Toyota-style stalk apparently relegated to Rams. Shifting is done via a conventional automatic-style gearshift; with the Freedom Drive II, Low is replaced with a rock-crawling gear when 4x4 is engaged, and AutoStick is available (it lets you manually "shift" the continuously automatic transmission as though it had discrete gears).
Stereo and navigation system
The stereo on our 2011 test car was conventional and easy to use, with reasonably good sound and the ability to dial down the bass if needed (except for certain sounds which would be artificially and oddly amplified, as though we were overhearing another car with overactive subwoofers), along with a built in 30 gigabyte hard drive that lets you record from DVDs or from USB thumb drives with MP3 files. This stereo takes audio commands if you press the Audio button (top left). You can control an iPod with this stereo if you get the optional remote USB port — the built in port will only let you transfer files from thumb drives.
The navigation system now uses Garmin software, and it's like moving from a tape-drive computer to a hard-drive rig (if you remember back that far). Suddenly, instead of having to wait seconds between each keypress, the system responds instantly to typing of addresses or other spots; screens pop up far more rapidly than with any system we've used before; and routes are calculated with surprising speed. The graphics are better — less cluttered, more user friendly — and everything moves faster. This is a major improvement.
That's not even including the various gee-whiz feature, like showing your current speed (in red, if you're speeding), showing the next intersection (on highways, the exit number and description) in big print, being able to choose the vehicle displayed on-screen, and a variety of display styles. The default is overly cartoonish on big highway clusters, but is great for around town; no longer does the driver have to squint and stare to figure out what to do. Key data is big and easy to see or read.
Jeep Patriot powertrain
The World Engine is rough when idling and buzzy when revved with the CVT, 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 same engine in the Chrysler 200 sounds and feels far better, presumably due to higher levels of insulation — and to the fact that, with the CVT, the noise is more constant, rather than rising and falling as it does with a standard transmission.
The CVT-equipped Patriot is peppy around town, though part of that comes from an overly aggressive tip-in (programming of how much the engine reacts to the first movement of the pedal) which makes it harder to drive smoothly in traffic. Highway-ramp sprints are not thrilling, but they are more than adequate; part of the problem is that we've been conditioned to the sudden transitions you get with an automatic, the drop-down-and-regain-power pauses, and the CVT doesn't have those, it gets the engine near maximum revs and stays there. Interestingly enough, the engine still seems to surge a bit while at full acceleration, and the engine doesn't go to redline, but close to it, and wiggles slightly up and down in that over-6,000 range.
The transmission is generally responsive; one could mistake it for an automatic most of the time, especially since it takes a few moments to kick down when more power is needed. 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. It also helps gas mileage by keeping the engine at a constant speed while gearing changes up and down, when possible, though you'd never know it from the city mileage with the offroad package.
When coasting, the CVT dragged more than conventional automatics; it also kept the engine running faster than a typical conventional automatic.
Gas mileage can be quite good, especially if you get the manual transmission with front wheel drive — 23 city, 29 highway, which isn't at all bad for an SUV or even a CUV (the CVT FWD is 23/27 with the 2.0, 21/27 with the 2.4). Going to an automatic 4x4 drops mileage to 21 city, 26 highway. Our car, with the offroad package, was rated by the EPA at 20 city, 23 highway. In our experience, city mileage never got up to 20; we'd probably have done better with the manual 4x4, which was rated at 22/28. Still, traditional 4x4s do even worse; the Jeep Liberty, for example, is rated at 15 city, 21 highway.
All in all, the Patriot's quite a mixed bag when it comes to gas mileage — from a highly optimistic 20/23 rating (we never even got to 18) to a much more attractive 23/29 for front wheel drive, 22/28 for 4x4, with stick. The 2.4's city mileage is also poor on the Chrysler 200, whose highway mileage is very good; we're not sure what's going on there.
Overall, we really endorse the five-speed. Don't know how to use a manual transmission? It's worth learning. The Patriot's clutch is smooth enough for a beginner.
Suspension and more
The original Patriot had decent enough cornering and felt stable during emergency maneuvers; and the anti-tip and stability control systems can pull people out of bad situations. At some point Chrysler appears to have played with the suspension, and our 2011 Jeep Patriot Latitude was a fun-to-drive, sporty little car that liked whipping around turns faster than a CUV should be able to. Getting the standard stability control to engage on a dry road is very hard indeed.
Yet, the ride was good, especially for a 4x4; nasty bumps are filtered out, and the ride is less firm than it was before, more yielding, but still letting you feel the road. Even hefty potholes were taken in stride, without bouncing, jouncing, noise, or shocks. The Patriot smoothed out rough roads admirably, but still felt nimble. If only we could have that body and suspension with a Pentastar V6...
Cargo space is decent, 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 (using straps in the passenger compartment which also control how much they recline).
The electronic 4x4 system makes it easy to quickly switch in and out of four wheel drive. Staying locked in four wheel drive mode on dry pavement causes tire scrubbing, so a light goes on when the system is engaged; the system is activated by an odd pull-switch at the base of the emergency brake, out of the way, unlike the low gear, which is too easy to reach by accident. In 4x4 mode low gear automatically closes down the stability control and adds hill descent control.
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 of international design and a Mexican transmission of Japanese design.
Pricing and options
The base Jeep Patriot Sport costs $16,995; at the time we looked, there was a $1,000 rebate. That gets you the standard 2.0 liter engine, five-speed manual transmission, stability control, curtain airbags, active head restraints, 4-wheel ABS discs, and CD with auxiliary jack. Going to a 4x4 boosts the price to $17,695, and includes the 2.4 liter engine — still with a smooth-shifting five speed manual transmission, which really is the way to go on this car. The base model is inexpensive, but definitely a stripper.
The Patriot Latitude 4x4, the model we tested, starts at $21,445. It adds air conditioning, power windows, power heated folding mirrors, remote entry, 17 inch aluminum wheels, heated front seats, trip odometer, dash-based thermometer, height-assist driver seat (manual height, power slide), fold-flat front passenger seat, and 60/40 split reclining bench.
We were unable to get a price sticker for our car, but we did research the options it came with. The simple ones were the $640 hard-drive stereo (Media Center 430), $195 satellite radio, and $375 UConnect Voice Command ($375). The CVT added $1,050 — and we'd have paid to do without it.
The Freedom Drive II Off-Road Group cost $500, practically a bargain; but it required the CVT. It included the special CVT with low gear and offroad mode, 140 amp alternator, front and rear floor mats, brake-lock differential, skid plates, hill descent control, tow hooks, Trail Rated badges, engine oil cooler, towing harness, full sized spare, and offroad tires.
The Security and Convenience Group added adjustable roof-rail crossbars, auto-dimming rear view mirror, alarm, soft tonneau cover (moveable so the back seats can be reclined more), seat-mounted front airbags, tire pressure monitor, garage door opener, and extensive trip computer- for $750.
Speed sensitive power locks worked their in somewhere as did a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 110V AC outlet, fog lamps, cruise, air filter, body-color grill, roll mitigation, illuminated cup holders, rear seat heat ducts, tilt wheel, and variable intermittent wipers. Destination added $750 for a total of $25,510 — a bit steep, even with the $1,000 rebate bringing it down to $24,510. If you"re comparing it to the Liberty, it was still a deal — Jeep Liberty Sport 4x4 starts at $24,420 + $795 destination, albeit with more rebates, resulting in a final price of $21,660. Given the Liberty rebates, Patriot wasn't quite so well positioned, but if gas prices go up...
Those who want a nice, convenient all-wheel-drive car for snow days, and who like the Jeep exterior styling, should find the Patriot to be a well balanced package, especially if they stick with the regular 4x4. It has a low price, good ground clearance, a well designed 4x4 system, sheet metal that makes it look like a traditional Jeep, and optional off-road systems that let it hit trails like a traditional Jeep (at the cost of fuel). Headroom is good, the airy feel is pleasant, and gas mileage is good by SUV standards. The down-sides are the noisy engine (though wind noise is light), the seats, and gas mileage with the Freedom Drive II. It's cheaper, more convenient, and more efficient than most SUVs.
The Patriot is due to replaced within a year or two, by a new vehicle based on modified Fiat dimensions and suspension architectures, using a new version of the same engine hooked up to a traditional automatic. In the meantime, there are good deals to be had on this nicely balanced, underrated little crossover.