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Jeep Patriot offroad testing

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Jeep Patriot offroad testing

by Terry L. Smith III
photos by Susan Rand

We owned and tested a 2008 Patriot 2.0L Sport, a front-wheel-drive model with the CVT transmission. We did what I, being from rural Georgia, would call easy driving. Some dirt, some mud, some rocks.

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Our first expedition: we left San Diego and drove east. We were on our way to Joshua Tree National Park, one of my favorite places. We stopped in Yucca Valley for food, gas, and an oil change. Once we arrived at the Park, we took to the trails and had fun in the sandy mud puddles, as you'll see in the photos. When we went down the lower trails, the mud almost claimed us. Luckily, though, we had enough momentum to make it through.

The second trip we took was to Ocotillo Wells SVRA. Because of the unfamiliarity, I managed to wander to a sandy trail that led off Ocotillo Wells and into the Anza-Borrego State Park. We found ourselves on a trail up a fairly steep, sandy little hill, that it climbed with just one spot where our tire was spinning. Once past that, up and over and back to the blacktop near towards the ranger station for a map. Then it was back to Ocotillo.

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We had fun, but the washboards were cramping my patience, and my back. This was probably a combination of the road, the street-tuned suspension, and short wheelbase. Again, almost got stuck a couple of times, trying things we probably shouldn't have, like climbing a sandy dune, luckily it was on a hill and was able to back out. Being front wheel drive, our Patriot lacked the traction to make it up loose surface hills. We couldn't help but wonder if we'd had the 4x4 with a 2.4, that we probably would have made it.

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There was a spot or two where my passenger could've sworn we caught air coming down off of a dune or an unseen dip in the washboards. Most likely it just bottomed out the suspension. The little car is tougher than it looks.

After that we went through a trail called "Cross-over trail." It was fun, but it wasn't clearly marked, and we got off-trail a few times, somehow finding ourselves on the motorcycle-sections. We managed to make it through some tight turns and over sharp hills through the washouts. Lost our way trying to find Tectonic Gourge.

Overall, I was satisfied with the performance of the car, considering almost no damage to the car after practically bouncing it off its nose twice, and that it was still stock, down to the tires.

(suzq wrote: "We put the Patriot through hell. Seriously, it should not have survived. We didn't set out to break it - but the few "bumps" that were unseen until it was too late were hit at too high of a speed... twice, and the Jeep bounced off its front and rear bumper twice. The only damage was that we broke the front skid plate on the second set of "bumps." You have no idea how much crap we and the Jeep took.. and the little bugger just kept rolling; the front skidplate was busted off on one side. We hit a rock at the bottom of a set of an unexpected rolling bumps. ... We were on stock tires through all three trips, and replaced them shortly after the last trip.")

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Photography notes: the mud-slinging was at Joshua Tree, and the dusty trail was at Ocotillo, where we decided to stop for a few minutes' rest around halfway through Crossover Trail.

Unfortunately we have no action-photos of what was the most trying test of the car. Our final trip was south, to the Otay Truck trail. It was a bit rougher than it was in my last trip in our XJ Cherokee. It's a fairly tame trail, well-maintained gravel roads, but there are spurs off it that aren't so tame. We took the Patriot on a couple of these short spur trails.

My 2008 Patriot 2.0L 4x2 performed well both on and off the road. I couldn't go sloshing through deep snow, or climbing mountains, or water fording, but the Patriot took me where I wanted to go and back, and it did it without much effort. I guess you really could call it a Jeep after-all, on that stand-point.

As far as the transmission goes, it's just something to get used to. I used both the 'automatic' CVT and the AutoStick through various parts of our off-road journeys, usually downshifting to get a little more torque.

I would probably opt for the 4x4 with the Freedom Drive II, if I were to own a Patriot again. I bought it with the intention that it would be a commuter, but it exceeded that capacity further than either of us expected when off-road.

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