Thumbs Up: It’s a compact Jeep SUV at a very attractive price.
Thumbs Down: Base models may be too stripped for some buyers.
Buy This Car If: You want a solid value in a compact SUV.
Press fleet cars usually come loaded with nearly every option in a manufacturer’s catalog, including rain sensing wipers, nav systems, high end stereos and leather upholstery. They typically have the largest wheels offered by a manufacturer, and usually the biggest engine as well. Almost all are equipped with automatic transmissions, since that’s what the public seems to prefer these days. The problem with all that content is price: even modestly priced cars and SUVs can get stratospherically expensive when optioned out, and I don’t know too many families with more disposable income today than they had five years ago. Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a “stripper” version of the 2011 Jeep Patriot Sport as a press fleet vehicle. Yes, it did come with the bigger engine and Sirius satellite radio, but that was about it for the options. The windows were the old-fashioned crank-down type, and the door locks were manual. The transmission required me to shift gears for myself, and the 16” wheels were made of steel, not aluminum. The Patriot is available in AWD and 4wd, but my tester was FWD, which is all you ever need in states like Florida. The best part was the price: even if I exclude current manufacturer’s incentives, the Patriot stickered at less than $19,000. I can’t remember the last time I tested a vehicle with a sticker price under $25k, so the Patriot really was a breath of fresh air.
At that kind of money, you’d expect a bland econobox with the driving dynamics of a high mileage Yugo, but you’d be wrong. The Patriot was not only comfortable, but it was even relatively entertaining to drive. The combination of 2.4 liter engine and five speed manual transmission never left me thinking that the Patriot was underpowered, and the little SUV even cornered well for its relatively high center of gravity. Despite its lack of AWD, I would have been completely comfortable driving the truck through snow or sand, and even fire roads would have been well within the Patriot’s capabilities. In fact, the Patriot may be the most under-appreciated vehicle in Jeep’s lineup. Sure, it uses unibody construction (but so does the Jeep Grand Cherokee) and doesn’t come in a hardcore off-road version, but you can still equip the Patriot with Jeep’s Freedom-Drive II off-road package which includes a 4wd off-road mode, skid plates, brake activated differential lock, Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, tow hooks and other essential bits. A Jeep Wrangler or Liberty will definitely give you more off-road capability, but at a significantly higher price; the Patriot will still get you places other compact SUVs fear to tread, without breaking the bank. It’s even possible to configure one to “Trail Rated” status.
The Patriot’s exterior styling is unmistakably Jeep, and it borrows heavily from both the previous generation Liberty and the long-discontinued Cherokee, last sold in 2001. The styling makes the Patriot stand out in the Jeep lineup, since it’s not just a scaled down version of the current Liberty or the current Grand Cherokee. In fact, if you’re a fan of the classic Jeep designs of old, chances are that you’ll find the Patriot’s squared lines and classic grille more to your liking than most of Jeeps recent redesigns. Although the Patriot was only launched in 2007, Jeep chose to freshen up the exterior styling a bit for the 2011 model year. These exterior changes are minor and most noticeable in the front grille, which receives shortened slats this year, and in the matte black body side cladding, meant to give the Patriot a more rugged appearance.
Inside, the cabin manages to blend comfort and utility rather well. Front seats are cloth, but feature contrasting light and dark gray fabric. As you’d expect in an entry-level vehicle, adjustment is done manually and the seats don’t include things like heaters or adjustable lumbar support. The seats are a bit on the soft side for my tastes, but they’d still be comfortable enough for multi-hour trips. Unlike many new cars, the headrests in the Jeep Patriot don’t thrust your head forwards in the name of safety, so the front seats get bonus points for having comfortable, well designed headrests.
Rear seat passengers get the same two-toned cloth seats as the front seat passengers, along with a surprising amount of legroom and headroom. Tall friends will not be disappointed by your decision to buy a Patriot, and climbing into or out of the back seat presents little challenge. The rear seats fold in a conventional 60/40 split to form a flat loading surface, and will accommodate two adults or two adults and a child for short trips. If you need maximum cargo capacity, the front seats also fold flat, and Jeep tells us that the Patriot will carry eight foot 2 x 4s without drama if you fold down the passenger seat.
I’m a fan of “less is more”, so I loved the Patriot’s dash layout and instrumentation. There’s a lot of hard plastic used in the dash, but Jeep pulls it off with an elegant blend of shapes and textures, interspersed with just enough chrome trim to keep things interesting. I would have liked a driver information display to give me information on fuel economy and range, but I can overlook that given the Patriot’s sticker price. Controls for audio and HVAC are right where you expect them to be, and even my entry-level model came with Bluetooth phone integration. Interior storage abounds, so you don’t have to worry about taking your stuff on the road (or on the trail) with you.
Under the hood, my Patriot Sport came with the optional 2.4 liter engine, good for 172 horsepower and 165 ft lb of torque. Mated to a superb five speed manual transmission, the engine gave just the right amount of power for the Patriot’s size and intended mission. It’s not quick, with the run from zero to sixty taking nearly ten seconds, but that’s not the primary mission of the Patriot. The base engine is a 2.0 liter four, good for just 158 horsepower and 141 ft lb of torque; since both city and combined fuel economy are identical for both engines, there really is no reason not to opt for the larger engine if it’s in your budget. The EPA says you can expect combined fuel economy of 24 MPG and I saw an actual 23.7 MPG in a mix of city and highway driving.
On the road, the Patriot was a lot more enjoyable behind the wheel than I expected it to be. Acceleration was reasonable, and the shift throws were precise. Gears were spaced well, and you could easily opt to start in second gear if your traction were marginalized (like in snow or sand). Despite having a relatively high center of gravity, the Patriot had surprisingly little body roll in corners, and the steering was nicely weighted for suburban driving. Other Patriot models are available with AWD (Jeep’s Freedom Drive I) or 4wd (Jeep’s Freedom Drive II), so you really can configure a Patriot to meet most of your on and off-road needs. Compared to other compact SUVs, the Patriot felt more solid and capable, and I’d certainly shop it against models from competitors both foreign and domestic.
My 2011 Jeep Patriot Sport had a base sticker price of $16,695, including a destination charge of $700. Options on my tester included the $300 Quick Order Package 25A (2.4 liter, four cylinder engine), $895 Air Conditioning, $225 Deep Cherry Red paint, $375 Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth Integration and the $195 Sirius Satellite Radio option, for a total sticker price of $18,685. A comparably equipped Honda CR-V LX would sticker at $22,475, a similar Toyota RAV-4 would come to $23,134 and a comparable Ford Escape would price out at $21,995, which makes the Jeep Patriot the value leader for the group. At over $3,000 less than the Ford Escape, the Patriot is certainly worth including on your compact SUV shopping list.