|The Trail Rated Jeep Patriot 4x4 has more ground clearance than many other small SUVs. Photo by Curtis Reesor.|
In 2011, the Patriot got a slight exterior freshening and an interior retooling, both of which added nice touches to the vehicle, and those continue into 2012. There are several trim levels for the Patriot ranging from the base 2.0-liter front-drive model with crank windows and no air conditioning (well, it is a Jeep), to all-wheel drive versions with a more powerful 2.4-liter engine, a CVT with an off-road gear allowing for a pseudo crawl mode, and a suspension system with more ground clearance. There’s no transfer case like a true 4x4, but rather the CVT and center differential lock allow for slow going when you’d want it.
Our 2012 Patriot Latitude 4x4 test model featured the CVT, larger 2.4-liter mill, and a host of features. Plus this Patriot has the honor of wearing Jeep’s “Trail Rated” badge, meaning this Patriot is more off-road capable than some of the other trim levels.
|The Patriot definitely has Jeep DNA in its styling. We think it resembles the old Jeep Cherokee. Photo by Curtis Reesor.|
Acceleration is adequate, but it’s more than enough to keep up with traffic and to merge and pass. The CVT unfortunately saps the driving excitement out of the vehicle. It should be noted that the Patriot is one of only a small handful of compact all-wheel-drive vehicles on the market that you can purchase with a manual transmission for under $25,000 (the others being the Suzuki SX4 and the Subaru Impreza and Forester). If we were to plunk down the cash for this vehicle, you can bet we’d opt for the five-speed manual transmission which not only would be more fun to drive, but would get better fuel economy. More on that in a moment.
There’s no surprises in the handling department. The Patriot is softly sprung and has lots of body roll in the corners. The all-wheel-drive did keep the car planted, but it isn’t very happy being driven enthusiastically in the twisties. It does, however, ride quite decently. Braking required significant pedal force, and the car nose dives under hard stops. Speaking of, whenever we’d come to a stop or start, the front suspension would make a creaking noise. Keep in mind, this test vehicle had only 1,500 miles on it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to take the Patriot off the pavement much, other than a couple dirt roads. I did try out the crawl gearing and it does noticeably slow the vehicle for increased control in rough terrain. It also has more ground clearance than a base Patriot (and other small SUVs). I bet it’d be fun in the sand, actually. That being said, buyers would likely want to leave anything more difficult than the easy trails to more capable vehicles, such as the Wrangler. But, this Trail Rated Patriot is more capable than most “cute utes” on the market.
|There is scads of cargo capacity in the Jeep Patriot, and the passenger's seat folds flat, too. Photo by Curtis Reesor.|
Although the interior of the ’11 and ’12 Patriot is much improved over previous iterations, there were still items that felt cheap. The center console, for instance, rattled incessantly. Some of the trim pieces felt hard and hollow, too. I’m fine with hard and hollow for utility’s sake, but the rattles, not so much.
|We felt the interior was clean and simple, but there were some squeaks and rattles. Photo by Curtis Reesor.|
Our Latitude model also featured options such as the attractive 17” wheels and 215/65/17 all-terrain tires, skid plates, tow hooks, an engine oil cooler, and roof crossbars.
We really wanted to love the Patriot, and it was on our short list of AWD cars that could replace our now-replaced Suzuki SX4. However, the driving experience wasn’t as engaging as the SX4 or the Subaru models (we bought a Forester). The test model’s handling, small windows, and build quality issues turned us off. In addition, our tester had low fuel economy ratings of 20 city and only 23 highway. At this point, you’re only a few MPGs away from a more capable 4x4 that has more off-road prowess, such as the Jeep Wrangler.
|The Patriot has a masculine look for a compact SUV. Photo by Curtis Reesor.|
This 2012 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4x4 has an MSRP of $25,235. While on par with the segment, the fuel economy, build quality, and on-road handling keep the Patriot from achieving greatness. There’s a good chance the Patriot will be replaced in the near future with something that has some Fiat genes, since Fiat now owns Chrysler. And while a Jeep with Fiat underpinnings may sound odd (especially to Jeep purists), it’s likely it’ll be an improvement over the current vehicle in terms of driving dynamics, build quality, and overall performance. The Patriot is very utilitarian and attractive looking. However, it faces some very stiff competition from a variety of manufacturers, both import and domestic.