Jeep Patriot - waves the flag proudly

Jeep’s boxy crossover has been popular enough, but was widely panned by journalists for being a little light on off-road capability and a little heavy on interior plastics. Add to that a buzzy transmission, vague steering feel, and excessive road noise, and you had a Jeep that didn’t quite add up to the flag Chrysler was flying. Updated and refined for 2011, the Patriot can finally roll proud.

I know much of this was underway before Fiat entered the picture, but you must be impressed with what Chrysler has done to several of its vehicles. Without completely overhauling models like the Jeep Compass/Patriot, Dodge Avenger, or Chrysler Sebring (now the 200), it took decent cars and made them very pleasing and completely competitive. Patriot is a bearer of that good news.

“Patriot boasts class-leading 4x4 capability and unsurpassed fuel economy, and a host of safety features in a fun and affordable package – a combination that only Jeep can offer,” said Mike Manley, President and CEO – Jeep Brand, Chrysler Group LLC. “For 2011, Jeep Patriot is even more appealing to consumers, thanks to rugged new exterior styling, interior enhancements and refinements to the suspension and steering systems.”
No need to significantly change the styling – you can tell from three mountaintops away that the Patriot is a Jeep. Its upright seven-slot “grater” grille, round headlamps, boxy wagon roofline, and solid 17” five-spoke alloy wheels look ready to tackle anything. If you look closely, you’ll notice new front and rear facias, body-color grille, and a slightly increased ride height on 4x4 models. Jeep basically left well-enough alone, and I’d say that was exactly the right idea. If you want a streamlined Jeep, check out the Compass or Grand Cherokee.

The biggest gripe about the Patriot was its “Tupperware” interior. Upgrades include soft touch front-door trim, padded upper door surfaces, enhanced center armrest, and the classy new Jeep steering wheel that is shared with Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. Rear door panels continue to embrace hard plastic, but with kids and pets, that’s probably best – all the easier to scrub. Besides looking and feeling great, the new steering wheel integrates controls for the radio, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connection, and vehicle information center. Premium cloth seats are available, but I’d go for heated leather. Automatic climate control, in-dash navigation, Sirius Satellite Radio, lighted cupholders, Boston Acoustics speakers, USB audio input, and remote starting are all available.

All that is very nice and I’m glad Patriot passengers will be comfy in their plush surroundings. But, at the end of the trail, the Patriot is still a Jeep. As such, it should be able to at least make an honest showing off-road. The SUV is available in three configurations: Front-drive, Freedom Drive I, and Freedom Drive II. Front-drive is for primary use on paved roads with optimized fuel economy. Freedom Drive I offers a lockable four-wheel-drive system ideal for poor weather and light off-roading. Freedom Drive II is for “Trail Rated” models and adds low range gearing to help the vehicle over steep grades, rocks, logs, and for conditions where there is occasional wheel lift. No matter which package is installed, drivers must remember the Patriot is a unibody crossover and not a hard-core Wrangler.

Nobody will confuse the Patriot’s powertrain with a Grand Cherokee’s either. Base models come standard with a 158-HP 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine connected to a 5-speed manual transmission or continuously-variable automatic. Fuel economy is rated an economical 23/29-MPG city/hwy. Step up to the 172-HP 2.4-litre four-cylinder for more enthusiasm, but you’ll also give up a little in economy at 22/28-MPG city/hwy. Chrysler claims to have re-calibrated the CVT for better performance and a more refined driving experience. It’s hard to argue – the transmission always seems to find the right amount of power when you need it.

Given how much the Patriot will be on-road, safety is paramount. Engineers installed dual front, front side, and side curtain airbags. They also hooked it up with four-wheel anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and hill descent control. A four-wheel independent suspension system, refined steering feel, and a relatively-low center of gravity also make the Patriot inherently stable. As a result, the Patriot was named a Top Safety Pick in 2010 by the notoriously-tough Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

I always liked driving the Jeep Patriot, and thought it was a solid little crossover, but was irritated with the cheap plastics and buzzy ride. With the enhancements made for 2011, I like it very much. Jeep kept all that was 98% good about the Patriot and worked over the remaining 2%. With an as-tested price of $27,800, it will make tough competition for the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, and Subaru Forester.

By Casey Williams - MyCarData