The Patriot looks like a full-grown, don't spare the ammo four-wheel-drive, but it may have less effect on the environment than your neighbour's conventional car, observes Dave Moore.
Jeep's new Patriot soft-roader is the company's latest attempt at finding itself a niche in this Japanese and Korean dominated segment, and sipping gas at less than nine litres for every 100 kilometres travelled, even in petrol form, it's not going to be denied entrance on profligacy grounds.
It won't fall out of favour from a pricing point of view, either, for despite all the fruit, one of the sector's more useful all-wheel-drive systems, called Freedom Drive 1 (which sounds like George Bush's street address) and a 125kW 2.4-litre engine with standard CVT, it costs about the same as a mid- range Corolla or Focus.
Using the same platform, drivetrains and wheelbase as Jeep's not exactly rapturously received Compass, the Patriot also shares its main bits with Dodge and Chrysler's recent arrivals, in the form of the Sebring, Avenger and Caliber models.
It's an example of the car game's habit of amortising costs across platforms, and you can even trace the Chrysler Jeep models' links to Hyundai and Mitsubishi, which both participated in the development of the original "world engine" concept.
The Patriot is designed to appeal by at least looking like a proper Jeep, while having a sensitive carbon footprint and being able to perform on the road like a conventional car. It achieves the Jeep design part well. In profile, the Patriot's square-set, six- window design is very like the original Cherokee's, albeit with the chunkier pillars and window apertures that an all-new Cherokee will adopt in the near future.
Tell-tale squared-off Jeep signature arch-blisters also feature in the Patriot, and they're well-filled by standard 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. The Patriot also gets the traditional Jeep seven-slot grille, though it rather leads with its chin here and presents a lot of painted plastic.
However, the overall effect is visually pleasant and convincing in a corporate Jeep sense, and though it has a good 204mm of ground clearance with a standard load, the Patriot has a nice on-road stance and never looks ungainly.
And neither it should, for the car points, balances and handles on road as well as any light SUV of its size. It's not as heavy as some, at about 1500kg, and with commendably secure body control when cornering, the strut front, multi-link rear suspension set- up manages well, even when dry, once icy corners, are strewn with grit and sand. Instead of going for the currently popular electric powersteering, Jeep says it stuck with conventional hydaulic rack and pinion type because of all vehicles, SUVs benefit best from its inherent feel.
While the Patriot lacks the low- range facility of perhaps more serious Jeeps, its Freedom Drive set-up is designed to deploy torque to the wheels best able to use it, which prevents power-wasting wheelspin in slippery conditions and can even direct maximum urge to a single wheel.
The Jeep's sensors require about a full turn of the slipping wheel or wheels before sensors dictate the apportioning of drive, so drivers will sense the system working beneath them. This is a little disconcerting at times, especially when used to the Honda CR-V's system which now requires less than a quarter turn before things start to happen.
However, in harder going and conditions into which you might think twice about venturing, especially in something without a Jeep badge on it, the ability to lock the drive system centrally into a 50:50 front:rear torque split can make a real difference.
If regular off-roading is part of your expected brief for the Patriot, it would be best to opt for the VW- supplied turbodiesel option. With 310Nm on tap, it really shows the petrol car up in the dirt and there were occasions during my off-roading assessment of the manual petrol car when I'd have given my eye-teeth for a lower first gear, or the torque of the diesel to help out a little.
With variable valve timing and a well-chosen set of five ratios, the manual 2.4-litre Patriot is flexible enough on road and in light fire-trail type meanderings off it, but the level of refinement offered by the CVT is worthy of consideration.
In fact, the base Sport version of the car something of a bargain, at $34,990 only offers CVT and if you like that kind of transmission (I do), it will do perfectly in most situations. It even compensates for lack of torque when the going gets rough, and most who tried it preferred the petrol CVT off road than manual.
The diesel unit will not be matched with an automatic for some time, but its torque delivery and six-speed manual transmission make it a choreless drive as it is, with obvious saving in terms of fuel consumption. Jeep quotes the petrol cars at 8.9 litres every 100km and the diesels at 6.7 litres every 100km, with CO2 ratings of 206g/km and 180g/km respectively.
The single model Patriot Sport lineup features front and side-curtain airbags, as well as an electronic stability programme (ESP), with roll mitigation, brake assist, ABS and traction control. It also gets a four-speaker sound system and an engine immobiliser, alloy wheels, seats that can all be folded except the driver's for load carrying and what Chrysler calls "Yes essentials" cloth trim that offers the easy wiping-off of everything from mud to much stickier items.
The Limited model, which starts from $36,990, adds perforated leather trim, side airbags, body side mouldings, a six-CD player with MP3 capability and six speakers, and an optional articulating speaker system in the rear liftgate for beach and barbecue use. Add CVT to the Limited and it will cost you $38,990, while the manual-only diesel asks $40,990.
Chrysler has made an effort to reposition its products in terms of prices and as a result, the Patriot has ended up the cheapest SUV of its engine size on the market.
With only some hard, and sharp edged interior plastics to seriously complain about and the lack of a base manual transmission model, the Jeep Patriot answers most of the likely questions asked of it.
It drives well on and off road. It looks as seriously muscular as its larger siblings which can be a good or bad thing and it comes with a fair mountain of standard kit.
Don't expect it to set the world on fire off road, as you reasonably might expect the bigger Cherokee to do, and the Patriot will not disappoint. In fact, an active young family might well find that the new Jeep's pricing places a useful and friendly SUV suddenly right into their budget.
- © Fairfax NZ News