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Car reviews - Jeep - Patriot - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Standard ESC, sharp pricing, torquey and efficient diesel, masculine styling, compliant ride and relatively good handling
Room for improvement
Underdone petrol engine, CVT auto sounds unnerving when worked, some interior quality issues and lack of cruise control as standard fit

Jeep logo10 Aug 2007

By JAMES STANFORD

FOR those not intending to go bonnet-deep in mud, this is the most sensible Jeep yet.

The Patriot is an excellent choice for buyers who want the rugged style of a Jeep, but are also after something a bit more civilised on road. It also opens up the Jeep brand to a whole new world of customers.

Previously, the only Jeep model around the $30,000 mark was the Wrangler. A wonderful off-road vehicle, the last Wrangler was hard to put up with on tarmac and the new model – while much improved – is still only something for real bush-bashing enthusiasts.

So the fact that the Patriot comes in at $29,990 is a real bonus for people who have previously found the more livable Jeeps to be just too far out of their price range.

It might be the cheapest model in the range, but Jeep has not skimped when it comes to safety levels in the new Jeep.

It’s good to see the Patriot comes standard with the electronic stability control, something all SUVs should be fitted with. The level of equipment is satisfactory for the base model except for the lack of cruise control, which really does rate as a glaring omission.

Unless owners want to step up to the Limited model, they will need to shell out around $650 to have it fitted at the dealership. At least it is available as an option.

Both the petrol and diesel Patriot deliver good fuel economy, especially for an SUV. The petrol engine is no fireball. It has enough punch if you just want to cruise around, but it really is an engine you have to work hard if you want the Patriot to hook along at a reasonable pace.

The powerplant is pretty smooth at low speeds and fairly quiet too, but it gets a bit coarse up the top end of the rev range and is not much fun when you really have to bury your right foot for every hill.

We tested the Jeep both on regular roads and an extreme climb across a mountain range just outside Queenstown in New Zealand. The snow and the mud trails revealed that the Patriot is a reasonably capable SUV, although it also showed it does have its limits as well.

A lack of major ground clearance and tyres that aren’t really all that good for off-road work were the main reason a few failed to proceed on some of the trails we tested, forcing the Patriot pack to find another, friendlier route.

Still, it did quite well for what is clearly a soft crossover.

With the petrol engine, we found it sometimes hard to accelerate up hills. It was unclear whether it was an issue with the limited torque of the engine or whether the ESC system was applying brakes some of the wheels.

We are told you can turn off the ESC system completely by holding it down for five seconds. We tried doing so, but the problem remained. For the driving that most Patriots will be used for, the manual is fine.

It is a fairly regular manual transmission, but those who aren’t fans of the CVT automatic should be quite satisfied. For anyone who hasn’t driven a vehicle with CVT, it is a strange sensation especially when used for smaller engines that have to rev reasonably hard.

There are no step changes you get in a regular auto and the transmission constantly changes the gear ratios to optimise the engine speed for torque needed which also means the car is more efficient.

It also means the transmission sounds like a slipping clutch, especially when the engine has to work hard to keep things moving.

The Patriot fitted with a CVT automatic is fine for most of the time in most conditions. In fact, its seamless delivery will please many customers. Jeep also said the CVT uses less fuel than a conventional automatic and that has to be a good thing. The CVT is not as pleasant when you have to push the engine hard negotiating hills or accelerating hard.

Even so, it is something we are going to have to get used to as more and more carmakers choose CVT automatics over standard automatics for small hatchbacks and small SUVs.

The next to compact SUV to arrive with a CVT auto is Nissan’s X-Trail this November.

If you can afford it, the diesel is by far the best engine option. Sure, it is fairly noisy, but once you get used to the diesel rattle at idle and under heavy load it is fine.

The diesel is especially good for undulating country roads, with its large supply of torque ensuring an effortless drive. In more testing conditions, such as pushing up steep hills, the diesel engine can pull happily on the same gradient that would require first gear in the petrol engine.

Then there is the fuel consumption, which according to the car’s trip computer, appeared to match the claimed figure of 6.7 litres per 100km on our drive. That really is impressive for an SUV.

The Patriot benefits from using the GS platform which was designed as a small car base. Advantages include the fully independent suspension, which is not something you find on its Cherokee big brother.

The result is a vehicle that handles very well for an SUV. It might not be quite as composed as a small hatchback, but it is a lot better than some other compact SUVs.

There is also none of the leaning or lurching that bigger Jeeps are known for. The Patriot also has a nicely balanced steering set-up with the power steering not too heavy and not too light.

Ride is also a strong point of the Patriot. It is quite comfortable and the suspension seems to be tuned well. It is soft enough for a pleasant ride, but not pillow soft.

The Patriot has enough space for a small family. It is probably on par with most small hatchbacks when it comes to interior space.

There is adequate head and legroom in the back and the seats are reasonably comfortable. The front seats are also reasonably supportive.

One glitch that could get annoying is the glovebox lid that hits the front passenger in the shins when opened, even when the seat is retracted a reasonable distance.

Features like the front passenger seat that folds flat are handy for that odd-trip to Bunnings.

Overall, the interior quality is reasonable. However, one of the things that Jeep, along with its Chrysler Group colleagues has not mastered is interior plastics. Some of the edges of the plastic panels in the Patriot, some used for the dashboard, have sharp uneven edges that make them look unfinished. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but the Patriot will be shopped against cars like the Honda CR-V which have far superior interiors.

There were also some rattles, especially when driving off-road, which you don’t expect from a modern car.

Even with these niggles and the fact the petrol engine is sometimes left wanting, the Patriot is still competent compact SUV that looks like a Jeep but drives more like a car than you would expect.

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