The Patriot shares much of its mechanical components with both the Jeep Compass and the Dodge Caliber, including a layout that's much more car-like than any of Jeep's larger models. With a MacPherson strut front suspension and rear multi-link setup, quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering and a very manageable 174 inches of total length, the Patriot is very maneuverable.
With either of the Patriot's two 4-cylinder engine offerings under the hood, the Patriot is reasonably energetic on the road while also returning decent fuel economy. The base front-wheel-drive models can be equipped with a 158-horsepower, 2.0L 4-cylinder engine, but also available, as well as standard on the rest of the lineup, is a 172-hp, 2.4L four cylinder.
No matter which engine it is equipped with, the Patriot comes with either a 5-speed manual or to a continuously variable automatic transmission. The combination of the 2.4L engine and 5-speed manual returns the best fuel economy, of 23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway.
Although the Patriot is the most car-like Jeep, it doesn't forget about its off-road roots. Three different drivetrain configurations are offered: front-wheel drive, Freedom Drive I and Freedom Drive II. Freedom Drive I is an active all-wheel drive system that sends more power to the rear wheels when it's needed for traction; it also has a Lock mode for deep snow or mud. For those who plan to do occasional off-roading, there's the Freedom II Off-Road Package, which brings a 19:1 low range gearing for the CVT, plus skid plates, a full-size spare, all-terrain tires, tow hooks, fog lamps and an engine oil cooler. With the package, the Patriot sits an inch higher than the other models, for a full nine inches of ground clearance, plus 19-inch water fording capability and better approach/departure angles than many more truck-like SUVs.
Brake Traction Control and Hill Descent Control assist with steep, slippery slopes off-road, while all Patriots come with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, including a rough-road mode for the anti-lock brakes.
The Patriot's very boxy exterior helps provide an extremely roomy, useful interior. The front seats have a more car-like position than Jeep's other models, but they command a good view of the road. Seating is also comfortable in back, with adequate legroom and plenty of headroom, though there's barely enough width to fit three adults across; up-level models get a reclining seatback. For cargo versatility, the back seats fold forward flat and increase the dimensions of the remarkably convenient, box-shaped cargo area. The front passenger seat can also fold all the way forward to act as a table or to make room for especially long cargo.
All three trims Sport are offered with either front- or 4-wheel drive. The base model includes all the safety equipment but is otherwise very basic--manual wind-up windows are standard--a rear defroster and a 4-speaker CD sound system. Latitude models make a huge jump and pile on the comforts like heated leather seats, cruise control, keyless entry, an auxiliary power outlet and an upgraded sound system--in addition to 4-wheel disc brakes and alloy wheels.
The Limited is practically luxurious--it adds bright exhaust and roof rails, upgraded body trim, an upgraded stereo with a 6-disc CD changer, an auxiliary audio jack and SIRIUS satellite radio, automatic climate control, leather seats, a power driver seat and silver interior accents.
The Patriot has a wider range of options than is expected from a vehicle that starts at well under $20,000. An especially noteworthy option is the UConnect tunes system, which includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive for storage of music and pictures; the system can read CDs, DVDs or USB memory sticks. Another option, UConnect GPS, includes a hands-free phone interface and voice-activated commands, plus real-time traffic information for the navigation system.
The Patriot gets a trim reshuffling for 2012. Last year's 70th anniversary edition and Latitude trim are out.
A new Limited trim debuts this year, adding bright exhaust, bright roof rails, upgraded body trim, an upgraded stereo, automatic climate control, leather seats, a power driver seat and silver interior accents.