Jeep Patriot – 2007 Review: Remember the Cherokee? You know, the little rugged Jeep SUV that arguably started the whole SUV craze? Based on real Jeep mechanicals with four-wheel drive capability and off-road prowess, the little bugger stuck around for nearly 20 years with just a mild refresh along the way. Then Jeep killed it and replaced it with the Liberty. Yay.
But hey, what’s this? Looks like a Cherokee, doesn’t it? Has Jeep come to its senses, dusted off the old tooling and resurrected the little wagon that could? Unfortunately, no. This is the 2007 Jeep Patriot, which is based off the Jeep Compass, which itself is a permutation of the Dodge Caliber. It’s a crossover, based on car parts and not truck parts. If you’re thinking this is a further dilution of the Jeep brand, you’re right.
Wanting a bigger piece of the expanding crossover segment is no bad thing, and to its credit, the Patriot undercuts the price-leading Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tuscon by a thousand dollars or so. But in virtually every other respect, off-road ability notwithstanding, the Patriot is outclassed. We wouldn’t mind so much if the Patriot were the first effort by, say, an aspiring Chinese automaker, and costing about $15,000 as equipped. Instead, our $24,000 test Jeep debuts at the bottom of its class.
What We Drove
Base model Patriot Sports start at a paltry $15,935 for a front-drive manual example. However, our test car was a Patriot Limited 4X4. Like all but the most basic model, our example was powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 engine with variable valve timing, producing 172 horsepower. In our test car’s case, it was mated to Chrysler’s optional $1,050 continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Standard on the Limited are leather seating surfaces, height-adjustable driver’s seat, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, tilt steering column and, on the outside, adjustable roof rail crossmembers. All this and more can be yours for $23,040. In addition, our test car featured a $515 driver convenience group which included an automatically dimming rearview mirror, vehicle information center, universal garage remote, tire pressure monitoring display, and a smoker’s group with a removable ashtray and cigarette lighter. Also included on our test car were premium floor mats for $30, and Sirius satellite radio for $195. All told, our Patriot retailed for $23,780. Note that this didn’t include the off road group, which would have added $800 to the price.
On paper, the Patriot has the goods. The engine puts out 172 horsepower at 6,000 rpm from its 2.4 liters of displacement, and torque is also good, with 165 lb.-ft. on tap at 4,400 rpm. Not bad for a four banger, and competitive in the class.
The problem is the transmission. Like Rocky Mountain oysters, CVTs are an acquired taste, and we’re not quite there yet. The theory behind CVTs is sound; they keep the engine at its peak power point while accelerating, regardless of vehicle speed, for maximum efficiency while also letting the engine lug down low for the best fuel economy when cruising.
Again, that’s on paper. The reality is that the combination of this CVT with this engine only highlights the worst aspects of both. Get on the gas and the engine zings to 6,000 rpm, just 500 below its redline. At that speed, the engine screams loudly, almost painfully, with an inelegant sound that reminds one of a Cuisinart slicing an impossibly long cucumber. It stays there until you finally let off the gas out of sheer mercy for the drivetrain and your hearing. If there were a payoff in acceleration we could forgive it, but the little engine has a hard time lugging the Patriot’s 3,310 pounds around, and quickness is nowhere in sight.
It isn’t much better at speed. The engine cycles up and down its rev range like a manual with a slipping clutch as it hunts for the right ratio. The tach needle swings wildly at times, and all the while the engine drones annoyingly. Other CVTs don’t do this, or at the very least aren’t mated to such a god-awful sounding engine. Unfortunately, if you want the Trail Rated off-road package, you have to get the CVT.