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Jeep Proves Patriotism Can Pay Off

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Just as I was beginning to wonder if Chrysler had lost it, along came two weeks in two decidedly different – but worthwhile – vehicles: the Dodge Avenger and Jeep Patriot.

A few weeks ago, I dumped all over the Dodge Nitro SUV, about which there was little to love. Since then, I've seen more Nitros on the streets than I can shake a stick at, which just goes to show how important my opinion is to people in the real world. How dare people make up their own minds!

So much for the power of the media. And that's a good thing.

But I get paid to prattle, so here goes.

The Jeep Patriot is the closer of the two vehicles to the Nitro, so let's start with it. It's the base Jeep, kind of a spiritual successor to the Cherokee I guess, and it seems like a pretty decent value.

Patriot starts off well: it looks like a real Jeep, with its round headlights and slotted grille, boxy body panels and unapologetic SUV look. The vehicle looks rugged and serious, and that's not a bad thing for an SUV.

Inside, the Patriot is roomy for four and nearly roomy enough for five, and it's comfortable for all day driving. We packed five people and picnic stuff into it and sallied forth into the Rocky Mountains for a day of mild off roading (dirt and gravel, not really heavy duty stuff), and had a ball.

Patriot's power comes from a 2.4 liter four cylinder engine rated at 172 horses and 165 lb. ft. of torque. This is fine for two passengers, but when we hit the hills with five people aboard the acceleration provided little exhilaration. Getting up to highway speeds seemed to take forever and passing slower vehicles was aided only by the fact that there were few slower vehicles around at the time. Perhaps Jeep could offer a V6 soon, with maybe 250 horses or so?

The four banger in my 4x4 Limited tester was mated to a five speed manual transmission, and I liked it a lot, though at times I had trouble finding reverse and my wife had trouble finding fourth. But the shift feel is just fine, as is the clutch. A CVT is available, if you prefer.

The Patriot is held up by an independent suspension, steered by power-assisted rack and pinion and stopped by four wheel discs. Handling, steering and braking are all more than acceptable and never during my week with the Patriot did it feel anything other than safe and secure. Kind of fun, too.

The front seats adjust manually, and they're comfortable, supportive, well bolstered for cornering – and my tester's came with bun warmers. Rear seat customers can take advantage of a seat that reclines and is quite roomy for two. The poor soul in the middle may find the shoulder belt digs into his neck, but that's what you get for not calling "shotgun" before the vehicle gets fired up initially.

The rear seat also splits and folds flat with the rubberized (or some such coating) rear storage area.

Controls are simple and well laid out. The turn signal indicator takes a good shove to activate, but the instrumentation is straightforward and the HVAC controls are a model of simplicity. And the power window controls on the driver's door armrest are placed perfectly.

The Boston Acoustics Audio system is good, with plenty of power and good sound quality. Party animals will like the fold down speakers that hang from the Patriot's rear hatch; they'll be great for when you're tailgating or camping, as long as you travel armed if you're planning to tailgate or camp where others are also hanging out.

My tester wore Goodyear Wrangler SR-A P215/65 series R17 M+S tires on its 17 inch, five spoke wheels.

The Jeep Patriot starts at $15,110 U.S./$16,995 Canadian. The Patriot 4x4 Limited starts at $22,115 U.S./$24,435 Canadian.