Jeep Patriot's Low Price Makes it Compelling

Njuguna Kabugi | 1/15/2014, 3 p.m.
If your new year's plans include acquiring a rugged four-wheel drive off-road marvel to subdue steep hills, ravines and boulders ...
Jeep Patriot's interior looks nice enough, if a little utilitarian. Its low price and decent off-road capability will appeal to drivers who crave weekend-warrior ruggedness. (Courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC)

If your new year’s plans include acquiring a rugged four-wheel drive off-road marvel to subdue steep hills, ravines and boulders without a sweat, a Jeep may be a very wise choice. After all, Jeeps are the direct descendants of the World War II Willys MB – legendary solid vehicles that traversed just about every drivable surface imaginable.

But before you sign the dotted line for that new Jeep keep in mind that as is the case in most families, there’s always the kid who’s unlike all the others. In Jeep’s case, the Patriot (and its clone, the Jeep Compass) is the odd kid. It may flaunt that unmistakable Jeep garage look – squared-off lines, seven-slot grille, and round headlights, but it lacks the essence of a Jeep’s DNA. Unlike the Jeep Wrangler or even the Cherokee, the Patriot is based on a car platform.

In the world of off-road ruggedness, this makes the Patriot just a sheep in wolf’s clothing. In a function where the Jeep family excels, the Patriot is only marginally better than Subaru’s and other 4x4 pretender crossovers that currently clog America’s roads.

Born in the sad days preceding Chrysler’s descent into bankruptcy sometime during the waning days of the Bush administration, the Patriot is a child of compromises; a victim of corporate bungling that saddled the SUV with a bewildering choice of options and zero visibility in a hyper-competitive segment.

The base trim lacks power windows, power door locks or air conditioning, which come standard on most rivals. The mid-range trim comes with cheap plastic interiors, less than adequate power for passing and merging, and no backup camera or navigation in an age when competitors offer these as standard.

The Patriot also has mediocre fuel economy. EPA ratings range between 20 and 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 23 and 30 mpg on the highway, depending on the Patriot model. In comparison, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 with four cylinder and automatic transmission is rated at 26/32 mpg.

But despite all the painful compromises forced on the Patriot, what is surprising is that it is still a viable alternative. For the driver, the Patriot’s visibility is a welcome relief in a class dominated by jelly bean competitors. Its boxy shape, with a fairly upright windshield shape, translates to a more spacious feeling inside because the roof doesn't curl in on you.

The interior is actually pretty good – rugged in a Jeep kind of way with everything bolted together solidly. There’s plenty of room for the passengers. Adults in the front and rear will appreciate the headroom and legroom. In addition, the 60/40-split rear seat folds flat when you need to haul big objects and the vertical rear end sheds snow and ice easier than the jelly bean’s bubble back.

The Patriot is not particularly quick when merging to area highways but I found it nimble on twisty roads in the Virginia countryside and when maneuvering around the District of Columbia’s busy streets.  The independent suspension works well, though there is quite a bit of tire noise as well as whiny engine noise when the Patriot is pushed hard.

The Patriot’s low cost may be ideally suited for the price conscious driver. If you are on a small car budget, and you’d rather drive an SUV, you don’t have to settle for a small car. For less than what you can pay for a Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla or Ford Focus sedan, you can get a Patriot for less. The Jeep has the lowest manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of any new SUV on the market.

The base 2013 Patriot with five-speed manual transmission starts at just $16,990, while the Patriot with four-wheel drive added, retails at $18,990. In comparison, the competing Kia Sportage retails at more than $19,800 for the two-wheel drive model. And the top-selling Honda CR-V has starting MSRPs of more than $23,600 for base, two-wheel drive model.