March 28, 2009

Patriot

The chunky Patriot is the cheapest car Jeep sells, and also the most accomplished. It's a smaller, more frugal 4x4 than we've come to expect from the all-American brand, meaning it's better suited to British buyers than its heavyweight siblings. The charming mini-military looks impress from the off and (although it's based on the same mechanicals as the dynamically flawed Dodge Caliber and Chrysler Sebring saloons) the Patriot drives surprisingly well for an SUV. The steering is over-assisted and too light, but body roll is kept in check at higher speeds and the sure-footed Patriot rides competently over twisty, bumpy back roads. It's not as car-like to drive as a Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V, but that's because it's got proper 4x4 credentials rather than the 'soft-road' bias of these rivals. Jeep is, after all, the oldest off-road specialist, with a history that pre-dates even Land Rover's, so just as a Ferrari must be fast, a Jeep must be able to find its way across a muddy field. And this one can, as we proved by driving it up a sodden north Wales hill. It's got hill decent control as standard plus special ABS braking and traction systems that allow for slides. Venture onto more extreme terrain, though, and the lack of low-ratio gears and poor ground clearance could cause problems. Power's provided by a somewhat unrefined 168bhp 2.3 litre petrol engine or a stronger VW-sourced 2.0 litre CRD diesel with 138bhp and 162lb ft torque. The only viable choice is the diesel unit, even if it's noisy, because it returns a 40mpg combined fuel consumption and lowly 180g/km CO2 emissions. It's also pretty smooth and has more mid-range shove than it's petrol counterpart, but its clattery rumble can become intrusive on a motorway journey. The Patriot also can't match the levels of refinement and comfort offered by the more expensive Land Rover Freelander 2 on longer journeys. Nor does it come close to matching the Landie's premium-feel cabin, although the Chrysler Group's typical cheap-feel but hard-wearing, scratchy interior plastics and wipe-clean rubber inserts are more acceptable in a rugged 4x4 like this. These flaws are even forgivable when you consider the Patriot's price - it undercuts its rivals by a substantial margin and boasts generous equipment levels to boot. So, for a cosseting urban SUV look elsewhere, but if a cheap, compact, mudslugger's required then the Patriot is top of our list.

BREAKDOWN

Styling 

We reckon this is one of the best interpretations of traditional Jeep styling. The Patriot?s rugged enough to have a presence, without looking needlessly aggressive.

Handling 

For an SUV, the Patriot handles adequately and always feels safe. Dynamic shortfalls that we know stem from this crude chassis are masked by the Patriot's larger size.

Comfort 

The cheap feeling cabin isn't the best place to spend a long journey, although the seats themselves are comfortable enough. The ride can get a bit choppy, but it's on a par with its rivals'.

Quality & reliability 

The interior plastics give a bargain-basement impression, although some owners might prefer to call them rugged. Overall, Jeep?s build quality has improved with recent models, but the brand does have a reputation for poor customer satisfaction.

Performance 

Both engines feel sluggish from standstill, although the diesel has plenty of mid-range urge for towing. Zero to sixty takes 11 seconds with the 2.0 litre CRD, while the top speed is 117mph.

Roominess 

The Patriot isn't as large as a Freelander inside, but there?s plenty of room for four passengers and their luggage.

Running costs 

A 40mpg combined fuel figure is impressive for an SUV - in fact, it's comparable with some family hatchbacks. Low emissions also mean cheaper tax, but Jeep parts can be more expensive than other European brands'.

Value for money 

It's the cheapest SUV on sale by some margin, and comes with generous equipment. The fact that all models have four-wheel-drive as standard reinforces the value proposition.

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