Executive Wheels: a salute to a Patriot



A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to attend a Jeep event for automotive journalists up at Red Rocks and we heard the whole company line about the 2011 vehicles. On hand they had the Grand Cherokee, the Wrangler and the Patriot.

Chrysler, which owns the Jeep brand, announced in 2009 that the Patriot and the Jeep Compass (essentially the same vehicle, rendered more as a crossover) would be discontinued. Turns out – although no Jeep official really fessed up to any of the changes officially – the Compass is gone, but the Patriot will survive.

The idea was to make it the most affordable SUV on the market. The downfall was always that with the smaller engine – the 2.0-liter I4 with 158 hp – the vehicle was way underpowered, and that inside they seemed to scrimp on the materials, making the thing look cheap and plastic-y.

I didn’t have that reaction this time around. I drove pretty much the top of the Patriot line, the Limited 4X4, and they seemed to have altered the inside to make it seem less plastic-y and much more comfortable. The vehicle is not a speed demon – like the Grand Cherokee can be – but it hums along just fine in city traffic and on the highway and will get the job done.

Yes, with four people and gear going up the mountain this little engine that could needs to downshift more than I would like in a perfect world, but it remains a solid vehicle for the most part. Now I was driving the 2.4-liter I4 with 172 hp (rated at 23 mpg city/28 highway), and it was just adequate in steeper conditions, so I don’t think I would be much of a fan of the 2.0-liter I4 with 158 hp available in the base model.

However, never fear, at least if you’re a Coloradoan: the 2.0-liter engine is only available in the Patriot Sport 2X4 model and the Jeep personnel confirmed that they do not even send two-wheel-drive models to Colorado.

It’s hard to imagine, what with so many Patriots on the road, that the model itself didn’t debut in the line until 2007. It has obviously met with some acclaim, at least from a buyer’s perspective. I wrote about that model three years ago, and I still have the same impression: the Patriot filled a void.

See, the Grand Cherokee – the mainstay of the Jeep line, the flagship, if you will – was launched in 1993 to replace and upgrade the popular Cherokee, but for several years, through 2001, Jeep kept the classic Cherokee around. I remember saying in reviews back then, and hearing from not a few of my friends, that while the Grand Cherokee was indeed a nice vehicle, the classic Cherokee was the vehicle of choice.

Chrysler must have heard that from any number of customers, because for all intents and purposes the Patriot is the old classic Cherokee incarnate. Oh sure, the styling is somewhat different, but the essentials are the same: a nice, boxy, utilitarian SUV available at a good price and without all the yuppie extras that seemed to define the Grand Cherokee.
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Indeed, the original Cherokee featured a 2.5-liter 4-banger with 150 hp, pretty much the same thing that’s in the Patriot (a little boost in power, to 172 hp). You could get the Cherokee, after the first few years, with a 4-liter 6 with 242 horses, and that became the most popular model – and the justification for taking the Cherokee into the Grand scale.

But they had to make changes or risk the branding problem – if you simply re-launched the classic Cherokee, you’d have name recognition issues with the Grand Cherokee, and if you didn’t restyle but changed the name the public would simply refer to it as the Cherokee and you’d have the same problem.

So restyle, slightly, Jeep did. Unlike the classic Cherokee, the front end of the Patriot takes its styling cues from the venerable Wrangler. And the whole thing seems to sit a little higher than the classic Cherokee.


Inside, there is simply more cabin in the Patriot – the roof pillars seem more substantial, the side panels and doors an inch or two higher, and the dash slightly deeper. The net effect is that sitting in the Patriot feels slightly less open, as if, just a little bit, you are driving in a cave.

The feel, however, is all classic Cherokee, and that’s a good thing. Just look around – even after 9 years post-production, the Cherokee, which launched in 1984, way before the SUV explosion, is still one of the most numerous vehicles on the Colorado roads.

In the standard SUV Jeep offerings – everything except the Wrangler, which isn’t really a SUV – you have the Grand Cherokee, which for 2011 is priced (base) from $31,215 to $41,910, and the 2011 Jeep Liberty, priced from $23250 to $28,250, and this Patriot. Pricing for 2011 hasn’t been released, but the company has confirmed that the models will be called the Sport, the Latitude and the Latitude X, replacing the configurations of the Sport and the Limited.

The 2010 Limited 4X4 that I drove, and which I recommend, carries a base price of $24,550 and it features standard a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which is quite smooth in operation. On my test-drive model they added the Sun and Sound Group for $1,295 (essentially a power sunroof and additional speakers throughout, including 2 boom-box speakers in the rear lift-gate that bed down for that party on the beach).

It also had the Security and Convenience Group for $1,235 (remote start, extra airbags, Uconnect phone with voice command, an iPod control, tire pressure monitoring, etc.), the Freedom Drive II Off Road Group for $825 (17″ wheels, full-size spare, engine skid plates, tow hooks, engine oil cooler, trailer tow wiring hookups), the CVT for $1,050, and engine block heater for $35, and a Media Center with the whole CD/DVD/HDD/Nav stuff, a 30-gig hard drive, a touch screen, and one-year of Sirius traffic service.

This vehicle is quiet, handles well and rides very nicely – it’s all SUV. At over $30k, it is pushing up against some very tough competition – the Kia Sportage, the Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe, to name a few – so any buyer will have to balance the value proposition.

I have driven the Sportage and found it to be a superior vehicle for power at a better price, for instance. This troubles me for the Americans: it seems the only way to keep the price down is to go light on the power, while the foreigners are laying it on. At the high end, the American SUV makers seem to be competitive, but at the low end the Americans are, well, low end.

But if you’re looking for a solid American make and loved the classic Jeep Cherokee, the Jeep Patriot has to be on your shopping list.