The Jeep Patriot? I'm whistling the Star-Spangled Banner already...
The name ain't exactly subtle, is it? And the odd names don't end there; the Patriot's new 4x4 system is called the 'Freedom Drive 1' – fitting for a newly independent Chrysler Jeep set adrift by Mercedes... The jury's still out on the Patriot's looks. There are strong family styling cues, though somewhat dinkier than usual, but to these eyes the chunky visuals work surprisingly well on a car of this size. But is a chunky 4x4 look enough to entice buyers increasingly suspicious of big, heavy off-roaders in this eco-aware age?
Ok, I'm getting a hint here – what's with this size business?
Glad you asked. The Patriot sees Jeep breaking new ground. It's a little difficult to tell when pictured in isolation, but this car is actually rather smaller than you'd expect. It's aimed at the family hatchback and MPV market as much as entry-level SUVs, with Jeep comparing its footprint to Ford's C-Max. It's just as easy to park, Jeep claims. We'd take both claims with a pinch of salt, but it's certainly a lot smaller than the current-generation Honda CR-V, and sits lower to the ground than Toyota's RAV4. What's really surprising, given the Jeep badging and level of standard equipment, is the price...
Good value then, is it?
The Patriot starts at £15,995 for the 2.4-litre petrol Sport. To say that's highly competitive is a considerable understatement. The closest rival with four-wheel drive is the Nissan Qashqai, but once adjusted for equipment that still costs £1300 more and has an engine that's 30bhp less powerful than the 168bhp Jeep. We spent most of our time driving around in the 2.0-litre diesel Limited version, which costs £18,795. That's still a grand less than rivals. Sport trim covers all the essentials – ESP with electronic roll mitigation, six airbags, 17-inch alloys and air-conditioning; Limited adds luxuries like leather, cruise control, and, strangely, front foglamps.
But it's an American SUV – which means it must drive horribly?
It rolls a bit – as you'd expect given the above average centre of gravity. But the suspension swiftly reins this in, and although you'll never want to be too abrupt with your changes of direction, the body control is impressive for a Jeep. It takes several high-speed compressions in a row before the chassis starts to get really upset, and on challenging Welsh mountain roads the only real problem was slower-moving traffic. The 138bhp turbodiesel isn't lightning quick, but with 229lb ft it's respectably punchy, and reasonably refined.
And what about the off-road performance?
Whatever we've thought of Jeeps in the past, they've always been excellent off-road – and the Patriot is no exception. Combine a proper off-road course and a typically wet British summer with ordinary road tyres and no preparation, and you'd be forgiven for expecting disaster. But the Patriot – petrol Limiteds with the optional CVT automatic (also £18,795) – simply shrugs off muddy conditions and gets on with it. The secret is in the Freedom Drive 1. Silly name but serious hardware: off-road, it includes a four-wheel drive ‘lock’ up to 10mph, plus special ABS and traction control settings to curb wheelspin and slides. A low front bumper means you need to be careful with limited ground clearance, but otherwise the Patriot is a soft-roader with serious ability. For most buyers this is probably irrelevant, but somehow still good to know...
There's got to be a catch?
Well, the cabin plastics aren't the best we've seen. There's not much space in the back seat and the boot is disappointingly small, even if the seats fold flat easily. The steering's a touch light and lacks feel, there’s some wind and road noise at speed, and the six-speed manual gearbox a little recalcitrant. But we can't really criticise the fuel economy; the Patriot runs in two-wheel drive most of the time, and the diesel returns an average 42.2mpg – in-line with the rest of the class. The petrol's 32.5mpg is less good, but still close to the competition.
The Jeep Patriot is good-looking (if you like the butch, bluff 4x4 look) and competent off-road but dismal on it. The engine is acceptably economical, but interior quality would shame Soviet-era Russia. The only saving grace is it's well priced and well equipped, but don't let that sucker you into buying a sub-standard car.