EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 29, 2012

Jeep Patriot salutes SUVs affordably

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — On Monday, December 24, Christmas Eve, I still had some shopping to finish. Of course, I realized that something like10 million other people did too, here in the Merrimack Valley alone. And I knew that of course all 10 million frantic shoppers would arrive at the same malls and stores at precisely the moment I arrived. My success hinged on a shopping companion that could maneuver the traffic, take my packages efficiently and without effort, and then scoot from the lots with surety.

The practical utility of the Jeep Patriot, my evaluation model last week, was a godsend. The Patriot is a compact crossover sport-utility vehicle. It is high-riding and substantial, yet its trim proportions make it unchallenging to park and easy to maneuver in teeming traffic. On Monday, the Patriot’s wide, tall wagon back swallowed my shopping bags with casual aplomb, saving me precious seconds, helping me maintain composure, and setting up a rapid dash to my next destination. Did I mention I had more than a handful of presents to buy?

Oh, and I also needed to deliver a six-by-nine-foot carpet. Every married man knows that of course your wife waits till your busiest day of the entire year, when you're facing your most urgent deadline, to insist you make “just a quick trip” to deliver a six-by-nine-foot carpet. Mine was rolled into a bundle, but it was still a six-foot-long bundle with girth and heft. Yet the expandable cargo floor of the Jeep Patriot carried it casually, and still swallowed my shopping bags, saved me precious seconds and helped me maintain composure.

That haul-it-all wagon ability is exactly why so many people buy compact crossovers, making the vehicle class one of today's most popular.

Jeep – a brand of the Chrysler Group, based near Detroit but majority owned by Fiat of Italy – positions the Patriot as an entry-level SUV. According to Jeep, it is the lowest priced sport-utility you can buy, especially if you stay with the front-wheel-drive version. Its list price starts at $16,920. Four-wheel-drive Patriots start at a list of $18,920. But that still makes it the lowest price four-by-four sold in the U.S., Chrysler advertises.

At Clark Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, approximately nine of every 10 Patriots sold feature all-wheel drive, reported Mike Silverman, general manager of the Methuen dealership. The slick, pasty snow we woke up to Thursday morning explains why.

People go for the Patriot because of its affordable value, Silverman said. But at the same time, many also are drawn by the model's iconic appearance, he noted.

“People like the rugged sportiness it conveys,” he stated.

As a tribute to SUV heritage, the Patriot hews to a traditional body style. It has vertical sides, bulging skirts around the wheel cut-outs, and a squared back and nose, with round headlights and vertical slats on the grille that echo Jeeps of earlier years.

“It has the lines of the old, original Jeep Cherokee that was built years ago,” Silverman said. Chrysler made the model from 1984 until 2001, he noted. The Cherokee was one of the original SUVs. Along with the Ford Explorer, it launched sport-utilities to the popular position then enjoy today.

Back then SUVs were built atop pickup truck frames. Most sport-utilities today are called crossovers because they're built on an automobile base, crossing categories. As a compact crossover, the Patriot is smaller than the Cherokee it emulates. But it retains the haul-around usefulness of the class.

“It's a smaller four-wheel drive. Not everyone likes to drive a big SUV,” Silverman pointed out.

Its approachable price makes the Patriot a favorite of young drivers who are still building purchasing power. At Clark in Methuen, typical buyers range from as young as 21 to about 40 years old, Silverman said. Many have young families. They buy the five-passenger, four-door Patriot for its versatile cargo capacity and safety. It is often a second family vehicle, giving young parents assurity when they must drive in snow, he said.

“They're looking for something that is four-wheel drive and is still rather inexpensive,” he explained

But the model's fan base also includes many singles, Silverman stated. They see it as a good all-around transporter. It handles their commuting needs, transports the bulky accessories of an active lifestyle, and provides true off-road traction for more far-flung adventures.

The small percentage of Merrimack Valley buyers who choose a Patriot with front-wheel drive usually go for the value, said Silverman. The base-level two-wheel-drive Patriot uses a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. When mated with the model's standard, five-speed manual transmission, the engine yields an EPA fuel-economy rating of 23 miles per gallon city, and 30 mpg highway. An optional, continuously variable automatic transmission drops front-drive Patriot's fuel-use rating to 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway.

Four-wheel-drive Patriots come with a larger, 178-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. The greater power and the addition of all-wheel traction bring the EPA ratings to between 23/28 mpg and 20/23 mpg, depending on transmission and four-wheel-drive system selected.

“It gives you the security on snow and wet roads. You get a lot of storage room. And it gets decent gas mileage,” Silverman summed.

Those are good assets to own throughout the year, but especially on Christmas Eve.

2013 Jeep Patriot

Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive compact SUV

Price range: $16,920 to $26,620 (plus options)

Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 3 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 3 years 36,000 miles roadside assistance

Base engine: 2.4-liter I4 (with 4WD)

Power: 172 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 165 lb.-ft. torque at 4,400 rpm

Base transmission: 5-speed manual

Fuel economy: 22 mpg city; 28 mpg highway (with 4WD)

Wheelbase: 104 inches

Length: 174 inches

Width: 69 inches

Height: 66 inches

Weight: 3,111 pounds

Fuel capacity: 13.5 gallons

Turning circle: 35.6 ft.