SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., - A Jeep without a transfer case is sacrilege. But the Jeep Patriot is the second vehicle Jeep has launched within the last 12 months that has a softer side.
The venerable brand is widening its product lineup to attract more than off road enthusiasts. That means Jeeps must be better on road than off, at least some of them.
As its pursues more customers, Jeep has expanded its model lineup from three models in 2004 to six with the addition of the Patriot and seven if you count the four- door Wrangler.
The Patriot kind of straddles the fence. It can be equipped with an off road package that includes four- wheel- drive. On a moderately difficult off road course here, the Patriot proved that it is not all that far from its original brand DNA. Although we didn't slosh through the mud or wad through the water, the Patriot did some maneuvering that most of its competitors couldn't handle.
But what impressed us most was its on road ride. In word, the Patriot's roll over paved streets was really impressive. It was quiet, smooth and steering was dead on in the straight- aways. The vehicle remained flat in some hair pin turns that curled our hair because of the elevation. And it handled dips, pot holes, and gravel roads really well.
However we were on some narrow gravely washboard roads, with patches of worn black top, and the two- wheel- drive Patriot just didn't get the grip that would have made us comfortable at 2,000 ft. to 3,000 ft. We would have loved have rolled over the same path in a 4X4 Patriot.
We also noticed that the brake pedal was too high, at least for us. Quick foot changes from the gas pedal to the brake pedal were awkward. In a rush, we almost missed the brake pedal and a rush is exactly when you don't want to do that.
Still, the Patriot was impressive. The interior was a straight forward no nonsense affair. The buttons were big, easy to reach and didn't require us to go to the owner's manual. The front seats were comfortable but they were a bit narrow. We think that's because the Patriot will also be sold in Europe.
Our test vehicle was a 4X2 model equipped with a continuously variable transmission. The patriot can be equipped with a five speed manual. We had the 2.4- liter four- cylinder engine that that made 172 horsepower and 162 pounds- feet of torque. It was more than enough oomph because the Patriot weighed in at a lithe 3,247 lbs.
A 2.0- liter four- cylinder engine, that makes 158 horsepower and 141 pounds- feet of torque is available.
The Patriot comes in Sport and Limited trim lines. There are two- wheel and four- wheel- drive models. And there is an off road package that includes slide plates, a low gear, hill decent and of course four- wheel drive.
Prices begin at really low $14,985 for the Jeep Patriot Sport, making it the brands entry vehicle. From there, based prices range up to $23,530 fort he Jeep Patriot Limited with the off road package.
Although we had some beefs with the Patriot, overall it was nicely done. Options included satellite radio, a moon roof, and a premium audio system with in dash CD player and MP3 capability and an auxiliary jack for iPods.
The trick now is for the Jeep to find to right marketing pitch and the right position for the Patriot within its expanding lineup and communicate all that to the right audience. It's not as hard as it sounds when you know your brand and you know your customers. Jeep has always excelled on both counts.