CROWN KING, Ariz. -- The adventurous route to Crown King, an Arizona mining camp perched high in the Bradshaw Range north of Phoenix, follows rock-littered ruts in a tortuous climb which begins near Biscuit Flats off the I-17 and skirts Fort Misery before slipping through Wasson Pass at mile-high elevation in the pine-scented thin air.
Our bump-and-climb trek up the Crown King trail occurs in a sure-footed Patriot, Jeep's compact-class crossover utility vehicle with the unified structure of a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car and an optional 4-wheel-drive (4WD) device with low range gearing plus the Freedom Drive II off-road package which adds a skid plate, tow hooks and all-terrain tires (Goodyear Wrangler GTA 215/65R17 OWL).
The off-road package also raises Patriot's chassis to a 9.1-inch ground clearance.
Front and rear overhangs of the body have been whittled away and the 17-inch aluminum wheels at the four corners are proportionally big, setting up a vehicle which can move up steep inclines. With the Freedom Drive II rig, Patriot's front approach angle becomes 29.0 degrees and the rear departure angle runs to 33.9 degrees with a breakover angle of 23.7 degrees. Such measurements signify that the 4WD Patriot can easily scamper up a rocky path, or plow through a stream with water up to 19 inches deep.
Jeep trims the 2015 Patriot as Sport, Latitude, and Limited, each with FWD or 4WD traction. Then there are two trim packages: Altitude and new 4WD High Altitude.
Every Patriot edition looks rugged and stands tall in the traditional 2-box format of a wagon but it's so square in style with edgy angles scoring fascia and fenders, a stepped hood and flat flanks interrupted only by trapezoidal wheel openings rippling in sculptured fenders blips.
Patriot's cabin contains a pair of contoured buckets in front and a rear bench for three but indents for two. Rear-bench seatbacks split 60/40 and fold to extend the floor of the rear cargo bay, which has 53.5 cubic feet of room with rear seats flat or 23 cubic feet with seatbacks raised.
Jeep provides a 4-cylinder engine in two sizes to motivate all Patriot editions.
All Patriot FWD trims except Limited stock a 2.0-liter 4-in-line with dual overhead cams (DOHC) and dual variable valve timing (DVVT). It produces 158 hp at 6400 rpm plus torque of 141 lb-ft at 5000 rpm and earns EPA fuel economy figures as high as 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
Shifters include a 5-speed manual (Magna T355), a 6-speed automatic with AutoStick (Powertech 6F24) or an automatic continuously variable transaxle (Jatco CVT2).
A larger 4-pack plant -- displacing 2.4 liters and also with DOHC and DVVT -- motivates Patriot Limited FWD and all 4WD Patriot models. The muscle numbers of the 2.4-liter plant tally to 172 hp at 6000 rpm with 165 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm. The 5-speed manual (Magna T355) and 6-speed automatic (Powertech 6F24) are available links to the 2.4-liter engine.
Patriot splits into three traction configurations.
The base unit uses FWD with torque from the engine directed to the front wheels all the time.
The optional Freedom Drive I package adds a full-time 4WD device with lock mode. It normally runs in FWD mode, yet an electrically controlled coupling (ECC) can divert as much as 60 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels when additional tire grip is required. But you can lock the center coupling so the system splits powertrain muscle 50-50 between front and rear tires for tricky traction situations like wet pavement, slick snow or sand.
Then the Freedom Drive II off-road package brings a full-time 4WD system tied to a CVT2L with low-range gear ratio of 19:1. It engages when the off-road mode is activated and enables Patriot to crawl over rough terrain.
Other electronic controls also apply with the Freedom Drive II package: Brake Traction Control System (BTCS) which keeps the vehicle rolling even on split-friction surfaces like gravel where one wheel loses traction, Hill Start Assist (HSA) for holding the CUV on a steep slope, and Hill Descent Control (HDC) to keep the wagon's wheels firmly planted when trekking down a steep grade.
Patriot's new High Altitude Package for 4WD models applies leather seat upholstery and 6-way power controls for the driver seat, a power sunroof and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Jeep's MSRP chart for 2015 Patriot models ranges from $16,495 to $26,695.