CROWN KING, Ariz. -- The off-road 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 pavement and skirts Fort Misery before slipping through Wasson Pass at a mile-high elevation in pine-scented thin air.
For sure-footed traction to navigate this rugged trail in a mechanical species you need a four-wheeling Jeep.
Our bump-and-climb trek up the Crown King trail occurs in a Patriot, Jeep's compact-class wagon which happens to be a CUV (crossover utility vehicle) with the unified structure of a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car.
Why use a FWD crossover wagon to scale a rocky stair-step trail up a tall mountain?
Well, Patriot provides an optional four-wheel-drive (4WD) device with low range gearing plus an off-road package dubbed Freedom Drive II which adds a skid plate, tow hooks and all-terrain tires (Goodyear Wrangler GTA 215/65R17 OWL) to make this particular CUV a surprisingly capable rock-crawling trail runner.
The off-road package also jacks up Patriot's chassis, elevating the ground clearance to 9.5 inches.
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 29.2 degrees and the rear departure angle runs to 34.3 degrees with a breakover angle of 21.8 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.
But -- since Jeep's stable already bulges with capable off-road vehicles -- what's the point of turning a CUV like Patriot into a dirt-dog trail warrior?
It's simply a matter of economics, as Patriot is the cheap Jeep, scoring the lowest price points in Jeep's line.
For 2011 Patriot models, MSRP figures range from $17,795 for a Sport in FWD format to $24,490 for a Latitude X with 4WD traction.
Patriot looks rugged like a Jeep should.
It stands tall in the traditional two-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.
The familiar Jeep signature of a seven-slot grille separating articulated round headlamps becomes a focal point on the prow, which is flat-faced and sporting an aggressive new front fascia which adds standard foglamps.
A pair of doors on each side provides a separate entry for every seat, and the tall structure carves out ample room for heads of all passengers. Despite its classification as a compact-class vehicle, Patriot carries a passenger compartment of generous scale with seats for five and space in the tail section for stowing gear.
Layout of the cabin consists of a pair of contoured buckets up front and followed by a bench broad enough for three but with indents for two. Seatbacks on the second row split in 60/40 sections and fold down to extend the floor of the rear cargo bay, which has 54.2 cubic feet of room with rear seats flat or 23 cubic feet with seatbacks raised.
Measures for passenger safety in the cabin extend from the sturdy safety-cage construction to front seatbelts with load-limited and pretensioning apparatus, backseat restraints with upper and lower anchors to mount a child's seat, smart multi-stage air bags up front and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows for outboard seats in front and back.
Patriot also has active safety systems designed to avoid accidents, including a quick-response rack and pinion steering system and anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus anti-skid devices via electronic stability control (ESC) coupled to all-speed traction control (ASTC), even electronic roll mitigation (ERM) to block a roll-over.
Jeep provides a four-cylinder engine in two sizes to motivate the 2011 Patriot through three trim levels tagged as Sport, Latitude and Latitude X.
The smallest powerplant -- a 2.0-liter four-in-line with twin cams on top and dual variable valve timing (DVVT) -- serves as the stock engine for Patriot Sport 2WD and Patriot Latitude 2WD.
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 29 mpg highway.
Available shifters include a five-speed manual (Magna T355) or an automatic continuously variable transaxle (Jatco CVT2) with the AutoStick.
A larger four-pack plant -- displacing 2.4 liters and also stocking dual cams and DVVT -- motivates the Patriot Sport 4WD, Latitude 4WD and Latitude X for both 2WD and 4WD.
Its muscle numbers tally to 172 hp at 6000 rpm with 165 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
The 2.4-liter plant also links to the T355 manual five-speed or Jatco CVT2/AutoStick.
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. However, you can rack a lever to lock the center coupling and this system splits the powertrain's 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 CVT 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) keeps the vehicle rolling even on split-friction surfaces like gravel where one wheel loses traction.
* Hill Start Assist (HSA) holds the CUV on a slope.
* Hill Descent Control (HDC) keeps the wagon's wheels firmly planted when trekking down a steep grade.