It has become fashionable of late to declare the sport/utility vehicle
unfashionable. Whether the charge is fair or not, this circumstance puts
Jeep, whose product line comprises SUVs exclusively, at something of a
disadvantage. And yet far from cowering at the prospect of making and
marketing unfashionable vehicles, Jeep has embraced the challenge with
admirable, even unusual, gusto. With the introduction in the spring of 2007
of the new Jeep Patriot, the automaker now boasts a stable of seven distinct
vehicles, all of them SUVs. And to think that it all started some 60 years
ago with that original General Purpose military-surplus vehicle, whose "GP"
initials eventually morphed into "Jeep."
Among the automotive intelligensia, the announcement last fall of the 2007
Patriot caused more than a few eyebrows to rise. After all, a compact SUV
dubbed the Jeep Compass appeared last fall; and the company disclosed that
both the Compass and the Patriot would be built upon the same basic
platform, which the Dodge Caliber compact car also shares. Would it indeed
be possible to wring enough distinctiveness out of so many shared components
to give Patriot a genuine personality of its own?
And then there was the tease, initiated by Jeep itself, that the Compass was
the SUV intended for her, whereas the Patriot was intended for him. Can you
really do that in the midst of a full-blown PC epidemic? It certainly seems
so, particularly if your entire product line is already considered
Well, as of February 2007, with the introduction of the Patriot to the
world's automotive media in Phoenix, Ariz., all the second-guessing and
teasing and speculating can be put to rest. The Jeep Patriot can confidently
stand on its own as a versatile "utility" vehicle, an invigorating "sport"
vehicle and a remarkably affordable vehicle. Patriot is, in fact, the new
entry-level model for the Jeep brand; and when it is configured as a
front-wheel-drive "Sport" edition with a 2.4-liter inline-4 and a five-speed
manual transmission, the price is a phenomenal $14,985.
Patriot's entry-level value makes it special, but what makes it distinctive
requires a bit more of an explanation. So it's important first of all to
point out that the Patriot can be configured with two engines and three
powertrains for prices ranging from just under $15,000 to $23,530. The
2.4-liter twin-cam inline-four uses variable valve timing to achieve 172
horsepower and 165 foot-pounds of acceleration torque. An optional 2.0-liter
twin-cam four rates 158 horsepower and 141 foot-pounds on the way towards
delivering 26 mpg/city and 30 mpg/highway; and it is available only in a
front-wheel-drive Patriot "Sport" equipped with a "stepless" CVT automatic
It is the Patriot's pair of CVT, or constant velocity, transmissions that
endows this vehicle with special distinction. "Freedom Drive" is Jeep's name
for a proprietary all-wheel-drive system that depends upon the novel CVT
technique for matching engine torque to road speed without a distinct
shifting of gears. There's no need to understand the complex
"belt-and-pulley" system in order to sense its novelty. Upon hard
acceleration, for example, a CVT launches engine speed to a fixed level say,
6,000 rpm and the revs remain absolutely stable, even though CVT gearing is
changing imperceptibly as vehicle speed increases. Anyone who has ever
shoved the throttle of a boat forward to a fixed position, then felt the
building acceleration, will instantly recognize the CVT phenomenon.
Skeptics abound where the CVT is concerned; and nowhere is this
untraditional CVT technology met with more suspicion than in off-road
applications. That's why, for instance, the Jeep Compass with "Freedom Drive
I" isn't really considered an off-roader. It's great for slippery roads, and
it apportions traction to front and rear wheels without the driver being any
the wiser for it.
And, yes, "Freedom Drive I" is also available with the Jeep Patriot. But and
now we get to the heart of the matter Patriot is also the only Jeep that can
be equipped with a trail-rated "Freedom Drive II" powertrain. This is, it's
fair to say, the first serious and successful application of CVT technology
to genuine off-road navigation.
"Freedom Drive II" is available with the Patriot's "Sport" edition for
$19,175 and with the up-level "Limited" edition for $23,530. Either way,
this powertrain renders the new Patriot a totally unique vehicle for on- and
In the latter instance, "Freedom Drive II" offers a unique, low-crawl gear
ratio combined with electronic stability control and hill-descent control
(HDC) that can be toggled on and off by the driver. With HDC active,
Patriot's unique "stepless" transmission virtually walks the vehicle
downhill at no faster than five miles-an-hour, with both of the driver's
feet flat on the floor. Then, with HDC disabled and the transmission in
low-crawl mode, the CVT-equipped Patriot enjoys a degree of throttle control
unequalled in most aficionados' off-road experiences. While barnstorming
over volcanic boulders and through dry, sand-filled arroyos in the Tonto
National Forest outside Phoenix, it was possible to alternate between
inches-per-hour crawling descents and 40 or 50 mile-and-hour stream-bed
sprints without ever applying the brakes. The CVT does it all: There's
prompt engine braking when you back out of the throttle; and instant torque
when you floor it again. Skeptical off-roaders everywhere will themselves be
floored by this new Jeep "Freedom Drive II" system when they manage to put
it through its paces.
They will even learn to forgive the CVT's unusual driving feel on paved
surfaces, where "stepless" gear changes feel like an old-fashioned slipping
clutch. And they will come to appreciate the CVT's fuel-frugal ways as well.
And when all potential buyers realize that off-road prowess, five-passenger
seating and 54 maximum feet of interior cargo space are available for less
than $20,000, it may well become fashionable once again to be a Patriot.