Vail Valley: New Jeep Patriot a competent cute-ute |

Vail Valley: New Jeep Patriot a competent cute-ute

Andy Stonehouse
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyYou aren't likely to see Jeep Patriots rock-crawling at Moab, but the small ute is more than capable for basic off-road use.

In the long-ago days when the people of the Vail Valley were happy and everyone was flush with cash (the mid-’00s), Jeep – not yet divorced from a strange partnership with Mercedes-Benz – launched a spree of what appeared to be less-than-Jeepish vehicles.

The anemic Compass is apparently still in production (waiting for the new, strange partnership with Fiat to kick in). The other, perceptibly “lesser” Jeep, the Patriot, continues to roll along, too.

I wasn’t especially turned on by the Patriot’s short stature and austere power when I first drove it three years ago, but when a shiny 2010 model appeared a couple of weeks ago and a long and snowy drive from Denver to Aspen and back was on the schedule, a more substantial driving experience suggested the Patriot isn’t such a bad thing.

From what I understand, Patriot was created as a replacement for the ’80s and ’90s-era Cherokees, and in that regard, it does look like a slightly modernized, if not chopped, version of the boxy Cherokee Classic my parents still own.

The whole image – classic round headlamps and a picket fence grille still included – is definitely a little more subtle and almost car-like. But the more earthbound stance results in a less tortuous ride than the Cherokee, although high door sills mean you kind of climb up and then into the Patriot each time you drive. You may also find the low-roofed, chopped-windowed Patriot vaguely claustrophobic, but most drivers should survive.

The interior gets a rugged yet stylish polishing, from the hard-core plastics on the speaker covers to the faux diamond plate rubber floor mats, yet still includes full leather seating, chrome trim and the newest UConnect navigation and stereo system. Carpeted storage in the far back, a tonneau cover and even a real, two-prong 115-volt electrical outlet add some versatility (there’s also optional remote start).

Full-blown 4×4 may not seem like the 172-horsepower Patriot’s true calling (I doubt you’ll see many of them equipped with lift kits and 33-inch tires, Moab-bound), but the “Trail Rated” machine and its nine inches of clearance and hill descent control make it a better candidate than most über-expensive SUVs for rudimentary off-road utilization.

Parked on 17-inch wheels and aggressive mud and snow tires, my tester featured a chrome t-handle in the center console which kicks in a low gear ratio for off-road use.

In general snowy highway driving, Patriot’s 4×4 system did good work of keeping me on the straight and narrow, and for most of its users, that will suffice.

I even learned to live with the continuously variable transmission (the whining and the slow adaptation to long, long uphill grades is still there), the primary tradeoff being mileage as high as 25 mpg, in spots. The EPA rates Patriot at a combined 21 mpg.

Moderately noisy takeoffs and a marginally sluggish character with two extra passengers were about the only cruising complaint; the ride is predictably bouncy but, as I say, not as overstated as the brand’s more hardcore offerings.

And should you be more of a boulevard cruiser than a backcountry banger-upper, Patriot’s fantastically powerful, nine-speaker Boston Acoustics system blows out 453 watts of sound (Sirius radio, or tunes burned onto the 30 GB hard drive, or cranked through the hardwired iPod connection line). The fold-down speakers in the tailgate remain for tailgate parties.

The only major changes in three years? The well-equipped but cloth-seated 2007 Patriot Sport I drove tipped the scales at just $23,000; this year’s model, with leather and the navigation package, was $30,510, though a very base 4×4 Limited is still available for $24,550.

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