The Patriot shares much mechanically, with both the Jeep Compass and Dodge Caliber, including a layout that's much more car-like than any of Jeep's larger models. With a MacPherson strut front suspension and rear multi-link setup, quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering and a very manageable 174 inches of total length (nearly two feet shorter than some mid-size sedans), the Patriot is very maneuverable.
With either of the two 4-cylinder engine offerings, the Patriot is reasonably energetic on the road while also returning decent fuel economy. Front-wheel-drive Sport (base) models can be equipped with a smaller 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, but available on the Sport and standard on the rest of the lineup is a 172-hp, 2.4-liter four. The 2.0-liter Sport comes only with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), but with the 2.4-liter a 5-speed manual transmission is standard and the CVT is optional. The combination of the 2.4-liter engine and 5-speed manual returns the best fuel economy, of 23 mpg city, 28 highway.
Although the Patriot is the most car-like Jeep, it doesn't forget about its off-road roots. Three different drivetrain configurations are offered: front-wheel drive, Freedom Drive I and Freedom Drive II. Freedom Drive I is an active all-wheel drive system that sends more power to the rear wheels when it's needed for traction; it also has a Lock mode for deep snow or mud. For those who plan to do occasional off-roading there's the Freedom II Off-Road Package, which brings a 19:1 low range gearing for the CVT, plus skid plates, a full-size spare, all-terrain tires, tow hooks, fog lamps, and an engine oil cooler. With the package, the Patriot sits an inch higher than the other models, for a full nine inches of ground clearance, plus 19-inch water fording capability and better approach/departure angles than many more truck-like SUVs.
Brake Traction Control and Hill Descent Control assist with steep, slippery slopes off-road, while all Patriots come with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, including a rough-road mode for the ABS.
The Patriot's very boxy exterior helps provide an extremely roomy, useful interior. The front seats have a more car-like position than Jeep's other models, but they command a good view of the road. Seating is also comfortable in back, with adequate legroom and plenty of headroom, though there's barely enough width to fit three adults across; up-level models get a reclining seatback. For cargo versatility, the back seats fold forward flat and increase the dimensions of the remarkably convenient, box-shaped cargo area. The front passenger seat can also fold all the way forward to act as a table or to make room for especially long cargo.
Sport and Limited trims are offered with either front- or 4-wheel drive. The Sport includes all the safety equipment but is otherwise very basic--manual wind-up windows are standard--but it does include air conditioning, a rear defroster and a 4-speaker CD sound system. Limited models make a huge jump and pile on the comforts like heated leather seats, cruise control, keyless entry, an auxiliary power outlet and an upgraded sound system--in addition to 4-wheel disc brakes and alloy wheels.
The Patriot has a wider range of options than is expected from a vehicle that starts at well under $20,000. A new and especially noteworthy option is the 'UConnect tunes' system, which includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive for storage of music and pictures; the system can read CDs, DVDs, or USB memory sticks. Another system called 'UConnect GPS,' optional only on the Limited, includes a hands-free phone interface and voice-activated commands, plus real-time traffic information for the navigation system.