Yes, the 2014 Jeep Patriot does drive better with the new six-speed automatic transmission than it ever did with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that it's been saddled with ever since its launch for 2007. Yes, the Patriot drives better than it ever has. And yes, this is probably the Patriot's last model year (in its current form), sadly.
In all fairness, Chrysler dumped the Patriot on the market when this small Jeep (and its mechanically identical sibling, the Compass) needed a lot more attention to drivability, noise, vibration, and harshness. Today's Patriot, with all the benefits of that attention, is a very pleasant, economical small crossover.
It's also very quiet inside now, too. At moderate acceleration and beyond, there's far less engine noise than in the Kia Soul we recently drove, although there might still be a bit more road noise in the Jeep.
The 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter four in our Illinois-built test Patriot, a Latitude 4x4, made this small crossover feel strong and confident with the automatic transmission. The accelerator is a little touchier than it needs to be—it's for the salesman, not the customer, it seems—but that's really our only complaint about the powertrain.
A meaningful upgrade, via South Korea
With the new Hyundai-sourced transmission, Jeep has at last fully exorcized the droning and delayed responses that accompanied versions with the JATCO CVT ever since the Patriot's original launch for the 2007 model year; the powertrain is now unotrusive, shuffling quietly and smoothly through the gears as you accelerate, yet also quick on its feet when you need a burst of power. It's every bit as responsive as the powertrain in some more expensive vehicles. Highway cruising is smooth and settled, with revs settling to just 2,300 rpm at 70 mph.
In a week that involved some short errands and maneuvering around shopping centers and freeway ramps, we found the steering to be unexpectedly great; it centers nicely out of corners, and tracks surprisingly well on the highway. It feels precise, and actually conveys some feel of the road surface and the tires.