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The 2012 Jeep Patriot is one of the most affordable small crossover-SUV models; and it makes good sense for those who merely want a maneuverable, versatile, easy-parking, and affordable vehicle. But as you might expect from a vehicle that carries the Jeep badge, the Patriot can be surprisingly deft on the trail, or in deep snow.
With chunky proportions that are boxy but not too refrigerator-like, and detailing that keeps it simple but purposeful, the 2012 Jeep Patriot somehow manages to play both of those angles; there's some softness and civility alright, but there's also some rugged Jeep appeal, and influences from the Wrangler and Liberty in the sheetmetal—along with the Jeep slotted grille. We're glad Jeep hasn't tried to change a thing about the exterior in the Patriot, as it's a design that's aging well. On the inside, it's a sturdy, attractive cabin from a few paces back, and some hints of brightwork added over the past couple of model years have spruced it up from the purely drab it had originally been, but there's still a lot of hard, dull plastic up close.
On the highway especially, the CVT-equipped Patriot seems a bit sluggish and noisy compared to other vehicles in this class (Jeep claims to have made more improvements to the CVT calibration for 2012). We'd recommend going with the manual-transmission version, as well as opting for the stronger 172-hp, 2.4-liter engine, as there's not much of a real-world fuel-economy penalty. But there's a lot to love in the city and at low speeds, where the steering feels responsive and communicative, and the Patriot's compact-car size and well-defined corners make it one of the easiest vehicles to park and maneuver.
If you ever only plan to drive the Patriot in the city and suburbs, and you live in a warm climate, you'll probably be happy with the front-wheel drive version. But for the rest, there are two different four-wheel drive systems offered. The star of the lineup is Freedom Drive II, which brings a truly Jeep-caliber level of off-road prowess to this vehicle, surprisingly; it includes low-range gearing (through a special version of the CVT), hill descent control, and extra ground clearance—plus a tougher suspension, skid plates, heavy-duty cooling, and hill descent control.
The Patriot is closely related to the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass, but it holds the upper hand with respect to interior space—thanks to the boxy body, which frees up a little more space in back and makes loading and entry easier. There's good seating space inside for four adults; you could wedge a narrow-shouldered third into the backseat if need be, though it is strictly compact-class legroom. Cargo space is also where the Patriot is at its best; the tall roofline and boxy proportionshelp maximize usability, and rear seatbacks fold forward neatly, with added space for long items by folding the front passenger seat.
If the Patriot's layout is one of the high points, Interior refinement is the low point. Even next to other very affordable vehicles in this class, hard, hollow plastic panels are still uninspiring, and there's a lot of engine noise—especially with the CVT.
Safety remains a strength for the Patriot; while it hasn't been rated by the federal government since the ratings system changed last year, it's again a Top Safety Pick for 2012. All the expected safety features are standard, too, and the boxy body brings good outward visibility.
The 2012 Jeep Patriot comes in three different models—base Sport, Latitude, and Limited—and the main difference between the three is in the level of interior comfort and convenience items. All Patriot models now include air conditioning, a CD sound system, fog lamps, cruise control, and power accessories, but you'll want to move up to the Limited for conveniences like heated leather seats, keyless entry, cruise control, and a 115-volt power outlet.
Items from the options list worth worth considering include Bluetooth connectivity with voice control, a remote start system, upgraded Boston Acoustics sound plus outward-facing tailgate speakers, a universal garage-door opener, and a navigation system with Sirius Travel Link.
- Boxy but unpretentious exterior
- Very maneuverable and easy to park
- Good driving position, visibility
- Strong set of features and options
- Low price
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- Sluggish powertrain (CVT)
- Engine noise
- Cheap-feeling interior