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The 2015 Jeep Patriot remains a good budget-minded vehicle that, put simply, looks different than nearly everything else on the market.
The Patriot is somewhat overshadowed by the larger Cherokee and smaller Renegade models, both of them far newer and better targeted at the expanding market for small SUVs and crossover utility vehicles. That said, it lands in an intriguing middle ground. While clearly larger than the new subcompact Jeep Renegade, the Patriot isn't quite the size of the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, or Toyota RAV4--which face off directly against the Cherokee. Instead, the Compass sits in between its two siblings, more the size of the Kia Soul or perhaps the very different Nissan Juke.
Over the years since its launch as a 2007 model, Jeep has made the Patriot a better vehicle and a better value. The original was grim, loud, slow, and had a punishingly austere econocar interior--and most of those problems have been addressed in a series of updates and feature changes. Today, it offers a sensibly sized package that combines macho Jeep lines with enough softness and civility to make it practical family transport. It may not be the newest or best-equipped, but there's a lot to like regardless.
In a way, it reminds us of the low end of the Subaru Forester range: They're both upright small utilities that deliver all-wheel-drive capability and sensible performance without any luxury trappings. And there's room for that in this market, which is why the Patriot carries on selling even as it approaches its 10th birthday without a redesign.
The boxy, trim, bold exterior yields a tremendously useful interior, with good cargo space, and rear seatbacks that flip forward easily to make more room. We’ve found entry and exit very easy, thanks to the tall roofline, with plenty of headroom front and back—although the seating position is a little lower than you might expect. While the details and materials are nothing to speak fondly of, the interior packaging is very well done.
Although this cute ute looks tough, it's also pretty capable in some configurations. The Patriot is available with three different drive systems: front-wheel drive or a choice of two all-wheel-drive setups. If you have snowy winters to navigate or plan to do some light off-roading, you’ll want the available Freedom Drive I system, which is pretty standard but includes a locking center differential.
The Freedom Drive II system is hardier and includes low range for real off-road conditions. It's the only Patriot that earns a ‘Trail-Rated’ badge, and is accompanied by other upgrades like additional skid plates. It's actually one of the better systems you can spec on a small crossover.
The base engine is a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Top Limited models and any version equipped with all-wheel drive come standard with a 172-hp, 2.4-liter version; a five-speed manual gearbox is standard, while the six-speed automatic is offered across the lineup and the CVT is bundled with Freedom Drive II.
Our main Patriot criticism was addressed last year, when Jeep replaced the continuously variable transmission on most automatic-equipped models with a conventional six-speed torque-converter unit. (There's still a CVT paired with the most capable all-wheel-drive system, which uses a low range built into the transmission.) The new automatic has a low first gear for quicker takeoffs, a tall top gear for relaxed cruising, and—as we've already verified with a short spin—a significant relief from the coarse drone of the CVT.
EPA fuel-economy ratings are as high as 30 mpg on the highway, but they dip down to the 20-mpg mark if you get that Freedom Drive II package. So the capability trade-off brings it down close to Wrangler mileage numbers, without as much capability as a Wrangler.
The Patriot is offered in Sport, Altitude, Latitude, High Altitude, and Limited models for 2015, with base equipment on the Sport including fog lamps, illuminated cupholders, rear-seat heater ducts, tilt steering, cruise control, roof side rails, tinted glass, and an auxiliary input, plus Hill Start Assist and electronic stability control with roll mitigation. There’s no standard air conditioning, which helps the Patriot come in as at a bargain base price below $17k including destination charges.
The Altitude package is mostly cosmetic, adding a blacked-out exterior and wheels, as well as cloth/vinyl upholstery. Latitude models step up to air conditioning, power windows and locks, power heated mirrors, keyless entry, front heated cloth seats, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a 115-volt power inverter, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. Get the Limited, and you’re in with a power driver’s seat, four-wheel disc brakes, leather seats, automatic climate control, an info center, and upgraded audio with SiriusXM.
Changes for 2015 include the replacement of the removable headliner-mounted flashlight with a more conventional dome light, and the added option of Garmin navigation on Latitude models. A new Eco Green Clear Coat hue replaces Rugged Brown in the exterior-color list.