Some of our most significant reservations about the Patriot are getting dismissed out for 2014. Why? Because Jeep has finally thrown the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to the wayside, replacing it with a new six-speed automatic transmission.
This new transmission 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 upon almost any level of acceleration that accompanied the CVT combination.
But that's only part of the story. Just as before the Patriot comes with three different drive systems: front-wheel drive. If you have snowy winters to navigate, or steep gravel or muddy trails to take to the campsite, you’ll want the available Freedom Drive I (all-wheel drive, but with a locking center differential).
Step up to the Freedom Drive II system, which is a hardier system up to task for tougher forest trails and true off-road conditions, and you’ll get the full-on ‘Trail-Rated’ badge—including additional skid plates and other upgrades. It's actually one of the better systems you can spec on a small crossover.
The engine is familiar: a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder ‘World Engine.’ Top Limited models come upgrade to a 172-hp, 2.4-liter version; a five-speed manual gearbox is standard, while the six-speed automatic is offered as a step up across the lineup. EPA fuel economy ratings remain 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—and that's awfully close to Wrangler territory, we know.
Whether for daily commuting or out on the open road, for outdoor types on a budget, the Patriot works well enough. It's especially useful around town, where it's a joy to maneuver and handle, and parking is easy. That's the good; the bad is that if you have more discerning tastes, it's lacking in sophistication and refinement.