2014 Jeep Patriot Latitude: Does It Drive Better Without the CVT?

November 6, 2013
The answer, in a word, is 'yes.'

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.

This is still not, by any means, a vehicle that you want to drive quickly. There's a bit too much fore-and-aft motion when you accelerate or brake hard (which has always made them a little less pleasant with the rather balky manual gearbox and its juddery clutch). And the brake pedal feel remains a little imprecise and spongy.

An odd package, then and now

We still really like the Patriot's profile and exterior styling, although the seating layout doesn't seem to make the most of the potential in the tall, upright body. The driving position in the Patriot does leave something to be desired. The windshield is far ahead of you, with a lot of wasted space on the dash. You sit pretty low—surprisingly low, really, to anyone who's driven an SUV—and the beltline is relatively high. The low cargo floor and easy lift heights are strong points of this vehicle, even today.

Dash and door trim still do feel barely par for the segment, at this price, and we noted that the footwell area of our test car felt drafty on the highway on an cold evening with temps in the low 40s. The heater is very powerful, though.

The driver's seat of the Patriot Latitude comes with an armrest on the right side, but curiously, it's a little higher and a little farther back than what's built into the door.

Seating is a weak point

The seats still aren't great. There's just really flat, not contoured at all, firm where you need them, or really that supportive; so while they feel soft and enveloping at first, they'll have your back aching after an hour or two if you battle posture issues. We tried sitting in the back seat, and it's unexpectedly low, with flat cushions. Again, it's just an odd package in many respects -- more Scion xB than Kia Soul.

Gas mileage was right on par with the 23 mpg Combined suggested on our window sticker. We averaged more than 23 mpg, according to the trip computer, over about 120 miles of driving, mostly around town, with maybe a third of that on the freeway. That's, by the way, 7 mpg lower than what we saw with the front-wheel-drive Fiat 500L we drove a week earlier.

Our Patriot Latitude 4x4 was optioned with the Security and Cargo Convenience Package (roof rail crossbars, trip computer, garage-door opener, alarm), as well as the Uconnect touch-screen audio system, with 40 GB of audio storage, a rearview camera system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and satellite radio. Bluetooth calling functionality was simple compared to some upscale Chrysler and Jeep vehicles, but it worked well and those at the other end of the conversation could hear me.

The bottom-line price for this Patriot: $26,055.

A late-bloomer, now hitting the right stride

In all, we can't help but feel a little conflicted about these vehicles. When they were launched they were disasters, but by the end of their product cycles they're considerably better vehicles. Will a replacement based on the Fiat 500X be a step ahead?

The Patriot, as it is today, looks and feels refreshingly different than anything else in the market, and it finally comes close to adding up to what the stylish exterior and low price tag together suggest. We might actually miss it when it's gone, but we sure won't miss that CVT.

 

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