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Jeep was a bit slow on the uptake in the small SUV stakes, but it has made up ground quickly with an assault on this constantly-growing segment.
Earlier this year Jeep introduced its first soft-roader, the Compass, to the local market. Now comes its second small SUV, creating a virtual “his and hers” set.
While the Compass is aimed at women, the Patriot is packaged and priced for the blokes wanting an entry-level Jeep.
A challenging northwest US launch route for this latest creation, carrying the trademark Jeep signatures — a seven-slot grille, round headlights, clamshell bonnet and upright windshield — showed the maker can confidently class it as a vehicle that goes beyond the typical soft-roader.
Starting about $1000 below the Compass base price of $32,490, the Patriot is classic Jeep. Its rugged looks are expected to turn the heads of those looking to downsize but wanting to retain the style.
Jeep already has the most fuel-efficient SUV in the world, in the Compass, at 6.5 litres of diesel per 100km combined consumption for the 2.0 TDI model. The squarer, more traditional-looking Jeep Patriot, is only marginally behind that, at 6.7 litres.
Both share the same Dodge Caliber platform, a near-identical features list and the Freedom Drive I system — a full-time, active four-wheel-drive system with lock mode.
Safety measures include standard side-curtain air bags, brake traction control, driver-controlled three-mode electronic stability program, brake assist, electronic roll mitigation and anti-lock braking system.
The mirror-image theme continues within, with removable flashlight and central armrest designed to hold an MP3 player or mobile phone and a flip-down speaker system in the tailgate.
Patriot features a standard 2.4-litre world engine, with dual variable valve timing providing 125kW of power and 220Nm of torque.
The engine is mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission or an available, continuously-variable transaxle, which has been calibrated by Chrysler Group engineers and delivers a fuel economy improvement of six to eight per cent, compared with a traditional four-speed automatic transmission.
As with the Compass, the state-of-the-art Volkswagen direct-injection, two-litre turbo diesel is also an option in the Patriot. Producing 103kW/310Nm and matched to a six-speed manual transmission, this is a model hard to look past.
The Patriot will come to Australia in August in two guises, Sport and Limited.
Sport includes as standard the 2.4-litre petrol engine and five-speed manual. It takes side-curtain airbags, ESP, brake traction control, ERM and ABS as standard and comes with cloth seats and 17-inch alloy wheels, among a long list of “features” new cars are expected now to have. Diesel adds about $4000 to the petrol manual-version price, with the CVT model sitting snugly between the two.
The Limited adds speed control, a roof rack with cross-bars, body-coloured fascias, bodyside mouldings, fog lamps, leather-trimmed bucket seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
Also in the Limited models are heated front seats and a power express sunroof. Limited models will be about $4000 extra across the range. All Australian-destined Patriots have a full-sized spare wheel as an available option.
Jumping behind the wheel of the new entry-level Jeep on the imposing US northwest coast — where rugged forest-capped mountains run to rolling sand dunes and a furious coast — it was clear the off-roading specialists wanted to break the perception that compact SUVs could not be capable beyond the bitumen.
Nimble, with a comfortable ride on the sweeping-cornered blacktop surface, the Patriot's first off-road test was going to be its toughest.
That test came in the form of a sprawling range of sand dunes, littered with quad bikes and looking much the home of the toughest off-roaders.
Jeep heads, wary of the embarrassment that would be a Patriot buried in the soft sand, joined drivers for a tour of the dunes, navigating the way of the Patriots, which were fitted only with three-season road tyres. They had little to worry about, given the failed attempts of the Australian contingent to bog the cars.
Logging tracks over those imposing mountains were the next test. Unfortunately for Jeep, the American authorities take a great deal of care with even their most isolated roads and Lthe tracks were hardly a test. The winding tracks did, however, raise some quibbles and concerns.
Most in question is the durability of the Patriot, which rides relatively low for an off-roader. With 200mm of ground clearance, it is not going to make a rock-hopper.
And, depending on your driving ability, the ESP's eagerness to kick in, even when you've technically turned it off, can be either annoying or reassuring.
While they'd never make it over Big Red and you would not risk a solo outback adventure in the Patriot, it would make a quite worthy and bush-ready weekender.
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