- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

This Patriot offers freedom of the outback

Jeep is in an interesting situation of late. Dealers want more models to offer buyers. They also do not want abandon the hearty brand image. Jeep leaders and dealers alike do not want to water down the brand while making these offerings to a broader market.

Jeep is one of the strongest names known around the world as the rugged and most capable off-road and on-road vehicle. Granted many hard-core Jeep loyalists believe the leaders at Jeep have lost their vision of the Jeep vehicle.

I believe that, in the long run, these loyalists will come to defend the newly introduced Patriot with the same vigor. Even though these jeepsters will continue to see this new addition to the lineup as a softer Jeep, particularly when compared to a Wrangler, they will see it carries on with the Jeep tradition. Just in a different manner.

Jeeps of today are divided into two groups, those that are “trail rated” and those that are not. The trail rating gets applied only to the models that can make their way into and, more importantly, out of some of the rugged backcountry trails. At one time this was defined as traversing the Rubicon Trail in Northern California. That in part is why there is a Wrangler Rubicon model in the Jeep line. These are the most capable in terms of off-road competence. The point is in the past every Jeep had to conquer the Rubicon Trail.

The softening comes when Jeep has allowed the trail rating to be applied to vehicles such as the Patriot, knowing it would not be able to make the 11-mile trek of strewn boulders and washes. An important point here, however, is I just put the Patriot through two days of hard driving that included some pretty aggressive off-road trekking and this Jeep held up rather well.

Now, do I prefer the Wrangler Rubicon? You bet, I will always feel a strong allegiance to this vehicle.

There are two basic versions, “trail rated” and on-road only. Two engines are available in the lineup. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is designated as DaimlerChrysler’s world engine.

This engine will find an application in many vehicles around the world, not just in North America.

This 2.0-liter engine isn’t the most powerful engine, but it delivers class-leading fuel economy at 26 miles per gallon city and 30 highway. On the other hand the stablemate 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine raises the horsepower rating to 172. Granted not the powerhouse of a big V-8, but it, too, has an admirable fuel economy rating as high as 26 and 30 mpg for two-wheel drive.

Why would anyone choose the smaller engine with the same fuel ratings? Because some individuals will be quite happy to have only front-wheel drive and opt for the entry-level price of $14,530 for their vehicle. There are two transmissions available, the base is a standard five-speed manual.

Two four-wheel-drive systems are available. Freedom Drive I is a system that offers drivers year-round assurance and added traction during inclement weather.

To get four-wheel drive and the capability to go on the rugged trails, you will need Freedom Drive II, which can only be outfitted with a Constant Variable Transmission (CVT) equipped with low-gear range and a locking coupling at the rear differential.

The system got me through every troubling situation. I forded 19 inches of water, climbed up and down over boulder-strewn ravines and through foot-deep sand in river washes without a concern. Because of the electronically controlled coupling I was able to teeter through some rough country where two opposite wheels were off the ground and the Patriot pulled me through.

I sure was surprised at the capabilities of this Jeep. And being the value leader for the brand it is sure to bring new owners to the fold. Granted they may not all be off-road enthusiasts, but if you put yourself in that category and you don’t want to put a huge strain on your wallet, the Patriot is worth a good long look. Equipped with four-wheel drive and the 2.4-liter engine, it will top out at just over $25,000.

OK, not chump change, but well below what you might pay for others in the same category.

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