The Jeep Patriot comes with a choice of engines. The larger 2.4-liter engine works best. It has good power, with 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, and is responsive where it needs to be. You can be going uphill at 75 miles per hour, and it will still accelerate. Our only criticism is that it sounds gruff under heavy throttle. Fuel economy for the 2.4-liter engine is an EPA 23/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.
The 2.0-liter engine offers nearly as much power and slightly better fuel economy. The 2.0-liter engine makes 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque and is EPA-rated at 23/29 mpg with the manual transmission. The smaller engine needs to be revved quite a bit to make power, however. So for the minimal price difference and the extra torque, we recommend the larger 2.4-liter engine.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is a joy to use, even with its long throws. The lever comes out of the center stack above the driver's right knee, an improvement over being on the floor near the right thigh. The 5-speed makes the Patriot feel like a Jeep. Properly used, it brings out the potential of the engine.
The suspension works well in all conditions. We gave it a good test over a 20-mile stretch of dirt road: Hard-packed, potholed, a layer of loose dust, lots of uphill and downhill curves. The Patriot was stable and confident. We drove fast, and used the brakes hard; the ABS frequently activated on the slippery dust with the all-season (not all-terrain) tires. We aimed for some of the potholes, including a 50-foot-long row of little ones. The independent suspension eagerly ate them up. Along came a washboard surface, and the Patriot stayed true. We hit an elevated cattle crossing at 30 miles per hour and tensed for an impact that never came. The Patriot did a great job in these conditions.
On paved country roads the Patriot feels light and nimble. The ride is steady over rough asphalt patches. The body feels well isolated and you can hit a bump with one wheel without your head being tossed.
We also drove a Patriot with the trail-rated Freedom Drive II off-road package. It adds one inch to the ground clearance for a total of 9.5 inches, allowing a 29-degree approach angle, a 34-degree departure angle, a 22-degree breakover angle, and enabling the Patriot to ford 19 inches of water, that last part thanks to more body sealing and higher drivetrain vents. (To put things in perspective a Wrangler Rubicon fords 30 inches and a Range Rover Sport almost 28.) Unfortunately, Freedom Drive II is not offered with the manual transmission.
Both AWD systems have a locking center differential that sends half the power to the rear wheels. They also have a brake lock differential that can shift the power from side to side on each axle, important in slippery terrain. The Freedom II package also gives the CVT a low range with a ratio of 19:1, good for crawling over obstacles.
We tested the Freedom Drive II combination on an off-road trail in the Arizona desert, led by a member of the local Jeep club. We crossed some ridges and ditches that raised one front or one rear wheel two feet in the air. It felt effortless, as the Patriot just slowly and securely picked its way over. We made a sharp U-turn that showed off the tight turning radius. In a sand pit, the off-road brake traction control dabbed the brakes of the slipping wheel or wheels, and pulled the Jeep through.
The Freedom II package includes Hill Descent Control that is automatically engaged when in Low range on steep downhill grades. It keeps the Jeep under 5 mph and under control, going down steep hills, even icy ones. You can take both feet off the pedals and it will do its thing. It's a great setup.
We hit a sandy gulley and floored it, racing up to 45 mph, engine screaming at nearly redline with our foot on the floor, and the CVT stayed in low range because it's usable up to about 45 mph. The main thing is, driving flat-out in a straight line over the washboard surface, with the wheels bouncing every which direction, the Patriot remained controllable, responsive and tracked true. We hit a couple of washboard curves, trusting in the stability control to keep the Jeep from bashing into the rocks, and it did. Below 35 mph, the ESP only uses the brakes to keep the Jeep on the line; above 35 it also cuts the throttle, if necessary.