Buyers with a small-car budget don’t have to settle for a small car when they would rather drive a sport utility vehicle. In fact, they can get a new Jeep for less than a 2013 Toyota Corolla sedan.
The 2013 Jeep Patriot, with rugged good looks and the high ride height that many drivers enjoy, has the lowest starting price of any new SUV on the market.
The base five-passenger, two-wheel-drive Patriot with five-speed manual transmission starts at just $16,990, which includes delivery fee, while the Patriot with a continuously variable transmission automatic starts at $18,090.
Even with four-wheel drive, the American-made Patriot remains bargain-priced at $18,990.
In comparison, the top-selling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 compact SUVs have starting prices of more than $23,600 for base models.
The lowest-priced Patriot model, however, does not include air conditioning and has manual windows and manually adjusted outside mirrors.
The Patriot comes with a choice of two four-cylinder engines – one offering 158 horsepower and the other 172 horses – but neither has great fuel economy. Government ratings range between 20 and 23 mpg in city driving and 23 and 30 mpg on the highway, depending on the model.
The SUV has a small 13.6-gallon fuel tank, so the range on a tank of gasoline can be less than 330 miles.
The tested Latitude 4X4 model, with 172-horsepower four-cylinder, averaged only 19 mpg, providing a range of less than 260 miles on a tank. Most of the driving was in city and suburb conditions. That was with the CVT, which is designed to optimize gear ratios for improved fuel economy.
Alas, the CVT also annoyed by keeping the engine at noisy high revs even as acceleration lagged. Torque in this uplevel, 2.4-liter four-cylinder peaks at 165 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm.
Jeep officials are addressing the CVT issue by substituting a six-speed automatic in the 2014 Patriot. The five-speed manual and the two four-cylinder powerplants remain.
Mechanically, the Patriot, which was introduced as a 2007 model, is based on the Dodge Caliber hatchback that Chrysler built through the 2012 model year.
The Patriot also uses many of the same components, such as four-cylinder engines, as the Jeep Compass. The Compass, however, comes with more standard features than the Patriot and has a higher starting retail price of $20,490.
The Patriot is available with two-wheel drive or two kinds of four-wheel drive systems – one that includes a low range and other off-roading necessities.
The Patriot looks like a Jeep, with upright grille and boxy styling. Inside, it has a straightforward, not fancy, dashboard and instrument cluster and doesn’t offer a rearview camera, which is a standard feature on the RAV4 and CR-V.
The ride is quite good. The test Patriot Latitude 4X4, with uplevel 17-inch, all-terrain tires, rode nicely on both pavement and dirt lanes.
The front independent MacPherson strut suspension and rear independent, multilink setup worked well to keep harsh jolts away from passengers. There was a tippy feeling in sweeping curves, but the Patriot moved along with purpose. The rack-and-pinion steering wasn’t precise.
Driver and passengers liked the good views that the 5-foot-6-inch-tall Patriot provided. Ground clearance can be as much as 8.1 inches, which means the SUV is ready for straddling off-road obstacles.
There’s a good 39-plus inches of legroom in front and back seats. But back seat passengers must arrange their feet around front-seat tracks that intrude into rear foot space.
The Patriot has ample headroom of at least 40 inches in both front and back seats. Seats have upright positioning and are rather flat, not sculpted. Cushions have a spongy feel and are not plush, and the cloth on the seats looked basic even though Jeep calls it “deluxe.”
The Patriot has posted above average reliability ratings at Consumer Reports magazine.