Jeepers creepers – no low range!
The Patriot is officially Jeep’s first shot at a four-by-fun – the kind of car that provides the look and feel of a sports-ute but without requiring too many sacrifices in terms of dynamics, performance and economy
There are probably members of the Jeep high command who would rather have fallen on their swords than sign off a Jeep model without low range, but they can take heart from the fact that Porsche is now recognised as a maker of SUVs as much as a maker of sports cars.
The Patriot, sans low range and with an “on-demand” four-wheel-drive system, slots in alongside the Compass. To be honest, we’re not quite sure why they both exist, so similar are they in pricing, specification and target market.
Jeep says the Patriot is the slightly tougher, more masculine choice, so expect endless ragging if you’ve already opted for the Compass.
What the Patriot has got is a strong Jeep identity. The seven-slot grille is a good starting point and along with round headlights, squared-off wheelarches, right-angled sheet metal and upright glasshouse makes it pretty much unmistakable.
This is the CRD in Limited trim, which means a turbo-diesel powerplant and a fairly generous equipment level. Priced at R274 900, it significantly undercuts the cheaper oil-burners in the RAV and Freelander line-ups, but costs about R12 000 more than a similar Sportage.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★
The 2,0-litre oil-burner is a popular choice at Dodge and Jeep, and is fitted to a number of models. It has been around for a while, but that’s not to imply that it is long in the tooth – it just isn’t quite as sophisticated or as responsive as some newer offerings.
You may eventually be able to specify the Patriot with low range gearing and a higher-riding stance, but until then the “on-demand” Freedom One system is the default drivetrain. Its main party trick is a chromed T-bar on the centre console, a pull of which locks the torque distribution in a 50:50 ratio front and rear.
Stability Control with an anti-rollover function is fitted, along with four airbags (front and curtain, but not side), pre-tensioning front seatbelts, stability control and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
Making life easier are air-con, electric windows, cruise control and an MP3-compatible sound system. A neat feature is the rear interior light, which can be removed and used as a torch.
★ ★ ★
The geometric look of the exterior is continued inside and some drivers found the proximity of the facia intimidating. The bonnet line is also very high and dominates the forward view: even tall drivers will find themselves reaching for the seat height adjuster. The steering column can be set for rake angle only and a fair amount of fiddling is required to get settled. A reach adjustment is what’s needed.
The cabin is snug in front, accentuated by that bluff dash and the jutting hang-down centre stack. The sound system is more accessible as a result, even if the volume control is on the wrong side of the head unit. Air conditioning is both user-friendly and effective, though the buttons for secondary functions (recirculate, A/C on/off and rear demister) are a little fiddly.
The steering wheel, while covered in humble polyurethane, is surprisingly good to hold and the tall gear lever with its chrome inlay falls naturally to hand. There’s generous stash space between the seats – upholstered in what Jeep describe as hard-wearing, stain-resistant “Yes Essentials” upholstery.
The passenger seatback tips forward to act as a work surface or to allow extremely long objects to be loaded. The centre armrest slides fore/aft by 75mm for ideal positioning, irrespective of the driver’s build. A portion of it unfolds and flips forward to reveal a rubber- lined pouch ideal for an iPod or cellphone.
The rear compartment is quite generous, though it doesn’t look it at first: the seats appear flat and upright, as if you’re sitting down for dinner. But they turn out to be sufficiently well-padded in the right places, and with the 60/40 backrest set to an appropriate angle, they’re quite comfortable, too.
The luggage compartment has a regular shape but is of modest dimensions in most planes. We like the fact that there’s a full-sized spare, and the plastic boot board – dubbed UltraFloor – can be removed if necessary.
★ ★ ★ ★
The numbers from the VW-sourced oil-burner are competitive and it does a sterling job of moving the Patriot along. It’s a common-rail design with direct injection. The former means it is going to be pretty much clean-burning and the latter that it has the potential to be noisy.
In our steady state consumption test it sipped just 7,3 l/100km, and by the time we handed it back, the average fuel consumption was an indicated 8,8 litres per 100. Which is just as well, because the fuel tank is a stingy 51 litres.
Cruising at the maximum legal speed limit in sixth equates to 2500 r/min – the upper end of the 310 Nm torque plateau. Down changes are therefore few and far between, and when they are required the gearbox proves to be light and accurate. The clutch was on the heavy side, though, and with a springy action, and a footrest isn’t fitted.
The engine’s presence is always noticeable, but overall refinement is more than satisfactory, and the main area where it shows its age is in a raspy engine note on full throttle and the fact that it doesn’t rev out like later generation units.
That meant that the sooner we changed gear the faster we went and our best 0- 120km/h run was in the mid-sixteens – which means it’ll see off a Freelander TD4 away from the lights. Overtaking acceleration in fourth and fifth is lively, too. But top gear is best reserved for the open road.
The Patriot turned out to be very driveable in stop/start traffic, our only criticism being an occasional lurching motion shifting between first and second, which required careful throttle and clutch control.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★ ★
The key virtue of the Patriot is its fully independent rear end. As a result, it can be driven with the same enthusiasm as one would a medium-sized wagon or MPV. Ride comfort is a strong suit, both the front and rear suspension proving plush and compliant.
Despite a shortish wheelbase and slightly raised ride height there is good body control on poor surfaces, even when pressing on. And unlike many soft-roaders, it doesn’t require the driver to subconsciously make allowances for its dual-purpose role.
A hydraulically assisted rack and pinion system takes care of steering duties and the Patriot’s confident reactions to the helm are reassuring. Sixty-profile rubber is lower than most, so responses are pretty much immediate and the road-biased tread pattern helps it hold on gamely in corners.
The Patriot’s 4×4 system turns just the front wheels, diverting torque rearward via a multiplate clutch only when needed. The Lock function distributes tractive forces 50:50 front and rear but starts to disengage above 16km/h, reverting to an on-demand basis.
The tyre choice counts against it off-road and low-grip surfaces are soon its downfall, despite the best efforts of the traction control. Ground clearance is also less than claimed. Nevertheless, it is adequately capable within the context of its genre, but it won’t go as far down the same track as a Freelander.
Still, it is highly manoeuvrable in daily use, which is going to be more important for most buyers.
★ ★ ★ ★
Jeep sees the Patriot as offering a similar lifestyle experience to premium brands like RAV and Freelander, while undercutting them on price. That adds up to good value in anyone’s language. While inexpensive plastics and ordinary materials are the order of the day, the Patriot pulls it off thanks to what appears to be acceptable build quality at the price, coupled to an engaging personality and impressive road manners.