Spawned from the late, unlamented Dodge Caliber compact, the Patriot was seen as a pseudo-Jeep, more of a poseur than a true descendant of an iconic line of off-road warriors.
But Chrysler, it seems, has persevered, still seeing value in having it in its Jeep lineup. Not only that, but through continuous improvements the Patriot, in its final year in this form, has morphed into a much better vehicle than when it began life.
For 2014, the biggest news is the availability of a modern, six-speed automatic transmission which largely replaces the droning, unresponsive continuously variable automatic transmission that was the source of so many negative comments in previous years.
It’s a decently smooth transmission, which markedly improves the little Jeep’s acceleration and over-the-road performance. The new autobox makes the most of the up-level 2.4-liter four-cylinder’s 172 horsepower.
An upgraded CVT is the only tranny offered with the optional Freedom-Drive II Group, a must for serious off-road types with its more hard-core, low-range four-wheel-drive system, hill descent control, butch all-terrain tires (and a full-size spare), additional tow hooks, and skid plates to protect the drivetrain’s more exposed parts.
Our tester came equipped with the Freedom Drive I all-time, all-wheel-drive system. Biased more toward street/highway use and light trail work, it features a locking center coupling to increase grip in low-traction conditions such as deep snow.
The Patriot’s narrow cabin is Jeep-simple, will well-placed controls. Cloth-swathed front buckets are a bit shy on bolstering, but comfortable enough. Interior materials are still on the plasticky side, but definitely a step or two above earlier versions.
The little SUV handles quite nicely, with direct steering and a well-damped highway ride. Brakes are firm and linear.
The overall impression of the Patriot is one of solidity and ruggedness. If iconic Jeep style and all-wheel capability are on your must-have list, check out the Patriot.