Test Drive: 2011 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4×4

Our week with the 2011 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4×4 was one of considerable enjoyment as well as befuddlement. The smallest and least expensive Jeep in the product line, the 2011 Patriot came to us as a vehicle we wanted to like before we ever sat inside and twisted the key. We came away with many great things to say but also left with some less than positive impressions in some areas.

The Patriot represents a unique vehicle in the compact SUV market. It’s based on a car chassis like all of its competitors but it’s one of the few that offer genuine off-road credentials and capabilities. It has that traditional rugged Jeep style that’s a dead ringer for the 1980′s Jeep Cherokee, a vehicle the Jeep rank in file has slowly come to love. It’s boxy and muscular, yet compact.

For 2011 it was given a number of key improvements that answered much of the negative press it had gotten in the past. New interior trim on the doors, that nice new steering wheel from the Grand Cherokee, a new center armrest, standard cruise control, new cloth seating surfaces, and new technological gadgets go a long way to improving what once was a hoary cheap plastic interior. Exterior enhancements for 2011 include new front and rear fascias to freshen the look too.

Also new for 2011 are some significant chassis tuning improvements that include higher spring and damping rates, a thicker rear sway bar and a higher ride height for 4×4 models. New steering rack enhancements have greatly enhanced the feel and precision of the steering. In our on road driving as well as off-road in the back lands of the Arizona Sonoran Desert, we found the handling of the Patriot be a pure delight. This small SUV is just plain fun to drive.

On the road up in the mountains of twisty roads the Patriot was smooth, refined and unflappable in a way that most SUV’s would envy. There is little body roll, the steering feel is fantastic, and its ability to carve through curves effortlessly was simply amazing. It has a level of refinement and road holding we honestly didn’t expect from a vehicle that starts out at $17,695. Because it’s built on a chassis derived from a passenger car it never feels top heavy or tippy.

And despite that car based chassis, when we got off road we were impressed with the maneuverability and handling prowess the Patriot exhibited on gravel, washboard, and muddy paths both at speed and crawling up steep hills. In our off-road travels we were also keyed into a social phenomenon that comes with the Jeep’s unmistakable face and grille. When seen in the rear view mirrors of other lesser SUV’s on the trail they tend to move over and let you pass.

While the body and suspension was solid and jiggle free on our washboard road and washboard hill testing, a loud intermittent rattle in the steering column that presented itself on rougher surfaces became annoying at times. It was the one thing that spoiled an otherwise sterling performance on our back roads day trip in the Tonto National Forest. This could be attributed to the fact our vehicle was an early pre-production model but needs to be mentioned. When the road smoothed out the noise went away.

Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional 172 horsepower 2.4 liter “world” engine mated to a CVT (constantly variable transmission) and the Freedom Drive II 4×4 drive system. That system and corresponding equipment offers superior traction and articulation off-road and has a low 19:1 ratio and lockable 4×4 mode for crawling around – something few compact SUV’s offer.

On the road and off, the 2.4 liter engine while powerful and diligent is downright noisy. In fact it sometimes almost sounds agricultural. And when you combine the fact that it’s mated to a CVT which does not shift gears but lets the engine RPM’s swing up and down wildly when accelerating or going up a grade, you get something that sounds like a lawnmower or a leaf blower droning on in your neighborhood when it is pressed to perform.

While the power delivery from the CVT is adequate, the sound and feel you get from this power train is just completely bizarre. The CVT tends to make what is an otherwise top notch vehicle feel substandard. We suggest you opt for the 5-speed manual, and we suggest Chrysler get a modern 5 or 6 speed automatic in this thing ASAP. In our week of testing we averaged 21-22 mpg city/highway combined. The EPA ratings for the Patriot 4×4 with CVT and Freedom Drive II are 20 city and 23 highway. So our real world results were right on the money.

On the positive, the Patriot’s new interior a nice place to spend extended amounts of time. The seats and their premium cloth are very comfortable and supportive. The seating position and the view out the windows is very much SUV and traditional Jeep. You never feel like you are on the vehicle but rather in it which breeds confidence. Controls are simple and easy to find, there is a lot of storage and easy cup holder access.

The new dash that made it into the Patriot in 2010 is a major improvement over the first generation but does lack the inspirational design gravitas found in its larger brother the Grand Cherokee. The AC works strong and the touch screen stereo system with satellite was a good option that was easy to use and sounded good. The rear seating is adjustable in rake which was a major plus for our passengers. There is also plenty of cargo room in the rear with the seats upright which is also uncommon with compact SUV’s.

Our 2011 Patriot was well equipped with options bringing the total price to $25,410 including delivery. Those options as previously stated included the top drawer Freedom Drive II Off-road group which features Jeep trail rated capabilities. Notable features in the package are engine oil cooler, trailer tow harness, full size spare, 17″ aluminum wheels with Goodyear off-road tires, skid plates, off-road low range modes, locking differential and tow hooks.

Also our Patriot was equipped with the upgraded Media Center 430 watt sound system with 30gb hard drive, satellite radio, Uconnect functionality and touch screen display. The Security and Convenience Group also added roof rack, security system, side airbags and tonneau cover among other features.

In the final analysis we came away loving the Patriot for its exemplary handling and feel both on and off road. It’s capabilities off-road are likely un matched by any compact SUV in its class, most of which tend to be more biased for on road capability. The unfortunate power train combination was a low spot, but despite its noise and crudeness still delivered respectable power and efficiency. Bottom line is that if Chrysler put in some more sound deadening material and added a 6-speed automatic to the Patriot it would be at the top of its class.

Model: 2011 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4×4 2.4
Options: Freedom Drive II Offroad Package, Media Center 430, Uconnect, Security & Convenience Group, CVT2 Transmission.
Price as tested: $25,410 including destination.
Exterior Color: Natural Green Pearl Clearcoat
Interior Color/Trim: Dark Gray Slate cloth.
Assembly Location: Belvedere, IL

About the author

Sam Haymart

Smoker of fine tires, eater of natural foods, connoisseur of aromatic leathers, and pusher of limits. Publisher and editor of Steed Publications news outlets including this one, Motoring2.com, DieselDig.com, TheMustangNews.com and host at TestDriven.TV. Twitter - Facebook - Google+