I spent two weeks with ‘a’ Dodge Caliber in the US. It was, and still is, my worst car of all time. During the period, I had 3 of them from Hertz as one after the other had to go in due to some form of problem. The CVT gearbox, underpowered engine, vague steering and terrible interior was the summation of the parts. You might be thinking I’ve made a huge mistake on this review as it’s of the Jeep Patriot, but these two vehicles share a common family DNA…They were built on a shared GS platform engineered by the then, Daimler/Chrysler & Mitsubishi. Goes to show that too many cooks do spoil the broth. We’re off to a bad start.
I’ve always been very confused by the proliferation of models from Jeep. Lately they have started consolidating this offering, but the shared Dodge / Jeep platforms of previous years made no sense. Way too many offerings, with too many of them that don’t stand out in any one way, nor make a groundbreaking niche of their own.
The Patriot has recently been “updated”, giving it a refreshed exterior look (new bumper and integrated foglamps) new 17inch mags and a much improved interior. The interior update brings it in line with the rest of the fleet and you can feel the upgrade in quality materials. The interior is much the same as the Wrangler, mostly plastic, with SOME very plasticky bits, but overall, the interior is of a much higher quality than before. The gearshift sits rather awkwardly (A-la Calibre) on the dash, but is easily within reach. (even though you don’t need it much as the model on test was a … vomit … CVT)
The interior sees reasonable spec, with heated seats, on-board computer (a fairly confusing arrangement in the instrument binnacle), Automatic climate control that blows so cold it could no doubt solve global warming if the doors are left open, and a Radio/CD/Aux sound system (the option of a Uprated Navigation system is there). Sadly the sound is not as epic as the system in the Wrangler, which made me sad.
Get into the Patriot and you literally sit IN, and not ON the vehicle, which you can clearly see when getting into the vehicle. Passengers sit rather low with the small windscreen and extremely limited exterior and B pillar rear views giving limited visibility out of the car. Front seats are fairly comfortable (With six-way adjustment), but space in the rear and boot leaves much to be desired. As said before, the interior is quite a step up from previous model, with loads of space to store bits away from prying eyes.
Taking a view from the outside, and it looks typically old-school Jeep. Squared look with a prominent Jeep grille, the updated Patriot does with some plastic bits on the doors and moves the fog-lamps in a bit on the nose of the vehicle. I actually like the original classic Jeep looks, but as always, exterior is a very personal opinion.
What I can give some opinion on is the engine and drivetrain. The Patriot is the moffie in the Jeep off-roader family, even though it employs the “Freedom Drive I” (Not making that up) which is an active AWD system. Jeep does state it’s a light-off roader, so they’re not making any claims that this is a direct descendant of the Wrangler family, and I respect that. The system really is more for the northern hemisphere, with Freedom Drive giving confidence in the snow and occasional mud / forest road it might encounter. The system proportions torque to the axle that needs it most through an Electromagnetic Controlled Coupling (ECC). I didn’t get to test the system out, but I’m guessing around 95% of buyers won’t neither.
On tar the vehicle handles well, the fairly stiff suspension set up allowing limited lean into corners, however that could also be attributed to the low centre of gravity and ride height. The steering is typical Jeep, with a little bit of play in the centre, but overall it feels detached from the front wheels. The retuned suspension (Four-wheel independent MacPherson strut front and multilink independent rear) does show notable improvements, but that’s much like saying your grandmother looks a little better in her purple knit than the blue one.
Speaking of grandmothers, the 2.4litre dinosaur being used in the Patriot is a Jeep favourite. I’ve got to be honest and say that this engine needs a serious refresh, or just throw it out and start again. Hell, throw them all into a volcano and melt them down. With 125kW and 220Nm of torque, the Patriot was never going to haul ass down the blacktop, but this engine just doesn’t cut it. On its own it’s underpowered for litre capacity, but it was then cursed by being mated to a CVT gearbox.
CVT gearboxes are to cars, like being neutered is to a dog. I genuinely want to meet the man that engineered the CVT gearbox. It makes no sense in any car other than a Hybrid, so I hope he’s perished in a CVT related incident. In layman’s terms, the CVT gearbox runs a chain on a cone, instead of a chain on individual gears. This means when you mesh your foot against the floor the revs climb up to 6000RPM (or as I found, far past the redline into the black) as the chain runs up the cone, and stays there as the ear piercing whine from the 2.4litre engine increases the speed. There are no ‘thunky’ gear changes, which is also something any driver would have to become accustomed to. I will come and hold a gun against every Patriot buyer’s head, to make sure he/she buys the manual version. I’ll be saving them a lifetime of pain, and will no doubt be added to their Christmas card list.
Sadly, the Patriot just doesn’t make much sense. It doesn’t do any one particular thing very well, and the competition has it trumped.
For R309 990 for the 2.4 Limited CVT, the Kia Sportage, Hyundai ix35, Subaru Forester or even Nissan Xtrail shows more value and better on road dynamics, which is no doubt where this vehicle will spend most of its time. Yes the Jeep is the only car in this price (bar the Subaru) that features full time 4wheel drive, which may count for something if you can justify it, but considering the low ride height I doubt you can.
My advice – if you’re hellbent on a Jeep at this price, go for the brand-new Compass. If you’re not loyal to any Patriotism, or Americanism, then have a good long look at the competition above.
For more information visit www.jeep.co.za