Many small SUVs styled like rugged off-road vehicles but only a few are. Our test 2009 Jeep Patriot Limited 4×4, as equipped with the Freedom Drive II Off-Road Group is one of the “are”.
Mind, not every Jeep Patriot is an are. The base Jeep Patriot comes with front drive only, and the Limited 4×4 has, as its name suggests, four-wheel drive, specifically Freedom Drive I, a full-time, active four-wheel drive system with a locking center differential.
But Freedom Drive II adds a 19:1 low range that gives the Patriot trail creeping speed–contrary to gravel-flinging episodes beloved of television ads–that lets the Patriot clear rocks and logs and other obstacles that are a part of real off-roading.
The package is more than just the low range, however. It adds an inch of ground clearance for a total of nine inches, and the approach and departure angles to 29.6 and 34.2 degrees front and rear respectively, with a 23.3 degree breakover angle. Only truly heavy-duty off-roading requires more. Jeep adds to that additional body sealing and drivetrain vents mounted high enough for the Patriot to ford 19 inches of water.
Off-roading capabilities are augmented with hill descent control, brake lock differential, 17-inch all-terrain tires, a full-size spare tire, skid plates, fog lamps and more, and because everyone gets stuck sometime, tow hooks. Note: It could be the other guy who’s stuck and it’s the guy with the Jeep Patriot to the rescue.
The Jeep Patriot’s Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package also comes only with a continuously variable transaxle, more about which later, but it’s listed separately on the order sheet and it’s a bigger expense as well. Altogether however it adds up to the little “Trail Rated” badge on the Patriot’s fender, something all other Jeep Patriots don’t have.
True confession: We didn’t have the opportunity to test the Jeep Patriot’s full off-road agility, and to be honest, we doubt few owners will. At least that’s our rationalization for a road test, with the emphasis on on-road. If you’re looking for a boonie busting test, this ain’t it. For the rest of you, stick around:
Right up front, our initial driving impression of the 2009 Jeep Patriot Limited 4×4 with the Freedom Drive II Off-Road Group came from the continuously variable transmission. It seems an improbable application of the “steel belt drive,” which for many years was not durable enough for higher horsepower use, much less the abuse of off-roading. That’s obviously changed and from our earlier experience taking an earlier CVT-equipped Patriot off-road, the continuously variable transmission actually works well in that capacity. With the brake lock differential, which applies the brakes to a spinning wheel to put torque to the wheels with traction, and hill decent control, which applies brakes individually to maintain a set downhill speed, our Patriot Limited 4×4 was well equipped to go off-road.
On-road, however, the CVT did what in our experience every CVT with a relatively small engine does: send revs soaring at anything more than a light touch on the throttle. That’s what it is designed to do and should be doing, seeking the optimal gear ratio for the moment. But it’s also too eager to “hunt,” or swing wildly between low and high rpm. On an uphill run, the gas pedal can be used to change engine pitch. The musically inclined could play tunes? “It’s a Long Way to Tipperarry”, anyone?
Like lower-powered CVT-equipped vehicles in general, the revs maxing out early and staying more or less constant as the vehicle accelerates blunts the sensation of acceleration. That the Jeep Patriot doesn’t lunge ahead when the pedal is pushed doesn’t help either.
That said—and particularly considering the all-terrain tires— the Jeep Patriot rides well for an SUV. We think the tires may be in part responsible for the louder-than-typical-car noise level as highway speeds, most of which seemed to come from underneath rather than from wind noise.
Handling is what one might expect from a moderately-priced SUV. The Jeep Patriot is tall for its width and therefore leans more in corners than a car would. That combined with the bouncy big tires and springing that accommodates off-road adventures leads to nervousness in the curvy bits. It’s not a problem if the driver has the sense to slow down, though dodging an obstruction the road will be more precarious. On the other hand, with that nine inches of ground clearance, maybe whatever it is can just be straddled and be done with.