What's New for 2012
The 2012 Jeep Patriot has had its available continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) recalibrated for improved performance.
The 2012 Jeep Patriot is caught between a vision of Jeep-style off-road authenticity and suburban-style everyday utility. It's a difficult mix to make, and the process is complicated by the demands of a low sticker price and high fuel economy.
A car-type unibody platform like the Patriot's can be made to deliver trail-rated performance, as the Jeep Grand Cherokee has proven for several decades, so we shouldn't be surprised to see that the Patriot can be fitted with an optional off-road option package. It gives this small crossover surprising capability in the dirt thanks to increased ride height, skid plates and a four-wheel-drive system complete with a transfer case that has dual-range gear ratios for low-speed crawling.
It's the Patriot's highway personality that has been the obstacle that has kept this Dodge Caliber-based crossover from getting much respect. The combination of a small four-cylinder engine and a CVT makes for great fuel economy but relatively unimpressive performance — an issue that plagues many compact crossovers, not just the Patriot. Last year the Jeep engineers brought more personality to the Patriot with revised suspension and steering hardware, and now the CVT has been recalibrated for 2012. The automaker's design team has also added some soft-touch materials to its easy-to-clean, industrial-style cabin.
The Patriot's real challenge, however, lies in the quality of its competition, because this segment of compact crossovers is one of the most competitive in the market. Buyers simply looking for some added peace of mind when road conditions turn ugly will find all-wheel-drive versions of small crossovers like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage to be more refined alternatives.
As compact crossovers go, the Jeep Patriot is indeed the one meant to get dirty, whether it's simple weekend sport or real all-terrain mobility. But if you're just looking for a people-friendly transportation box, you probably want to give this Patriot a crisp salute and look to its more well-rounded competition.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Jeep Patriot is a compact SUV that's offered in three trim levels: Sport, Latitude and Limited.
The entry-level Sport model comes with 16-inch steel wheels, foglamps, rear privacy glass, roof rack side rails, cloth upholstery, 60/40-split-folding rear seatbacks, cruise control, outside temperature display, a tilt-only steering wheel with audio controls, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. Options include air-conditioning and the Power Value Group, which adds keyless entry, full power accessories and heated mirrors.
The midrange Latitude trim level adds the Sport's above optional items. plus 17-inch alloy wheels, remote ignition, heated front seats, a height-adjustable driver seat, a fold-flat front passenger seat, 60/40-split-folding and reclining rear seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, a 115-volt AC power outlet and a trip computer.
The top-of-the-line Limited model adds a few extras including a larger four-cylinder engine, four-wheel disc brakes, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a six-way power driver seat and an upgraded sound system with a six-CD changer (optional on Sport) and satellite radio.
The Security and Cargo Convenience Group available on the Latitude and Limited adds daytime running lights, front-seat side-impact airbags (available separately on the Sport), roof rack crossbars, remote ignition, a cargo cover, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and Bluetooth (available separately on all trims). The Sun and Sound Group also available on the Latitude and Limited adds a sunroof and a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system with two fold-down speakers in the tailgate (which is also available separately). The Off-Road Group available on all Patriots with Freedom Drive I adds the Freedom Drive II all-wheel-drive system, all-terrain tires, skid plates, tow hooks and hill descent control.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Jeep Patriot Sport and Latitude models come standard with front-wheel drive and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a CVT is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined with the CVT and 23/29/25 with the manual.
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder is optional on the front-drive Sport and Latitude, and standard on the Limited and all Patriots equipped with the "Freedom Drive I" all-wheel-drive system. It produces 172 hp and 165 lb-ft, and also features the five-speed manual and CVT (standard on Limited). The optional "Freedom Drive II" is a more traditional four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case that makes it more suitable for off-pavement exploration.
In Edmunds testing, a four-wheel-drive Patriot with the 2.4-liter engine and CVT went from zero to 60 mph in 10.3 seconds, a slow time for this type of vehicle. EPA-rated fuel economy ranges from a decent 23/28/25 with the manual and front-wheel drive to 20/23/21 with Freedom Drive II.
All 2012 Jeep Patriots come standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, active front head restraints and side curtain airbags. Front-seat side-impact airbags are optional on all models. In Edmunds brake testing, a four-wheel-drive Patriot came to a stop from 60 mph in a poor 143 feet -- about 20 feet longer than average.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Patriot its top "Good" rating in frontal-offset crash tests. Results were mixed in the organization's side impact tests, however, with the Patriot earning a "Good" rating when equipped with the optional side-impact airbags and a second-to-worst "Marginal" without them.
Interior Design and Special Features
At first glance the Patriot's interior looks nice enough, if a little utilitarian. On closer examination, however, the extensive use of easy-to-clean but hard plastics in the off-road style keep the interior from feeling comfortable. Almost every compact crossover is nicer. The front seats are comfortable enough, but rear seat legroom is tight in the outboard seats and virtually nonexistent in the center position.
Large, easy-to-read gauges and user-friendly controls reinforce the Jeep's off-road heritage. Other positives include clever ideas like the cargo area lamp that pops out to become a rechargeable LED flashlight and the optional Boston Acoustic speakers that flip down from the raised liftgate to provide tunes for your next tailgate party.
Which brings us to the Patriot's undersize cargo hold, the interior's notable weakness. With just 23 cubic feet of space behind the 60/40-split rear seats and 53.5 cubic feet with both sections folded down, it's significantly smaller than those in crossover competitors like the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester. That said, the standard fold-flat front passenger seat makes it possible to squeeze long items inside and still get the tailgate closed.
Of the 2012 Jeep Patriot's two available engines, even the larger 2.4-liter is underwhelming when it comes to highway power, but the availability of a five-speed manual transmission makes this vehicle very capable for off-road adventure.
Since the available Freedom Drive I all-wheel-drive system is really only meant to provide added peace of mind when roads turn slippery, it's the Freedom Drive II system you'll want if you expect to be spending much time in the dirt.
At the same time, this dimension of off-road capability also has consequences in the calibration of the suspension, so the comfort quotient in the fast lane on the freeway might not be what you expect. Then again, a Jeep is meant to deliver a certain amount of toughness.