It was like Pot of Gold were brought in as consultants and decided to melt their chocolate trays down to mould the dashboard. But that was then. For 2009, both models get redesigned interiors, but are they enough to warrant a second look? In short, yes. I sampled the Patriot, my favorite of the two with its chunky styling and proper four-wheel-drive switch on the center console.
The Patriot will do 27 mpg, or 28 mpg with the front-drive version. Four-wheel-drive is about a $2,000 option over the equivalent front-drive model. I sampled the mid-grade Sport “E” trim level with 4WD and a five-speed manual transmission. I found it great at city driving - but wish I had more time to take it off-road. Sure, it may share a platform with the on-road biased Compass and Dodge Caliber models, but the Patriot does have a few tricks up its…er…wheel wells.
If you option out the continuously variable transmission with “crawl ratio” and the “Off-Road Group” package, the Patriot is rated as the best off-roader in its class. Compare that to most car-based compact SUVs like the Nissan Rogue or Honda CRV - and they just don’t compare in this respect.
The off-road package adds a stronger alternator, an off-road mode for the 4WD, a better air filtration system to reduce dust, brake lock differentials, an engine oil cooler, fog lamps, hill descent control, tow hooks, a full-size spare tire, as well as transmission, oil pan, and fuel tank skid plates. This builds upon the vehicle’s nine-inches of ground clearance and 29.6 and 34.2-degree departure angles front and rear. Impressive stuff for such a small truck. Ours didn’t have the off-road package, because it requires the CVT transmission. Bummer. Still, we did engage 4WD on some rutted dirt roads and found it to drive beautifully. It was fun too, because I could shift my own gears. One wish I have, however, is a better shift feel. On our tester, it was like stirring tomato soup with a wooden spoon.
I very much enjoyed the interior, however. While still slightly behind the overall execution of, say, a CR-V, swapping the square air vents for round ones, redesigning the dash layout, and adding chrome accents has worked wonders. 12 volt power points have also been relocated, and our tester also included a 115 household-style outlet in the centre console. A sliding armrest, heated front seats, reclining rear seats, and re-profiled door designs all add to passenger comfort. And did I mention there was ample headroom for my over six foot frame, even in an upright driving position?
Out back, a huge carpeted cargo well is more than enough space for a family weekend getaway. If you’re hauling something dirtier, like muddy boots or a wet dog, the cargo floor is reversible, with deep plastic channels to hold mud and grime on the other side. Cargo tie-downs and optional cargo nets and even a dog bed, ensure you’re able to haul just about anything.
Safety-wise, standard dual front airbags, dual side airbags, and dual curtain airbags help to achieve a five-star side impact crash rating. Electronic stability control, ABS, traction control, and electronic roll mitigation are standard on all models.
With its off-road focused design, the only real competition comes from used Jeep TJ’s.
Vastly improved interior
Even the toughest 4WD Toyota RAV4, AWD CR-V, or any other road-biased compact SUV isn’t suited to rock crawling or more difficult off-road tasks. The only vehicle that comes close is the Suzuki Grand Vitara - in price and capability. It lags behind the Patriot in fuel economy, however. Despite the old Patriot having the off-road equipment and many of the same convenience features, not to mention the same overall design, I’m more than a little surprised that I enjoyed the 2009 model so much. A little feedback can go a long way.