If there’s one automotive niche that Jeep should own, it’s the small and inexpensive SUV. After all, Jeep practically invented the concept with its post-war station wagon and Jeepster. Unfortunately, if my week with the 2013 Jeep Patriot Latitude is any indication, the company has a long way to go.
The problem with the Patriot Latitude is that it doesn’t have much going for it. The styling is classic Jeep. You know it when you see it. Everyone will recognize that you’ve got a Jeep. But as other companies are getting much more stylish (like the Kia Sportage), Jeep is getting left behind. There are ways to update old designs. Look how BMW has worked its distinctive grill into some beautiful cars over the years. Jeep needs to take the same approach. Use the grill as the starting point and boldly go somewhere new.
Inside, the Patriot Latitude is just OK. It has an inexpensive feel and look. To be honest with you, if you were buying the base Patriot for around $16,000, that might be OK. Of course you wouldn’t get any frills (crazy stuff like air conditioning or power windows). But my test stickered at $26,320. There are plenty of other cars in that range that offer a lot more for the same money. The dash display didn’t impress me. It was small (only six and a half inches), and it didn’t seem to laid out very well. Maybe I just don’t think like Jeep engineers, but it was another less than satisfying experience (especially when you consider the dash display in the Jeeps sister-division Chrysler 300 is so spectacular).
My test car had the 2.4 liter, 172 horsepower engine. I feel sorry for anyone who opts for the 2.0 liter base model. The “big” engine is underpowered and doesn’t seem to know how to deliver what little oomph it has. It was tough enough accelerating on city streets, but while driving through the mountains in Northern Arizona, the motor was working really hard. The transmission also didn’t seem to handle the gearing well.
Of course one thing the Patriot does offer (which many of its SUV competitors don’t) is four-wheel drive. As always, it’s great if you need it. If you don’t truly think you’ll use it the extra drive line is simply wasted money. I did take the Patriot up to a snowy Grand Canyon, and the four-wheel drive was definitely handy on the icy roads. It seamlessly slipped into the extra drive on the fly and I never felt it giving way. Of course, I wasn’t pushing it. I was just navigating parking lots and park roads. Still, if you need four-wheel drive the Patriot at least gives you that option.
I will give Jeep credit for one creative idea. When the tailgate goes up, there are speakers that flip down. What a brilliant concept. If you’re having a tailgate party, or just want music at your camp-out, it’s perfect. Of course it comes as part of the $650 Premium Sound Group.
There were four of us in the Patriot during that trip to the Grand Canyon. While the folks in the back weren’t complaining, they also didn’t have much to rave about. The seat comfort was OK. Leg room was a little skimpy and just OK.
Ironically, if I were going to consider the Patriot, I’d probably go for the base model. While it’s underpowered and rough around the edges, it gets you into a new SUV without a lot of cash. Once you starting adding options, it’s time to start looking around at other brands.
It’s a shame. Jeep needs to figure out how to reclaim its heritage.