Thursday, January 3, 2013

Patriot has basics, but new ride shows promise


Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Boosted by robust U.S. sales, the Jeep brand set global sales records in 2012, and perhaps the automaker’s secret is knowing when to change.

Consider Jeep’s iconic Wrangler.  It sets the bar for off-road looks and ruggedness, and kudos to engineers who have tweaked and massaged that vehicle to be what it is now.

Having recently spent a week in the 2013 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4X4, I think I understand why the biggest buzz around this vehicle is the upcoming replacement for the Jeep Patriot/Compass.  The 2014 replacement, which has been a hot offering on Internet spy photo pages, is a stylish-looking, Fiat-based crossover.

Bravo, I say.

Understand, it’s not that the Patriot is a terrible vehicle.  It handles the basics for a pretty fair price, but frankly, the coming upgrade will be a welcome development.

My ride was basically styled on two squares, one starting at the front grille and the second rolling back from the windshield.  With a 2.4-liter in-line 4 (172 horsepower) handling the power arrangements, the Patriot Latitude cuts through the air at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.  Nope, not much to write home about there.

Cabin layout is nice, with comfortable bucket seats and easy-to-use controls within easy reach of the driver.  The interior can be configured to carry enough cargo that you’d likely strain your back loading it all in.  That part works.

Vision from the cockpit is good.  Interior cabin quietness was pretty fair.

Alas, the Patriot Latitude felt every inch the square-ish SUV on the fly.  It’s not a struggle to steer, but it’s no ballerina.  The power plant struggles on uphill runs and when it’s called upon to handle a quick, high-speed pass.  I felt compelled to let up on the gas in the middle of high-speed corners.

Given what’s coming next year, I’d absolutely understand a buyer putting the Patriot on a list for basic transportation to handle SUV chores that include hauling kids, sports equipment and all manner of gear.  And I’m guessing that Jeep dealers will be more than willing to haggle on the base price of the 2013 model ($22,880 on the tester) as this year goes on.

But on a quality-vehicle basis, I’d wait for the replacement with Fiat DNA.  Given Jeep’s good year in 2012, my money is on the soon-to-be new kid in town.

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