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Eric's Autos: Reviewing the 2012 Jeep Patriot

Eric Peters on

This one's pretty easy. Because there's only one. One compact crossover SUV with a four-cylinder engine and a $15k starting price that's available with a two-speed transaxle and Low range gearing. One small SUV that has the gear to go off-road - but won't eat you alive with gas bills on-road. It's the Jeep Patriot.

Everything else is either FWD, AWD - or makes you buy a bigger engine to get 4WD with Low range gearing. Or gets worse gas mileage than a '77 Chrysler Newport.

WHAT IT IS

The Patriot is a compact-sized, four-door crossover SUV. It is conventional in its general layout relative to other small car-based crossover SUVs in that it's built on a unibody platform (body and frame are welded together onto a single unit, like most passenger cars) and it's got a transversely mounted four-cylinder engine and a FWD rather than RWD-based drivetrain layout.

But unlike all other FWD-based compact SUVs on the market right now (excepting its higher-trimmed cousin, the Jeep Compass, which shares the same layout) the Patriot can be ordered with an off-road-capable 4WD system that includes a driver-selectable two-speed transaxle and Low range gearing for rock crawling or slogging through deep snow or mud.

To get more capability - or even comparable capability - you've pretty much got to move up to a truck-based "real" SUV - something along the lines of a Nissan Xterra, Toyota's FJ Cruiser or the Patriot's own stablemate, the Liberty. However, those machines all cost a lot more to buy - and most of them use a lot more fuel.

The 2012 Patriot starts at $15,995 (vs. $24,890 for the base trim Xterra, $23,995 for the base trim Liberty and $26,115 for the base trim Toyota FJ). A top-of-the-line Patriot Limited has an MSRP of $23,650.

WHAT'S NEW FOR 2012

Jeep has recalibrated the Patriot's optionally available continuously variable (CVT) transmission for improved responsiveness.

Also, softer-touch interior panels have been added. The special edition Altitude package - centered on a monochromatic exterior paint scheme - has been updated with new chrome/stainless steel offsetting trim and unique to this model 17-inch high-gloss "black aluminum" wheels.

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