It's no secret that the Jeep Patriot -- along with the Compass, its comrade on the bottom rung of the Jeep lineup -- was something of a disappointment when it was launched for the 2007 model year. The cabin was full of sharp, ugly plastics; the ride was jittery and loud; and the powertrain was far from class-leading. At least, though, it looked better than the Compass and managed to earn Jeep's Trail Rated badge, at least when equipped with the so-called Freedom Drive II system.
As we reported last week, the 2011 Patriot receives some much-needed updates in the form of an exterior face-lift and some polishing to its underpinnings. These updates go above and beyond the revisions that the Patriot received for the 2009 model year, which, you may recall, saw significant improvements to the cabin, the suspension, and sound-deadening materials.
The most visible change to the 2011 Patriot is its new face, which drops the available faux chrome bumper or body-color trim for black lower cladding that surrounds the more centrally located foglamps and is designed to visibly extend the underbody skid plate. The black cladding also runs along the sides of the Patriot, in an effort to make the little Jeep fit in better with the rest of the brand's products. In back, new Patriots sport a taller lower rear fascia, and top-spec Latitude models have a chrome strip along the top edge of the bumper. Chrysler designers also worked to camouflage the muffler and painted the end of the tailpipe a silvery chrome hue.
Inside, the Patriot mostly retains the improvements seen for 2009 but adds softer padding where front passengers' elbows rest (door armrests and center console). The "corporate" Jeep steering wheel is now standard on Patriots, as is cruise control. Cloth fabrics were updated, too, and engineers installed some additional sound-deadening materials that are used in European-market diesel Patriots.
Jeep engineers haven't ignored the Patriot's underpinnings for the 2011 update. In Chrysler's "Design Dome" deep within the bowels of the company's tech center in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Jeep president and CEO Mike Manley told us that the new Patriot's on- and off-road dynamics have been "improved significantly." Revised steering and suspension systems -- namely higher spring and damper rates, additional rebound springs, and a bigger rear antiroll bar -- should improve on-road demeanor and reduce body roll. Also, ride height of the top-selling Patriot, the four-wheel-drive model without the Freedom Drive II low-range system, has been increased by one inch to match that of the Trail Rated Patriot, but Jeep still claims "unsurpassed 4x4 fuel economy in its segment." As before, no stick-shift Patriot earns the Trail Rated badge, which won't impress many hard-core off-road enthusiasts.
Otherwise, the Patriot largely carries over from previous years. The base engine (quietly introduced for 2008) is a 158-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, while a 172-hp, 2.4-liter four is optional on two-wheel-drive vehicles and standard on 4x4s. A five-speed stick is standard with either engine, and two CVTs -- the off-road friendly flavor (Freedom Drive II) and the on-road-biased version (Freedom Drive I) -- are also available. Fuel economy ratings range from 20 to 23 mpg in the city and from 22 to 29 mpg on the highway, depending on transmission choice and the number of driven wheels.
Pricing hasn't yet been announced, nor is Chrysler saying much about its plans for the 2011 Compass, the Patriot's near twin under the skin. It, too, will receive significant updates for 2011, which Jeep will reveal early next year (most likely at the Detroit show).
The 2011 Patriot will commence production in a few weeks and reach dealerships anytime between next Friday and New Year's Eve ("in the fourth quarter," according to Chrysler's PR staff). Stay tuned to automobilemag.com for more, including our impressions of how successful engineers were in improving the Patriot's driving characteristics.