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MSRP Range: $16,485 - $22,855
Fuel Economy: N/A MPG city / N/A MPG highway     

All-new SUV delivers affordable off-road capability.

The Jeep Patriot is an all-new compact SUV with plenty of room inside, using a powerful and economical 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that gets an EPA-rated 25 city and 29 highway miles per gallon, with four-wheel drive and a five-speed manual transmission.

It's basically built on the platform of the Dodge Caliber, but you'd never know it. It's unmistakably a Jeep, and looks like a cross between a Liberty and the new Compass; or maybe a three-quarter scale version of the big Commander.

Although the Patriot is more than four inches shorter than the redesigned 2007 Honda CR-V, there's nearly an inch more legroom in the rear seat: a healthy 39.4 inches. The standard 60/40 split rear seat folds flat, and a flat-folding front passenger seat is optional; with all the seats flat, you can put an eight-foot kayak inside.

The Jeep Patriot is a terrific value, starting at $14,985 including freight, with two-wheel drive, manual doors and windows, and no air conditioning. More reasonably equipped, in 4WD, it's a couple thousand dollars more, but still relatively inexpensive.

Standard equipment includes the manual transmission, vinyl seats, AM/FM/CD/MP3 with four speakers, halogen headlamps, rear wiper, roof rails, fold-flat rear seats, brake traction control, and 16-inch steel wheels with all-season tires. Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes, multi-stage front airbags, side airbag curtains, electronic stability control and electronic roll mitigation.

As it's programmed in the Patriot, the optional Continuously Variable Transaxle (replacing the automatic transmission) is too weird to be comfortable. The same CVT is used in the Jeep Compass, and it works well. The difference is that in the Compass (and Dodge Caliber) the CVT has autostick, so you can manually shift it.

Its 2.4-liter engine makes 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, and that's plenty. You can be going uphill at 75 miles per hour, and it will still accelerate for you. The independent suspension is as good as the engine, delivering steadiness and comfort in every abusive situation we could find for it, during a long day of driving on every surface from patchy two-lanes, to hard-packed dirt roads, to sandy off-road trails, to shallow rivers, to deep gullies. For the off-road parts, we drove a Jeep with the optional Freedom II off-road package that makes the Patriot Trail Rated and raises the price by about $2000.

On twisty roads and maneuvering around-town, the Patriot feels light and nimble. The turn-in is sharp. The body is well isolated from the wheels. You can hit a bump with one wheel without your head being tossed. You can hear the tires hitting the expansion strips on the freeway, but you can't feel it.

With the CVT in low range, Hill Descent Control is automatically engaged. This keeps the Jeep under five mph and under control, going down steep hills, even icy ones. You can take both feet off the pedals and it will do its thing.

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