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car review

2011 Jeep Patriot

Automotive icon Jeep is marking its 70th anniversary this year. To celebrate, Jeep is offering special, limited-production 70th Anniversary Edition models of all vehicles in its lineup including one of the most affordable and fuel-efficient SUVs on the market – the Jeep Patriot.

The 2011 Jeep Patriot comes in three trims – a Sport, North, and Limited, available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configurations.

The base Sport FWD model won't break the bank; it costs only $17,995. Granted, it's bare bones. It might make more sense to move up the ladder to my tester, a Patriot North 4x4, which costs $23,495. It adds items you won't find on the base model including air conditioning, power windows, speed-sensitive door locks, keyless entry and a driver seat-height adjustment.

Of course, you can go all out and get the fully loaded Limited 4x4 model, which costs a few thousand more and adds leather seats, heated front seats, a power six-way driver's seat and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

The special Jeep Patriot 70th Anniversary Edition comes with 17-inch aluminum wheels, dark slate grey leather-faced seats embossed with a Jeep logo and chestnut accent stitching and piping, dark green gauge cluster overlay, chestnut stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel , and special 70th Anniversary badging. It's a $600 package available only on the Limited trim.

The Jeep Patriot hit the streets as a 2007 model; it shares its platform with the Jeep Compass and Dodge Caliber. But its design clearly reflects Jeep's DNA. It's rugged, tough, and recognizable with its boxy design, flat body panels and bold front end.

This year, it gets a new front and rear fascia with accent cladding and available new fog lamps. My tester's exterior deep cherry red pearl paint is lovely – a nice contrast with the interior's dark slate grey and light beige. But the interior is too light for my tastes – kids would likely get it dirty fast. At least the cloth seats are durable and strong. And my tester comes with stain-resistant seat fabric so if the kids do spill their juice you can clean it up easily without staining the fabric.

Although the front bucket seats are comfortable and supportive, the rear seats could use more padding – they're a bit stiff compared to the front seats. My tester's 60/40-split rear seats fold down, but they also recline for a more comfortable ride in the rear. My front passenger seat also folds flat in case you need to haul longer items. The tall roof provides ample headroom for passengers in all five seating positions, but it also results in significant body lean when cornering.

Stepping into the Patriot is a stretch; the ride height on all 4x4 models has increased by one inch compared to the 2010 models. The result is a more commanding view of the road ahead, but it makes it a little trickier getting into the cabin, especially when wearing a skirt or sundress. Grab handles provide a much-needed boost into the cabin.

The interior isn't flashy or lavish; it's simple. The dashboard is functional with large, legible gauges and clearly marked gauges. All gauges feel sturdy and durable to the touch. A three-spoke steering wheel with cruise control and new soft-touch surfaces with chrome details highlight the interior.

Under the hood is a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine that delivers 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. But my tester comes with a CVT, or continuously variable transmission ($1,750). I'm not a big fan of the tranny – it whines and drones when you nail the throttle.

At times, this SUV feels big and heavy to drive. Highway merging and passing is sometimes laboured, but at highway cruising speeds it's comfortable and sure-footed. The four-wheel-drive system feels solid and secure, especially when riding on rain-slicked roads. The fuel economy is also impressive for a 4x4. Official Energuide numbers are 9.9 litres/100 km in the city and 7.5 highway using regular fuel.

Another bonus is its safety record. The Jeep Patriot has a 2011 Top Safety Pick designation from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It's the highest rating a vehicle can get in high-speed front, side and rollover crash tests.

Of course, no Jeep is complete without the option to go off-roading. You can add a $1,050 Freedom Drive II Off-Road Group package to take on Mother Nature when you're not preoccupied taking the kids to soccer or dance lessons. The package includes a full-time, four-wheel drive off-road mode, which applies torque to the rear wheels when needed, a special version of the continuously variable transmission (dubbed CVT2L) with a 19:1 low ratio for severe off-road challenges, hill descent control, brake lock differential, and fog lamps.

The Patriot is an affordable, small SUV with respectable 4x4 fuel economy numbers and Jeep's classic rugged style that'll let you conquer the occasional trail, when properly equipped.

Tech specs

2011 Jeep Patriot North 4x4

Type: Compact SUV

Base Price: $23,495; as tested, $30,165

Engine: 2.4-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 172 hp/165 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT

Drive: Four-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/7.5 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen

Tiguan, Ford Edge, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4