Give DaimlerChrysler credit – there's a truck for every Jeep Nation niche, even if some seem more worthy than others of the storied brand. No big fans of the Compass, we warmed to the 2007 Patriot Limited – a budget-friendly $24,150 (loaded) – after coming to terms with the designed-on-an-Etch-A-Sketch profile that recalls its big brother, the Commander.
We'd heard that Patriot's continuously variable transmission lacked on-tap thrust. But we found it ample, mated to its 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 172-h.p. engine. (A trail-rated version has a rock-crawling low-range ratio.) Patriot's an interesting mix of tame and tenacious. A hard-core off-road driver might pass Patriot by (Wrangler Unlimited, anyone?). Still, the 4x4 Patriot feels competent in ruts. We stopped short of extremes. (Reminding us to take it easy, the flush-fitting flashlight, probably improperly secured, fell out of its tailgate nest.) Interior fit-and-finish could be tighter, and the deep-shelf dashboard cheapened the look. "Leather-trimmed" seats give Limited token luxury. Real-world m.p.g. nudged a not-bad 24 in mixed-use driving (Patriot makes a Top 10 list for fuel-efficient SUVs topped by the Ford Escape Hybrid); a 13.6-gallon tank seemed small. ABS comes standard. Side-impact scores are high. This cheap, utilitarian Jeep merits a look for light duty (and then some). – Clayton Collins