Jeep traditionalists weren’t too happy when the current, soft and curvy Cherokee replaced the boxy, much-loved original. They were even more horrified when Jeep announced the grotesque, hatchback-in-drag Compass for the suburbanite set.
Thankfully, the brand new Jeep Patriot – heading to the UK this July with prices expected to kick off at £15,000 – recaptures some of the rugged, go-anywhere looks and character of the ol’ faithful favourite Cherokee.
While it shares the same mechanicals as the Compass, and the front-drive Dodge Caliber too, this square-edged Patriot hides its soft underbelly surprisingly well. Everything's taller and more upright; that seven-slot grille, the windscreen, the side windows, the tailgate. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that its dimensions are near-identical to the old Cherokee’s; this car is essentially targeted at the same customer.
Unlike the Compass, which would get stuck in a pothole on the M25, the Patriot is better-equipped for tackling the mucky stuff. Tick the right options boxes and you’ll get it with full-time four-wheel drive, a low ratio transfer gear, 230mm of ground clearance, skid plates, hill-descent control and beefy tow hooks.
Engine choices will include Chrysler’s 172bhp 2.4-litre four-cylinder, coupled to either a five-speed manual or optional CVT. Or, the torquey, VW-supplied 2.0-litre 138bhp turbo diesel ‘four’ with a six-speed manual 'box.
What's it like?
We tried out the 2.4 for size in the Arizona desert and came away impressed by the Patriot’s nimbleness, agility and capability in the rough. The four-cylinder works best with the five-speed manual gearbox – the CVT is as hateful in the Patriot as it is in the Caliber and Compass – but with the self-shifter, the 2.4-litre engine provides decent mid-range torque and high-rev refinement.
Through the corners, body roll is well contained and lumps and bumps are effectively absorbed by the long-travel suspension.
But as with the Caliber and Compass, the Patriot is let down by the risible quality of its interior. The boxy dash and centre console are made up of a mish-mash of brittle, ill-matched plastics that look and feel dirt cheap.
Should I buy one?
If you're a fan of the original Jeep Cherokee – and there are plenty of you out there – you'll feel right at home with the Patriot. It's fairly capable both on the road and off it, and has got the same brand-defining, square-cornered visual appeal of the Cherokee. Unfortunately, it's also got the same terrible mix of cabin plastics.
The problem Chrysler will have in convincing buyers outside of that clique is that we're used to better-appointed, more refined, more car-like 4x4s these days. A cut-price, rough-around-the-edges junior American mud-plugger might be charismatic enough to tempt a few people back out of their RAV4s, Santa Fes, CR-Vs and Freelanders, but if you're going to join them, you should do so in the knowledge that you'll be leaving behind the better-quality car.