Updated at: 05/01/2013 10:35 AM
By ANN M. JOB
Buyers with a small-car budget don’t have to settle for a small car when they would rather drive a sport utility vehicle. In fact, they can get a new Jeep for less than the retail price of a 2013 Toyota Corolla sedan.
The 2013 Jeep Patriot, with rugged good looks and the high ride height that many drivers enjoy, has the lowest starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of any new SUV on the market.
The base, five-passenger, two-wheel drive, 2013 Patriot with five-speed manual transmission starts at just $16,990, while the base 2013 Patriot with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that operates like an automatic starts at $18,090.
Even with four-wheel drive added, the American-made, 2013 Patriot remains bargain-priced at $18,990.
In comparison, competing compact SUVs by South Korea’s Kia and Hyundai brands have starting retail prices of more than $19,800 as two-wheel drive models.
And the top-selling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 compact SUVs have starting MSRPs, including destination charges, of more than $23,600 for base, two-wheel drive models.
Buyers of the Patriot, however, shouldn’t expect to get all the features of the higher-priced SUVs.
The lowest-priced Patriot model _ the Sport _ does not include air conditioning and has manual, crank windows and manually adjusted outside mirrors.
In addition, the Patriot comes with a choice of two four-cylinder engines _ one offering 158 horsepower and the other 172 horses _ but neither has great fuel economy. Federal government ratings range between 20 and 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 23 and 30 mpg on the highway, depending on the Patriot model.
In comparison, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 with four cylinder and automatic transmission is rated at 26/32 mpg and leads all non-hybrid, four-cylinder-powered, compact SUVs in fuel economy.
Plus, the 2013 Patriot comes with a smallish, 13.6-gallon fuel tank. So the range for the Patriot on a single tank of gasoline can be less than 330 miles.
The test Patriot Latitude 4X4 model, with uplevel, 172-horsepower four cylinder, averaged only 19 mpg, providing a range of less than 260 miles on a single tank. Most of the driving was in city and suburb conditions.
Yet, this Patriot’s transmission was the CVT, which is designed to optimize gear ratios for improved fuel economy.
Alas, the Patriot’s CVT also annoyed by keeping the engine at noisy, high revs, even as acceleration lagged. Torque in this uplevel, 2.4-liter four cylinder peaks at 165 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm.
Jeep officials are addressing the CVT issue by substituting a six-speed automatic in the 2014 Patriot. The five-speed manual and the two four cylinder powerplants remain.
Mechanically, the Patriot, which was introduced as a new 2007 model, is based on the Dodge Caliber hatchback that Chrysler. built through the 2012 model year.
The Patriot also uses many of the same components, such as four-cylinder engines, as the Jeep Compass. The Compass, however, comes with more standard features than the Patriot and has a higher starting retail price of $20,490.
The Patriot is available with two-wheel drive as well as two different kinds of four-wheel drive systems _ one of which includes a low range and other off-roading necessities.
The Patriot looks like a Jeep, with upright grille and boxy styling. Inside, the 2013 Patriot has a straightforward, not fancy, dashboard and instrument cluster and doesn’t offer a rearview camera, which is a standard feature on the RAV4 and CR-V.
The ride is quite good. The test Patriot Latitude 4X4, with uplevel 17-inch, all-terrain tires, rode nicely on both pavement and dirt lanes.
The front, independent MacPherson strut suspension and rear, independent, multi-link setup worked well to keep harsh jolts away from passengers. There was a tippy feeling in sweeping curves, but the Patriot moved along with purpose.
Too bad the rack-and-pinion steering wasn’t precise.
Driver and passengers liked the good views that the 5-foot-6-inch-tall Patriot 4X4 provided.
Ground clearance can be as much as 8.1 inches, which means the Patriot is ready for straddling off-road obstacles.
There’s a good 39-plus inches of legroom in front and back seats. But back seat passengers must arrange their feet around front-seat tracks that intrude into rear foot space.
The Patriot has ample headroom of at least 40 inches in both front and back seats.
Seats have upright positioning and are rather flat, not sculpted, in their shape. Cushions have a spongy feel and are not plush and the cloth on the seats of the test Patriot looked basic even though Jeep calls it "deluxe."
The Patriot comes standard with usual safety equipment, such as electronic stability control, traction control and frontal and curtain air bags. But seat-mounted side air bags are extra on the base model.
While earning four out of five stars in federal government crash testing overall, the 2013 Patriot only received three out of five stars for occupant protection in frontal crash testing. This compares with across-the-board five stars for the CR-V.
Maximum towing capacity of the Patriot is 2,000 pounds, which is more than the 1,500-pound limit of the CR-V.
The Patriot has posted above average reliability ratings at Consumer Reports magazine.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)