Everyone deserves a do-over.
That's not to make excuses or not to hold a company accountable for misdeeds, but do-overs are as American as apple pie. Few places in the world offer the chance to make amends and reinvent yourself like America.
So if that's our United States, why shouldn't a Patriot deserve a second shot?
The 2009 Jeep Patriot is the off-roader Jeep should have introduced when it debuted at the trailhead in December 2006.
It was the right idea: a little SUV that could get groceries while crossing the Rubicon Trail; that 2007 model was just poorly executed. What Jeep tried to sell as austere was just incomplete. Hey, they screwed up: Vinyl floors, chunks of hard plastic, poor craftsmanship and crank windows don't cut it these days.
The 2009 compact SUV, which is really a crossover built on the same platform as the Jeep Compass and Dodge Caliber, has been upgraded throughout. This wasn't a mid-cycle refresh, it was an apology.
Little details make a design, and the previous Patriot was still a first draft.
Now, it's vastly improved. Chrome accents are now around the dash vents, softer armrests are on the overhauled door panel and illuminated cup holders make the trip a little more bearable.
Really, you don't know what you're missing inside a Patriot until you park a 2008 model next to a 2009. Then when you look inside, you say things like, "wow, the '08 really bites." Improvements were necessary
The problems with the Patriot were never about performance, but that's improved too.
It's quite capable. My test vehicle, the high-end Limited, was powered on the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine. It pounds out a respectable 172 horsepower and 165-pound-feet of torque. (That's an upgrade over the base 158 horsepower, 141-pound-feet torque 2-liter engine.)
It buzzes along the highway quite nicely. It's quieter now that Jeep has installed sound dampening materials on the floor and inside the engine compartment. It's also retuned the exhaust. It's not silent in the cabin when you're going 70 mph, but it's easy enough to hold a conversation.
The ride is fairly smooth, but still feels more truck-like, which fits a Jeep's character.
Jeep's Continuously Variable Transmission also seems to have lost its bipolar disorder in which it would jump around and run at only highs or lows. Jeep has made its partial zero emission vehicle powertrain option available on front-wheel drive-only models too, something that wasn't available before.
One area Jeep didn't have to improve was the vehicle's gas mileage. While there are five different drivetrain configurations, all of the mileage numbers are good -- spanning from 20 miles per gallon city/22 mpg highway for the top of the line 4x4 to 23 mpg city/27 mpg highway for a front-wheel drive with a five-speed manual.
While I did not test the 2009 model's off-road abilities this time, I have driven the Patriot on some extremely tough terrain in the past without any problems. The Freedom II off road package can handle almost everything a person can throw at it.
However, I imagine the toughest course most Patriot drivers will tackle are dirt roads or heavy snow. The locking differential will gobble those up without a problem. Driving experience enhanced
Since the Patriot is so new, restyling a perfectly good exterior wasn't needed. In many ways, it looks like a baby Grand Cherokee -- that's not a bad thing to have in your DNA. The two-box design, seven slot grille and distinctive trapezoidal fenders all give the Patriot a Jeep-tough look. The curvy Compass shows you what can happen when non-Jeep people start designing Jeeps.
But the problem with the Patriot was always the interior, and that's where the bulk of the upgrades are.
Winning over Jeep enthusiasts was never a problem. They love Jeeps, so they'll buy Jeeps. But anyone not accustomed to some of the idiosyncrasies of the Jeep life may not enjoy cutting their fingers while adjusting the heater vent or catching a cold from a windy draft from a bad seal.
The Patriot needs more to find new people to rally around the brand.
The starting price may be low at $18,170, but people won't stay in a vehicle long if they think they paid too much. The competition -- the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV 4 -- cost more but have much more refined interiors. They're comfortable, quiet and enhance the driving experience. The original Patriot's interior forced drivers to endure a trip, not enjoy it.
Now, it's more respectable, but there's still some room for improvement. Jeep may have closed the gap with its major competition but it has not caught up.
The new instrument panel is easy to read and cleaner. There's a nice curve along the dash and the chrome-outlined vents add a nice touch to the other splashes of chrome in the cabin. The redesigned center console is much better with more padding on the armrests and more space inside.
I don't like the setup of the new My Gig system. Burning CDs from the driver's seat is out of fashion and working navigation system is difficult. Additionally, the auxiliary jack on the stereo face is so 2007. Place that plug and the USB adapter into the center console. The nine-speaker stereo system, however, will rock louder than you'll ever need, and the articulating speakers on the tailgate -- they fold down when the liftgate is open -- is a neat surprise.
Nice surprises are what win customers and the 2009 Patriot offers a few. It's one thing to poorly build a product and then try to act as if everything is fine. It's another to measure your mistakes and fix them.
The new Patriot reinvents itself in a much better light. In the land of second chances, it's not always what you do with the first opportunity, but the character you show to admit you're wrong and try again.
If Jeep really wanted to make excuses, it could point out that the original Patriot was built while the company was under German rule. "You vill save Der Vater Kompany's money."
And look how many do-overs that country has gotten through the years.
Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at (313) 223-3217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2009 Jeep Patriot
Type: Five-passenger compact SUV
Engine: 2-liter inline four-cylinder with VVT or 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder with VVT
Transmission: Five speed manual or continuously variable transmission
2-liter: 158 horsepower, 141-pound-feet torque
2.4-liter: 172 horsepower, 165-pound-feet torque
EPA gas mileage:
2WD: Five speed manual: 23 mpg city / 27 mpg highway
2WD: CVT2: 21 mpg city / 25 mpg highway
4WD: Five-speed manual: 22 mpg city / 27 mpg highway
4WD: CVT2: 21 mpg city / 24 mpg highway
4WD: CVT2L with off-road package: 20 mpg city / 22 mpg highway
Exterior: Good. Classic Jeep looks just smaller. Iconic features include seven-slotted grille and boxy shape.
Interior: Good. Much improved over the original with chrome accents along vents, reconfigured center console and improved seats.
Performance: Good. CVT whines a little but retuning has cut to a minimum. Small engine provides decent power and good fuel economy.
Safety: Excellent. Electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, front and side curtain airbags.
Pros: Small, comfortable and still manages good gas mileage.
Cons: Nicely loaded model is too expensive.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor