Shopping for a badge before the car? James takes a look at the entry-level Jeep Patriot to see if the little SUV deserves the seven-bar grille.
Occasionally a marketing slogan or catch cry becomes so popular it makes its way into everyday vernacular.
People are still "not happy, Jan" thanks to Yellow Pages, but these days you can’t roll anywhere with a seven-bar grille on the front of your car and not be reminded regularly that "you bought a Jeep".
Such was the case spending a week with the 2014 Jeep Patriot Blackhawk – one of the cheapest Jeeps you can keep (everyone likes a rhyme).
Currently, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder manual front-wheel-drive Jeep Patriot can be yours for just $25,500 drive away.
Adding $3300 to that figure, our $28,900 (plus on road costs) automatic Patriot Blackhawk edition included black 17-inch wheels, black interior and exterior details and heated seats.
With this in mind, I set out to live my week with my cheaper Jeeper to see if it could still live up to the brand’s marketing hype.
The Jeep Patriot is not a new design. The model first launched in 2007. That was eight years ago, and it basically hasn’t changed since. For perspective, the iPad only launched five years ago.
The current model keeps the same 115kW/190Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine as before, but the Blackhawk does away with the less-than-favourable CVT for a six-speed automatic. The package is no powerhouse and, with combined cycle fuel consumption claimed at 8.3L/100km, it’s no eco-sipper either.
But, around town, the little Jeep is peppy enough to zip through traffic and handle most day-to-day duties such as shopping, meetings and the school run. However, it is a bit noisy and harsh under load, so you tend to squeeze rather than stomp on the pedal to get going.
Clunk the shifter into drive and the six-speed auto does an acceptable job of moving though the gears. It’s not smooth, but it works just fine.
The Patriot is comfy, reasonably roomy and has great headroom – plus the trademark Jeep ‘fat sausage’ steering wheel that just feels so comforting to hold.
Say what you want about refinement, as after a few days in the thing, the Jeep becomes pretty easy to like. Not because of how it is made (opening the centre console is about as premium as opening a tub of ice cream) but because it’s just a little bit fun.
Getting about, you bounce around, people smile, and other Jeep drivers wave – for all the dynamic excitement it lacks, it does have intangible enjoyment in spades. Miss Six (my daughter) even nicknamed it ‘Toothless’ after the friendly black dragon from Berk – and I almost couldn’t pick a better name.
So all good, yes?
Well, here’s the thing. In isolation, the Patriot isn’t bad.
The problem is, look outside, and it becomes clear that everything else is better. There is a whole range of new, small SUVs on the market and they are all more modern, more efficient, and generally ‘nicer’ than the Jeep.
So with all this choice, cars like the Jeep Patriot would be a dying breed, yes? Well, not exactly.
Putting down to the South Melbourne Market in ‘Toothless’, I pass another three of them. There was more to this car. There had to be…
I speak to a lady in the car park after I see her get out of a maroon Patriot. She has owned hers from new, has never been off road, and when shopping for it, basically just wanted a Jeep. And just like on the ad, she bought one.
Quite happy to chat to another in the Jeep fold, she explains how her Patriot was her first-ever new car. She then reels off a list of things she instantly loved about it that her old Holden Barina (a hand-me-down 1999 model) had never even managed to provide.
Her Patriot ticked the boxes she wanted ticked, and basically, she wasn’t interested in anything else.
The requirements were simple: a seven-bar grille and a look of adventure (despite having no plans whatsoever to stray beyond metropolitan Melbourne).
During the week I met another four Patriot owners and while two more claimed the Jeep as their first new-car purchase, they all said they were happy (despite some having a couple of minor issues), and all admitted to shopping for the badge before shopping for the vehicle.
To these people, who all chuckled at their own ‘I bought a Jeep’ statements, this was the little engine that could. A cost effective statement of a lifestyle of freedom and experience.
And while yes, when compared to some of its latest rivals the Patriot hails from a bygone era of engineering and quality, the badge on the back doesn’t care. And seemingly, nor do buyers.
But despite most Patriots staying in town - could the adventurous look handle some actual adventure?
I took ‘Toothless’ out for a country drive to see if the chunky little guy could live up to the reputation of its more capable trail-rated siblings.
As the tarmac turned to gravel and the grades on the tracks around Mount Disappointment (amusing irony purely coincidental) started to increase, the front-wheel drive Patriot fell fast out of its comfort zone.
‘Toothless’ by name and toothless by nature, the little Jeep scrabbles for traction on surfaces its bigger Jeep brothers would have traversed without you even noticing.
If it’s adventure you crave, then it won’t get you everywhere, but it will get you to the car park. And for Patriot buyers, that seems to be what matters most.
However, excited potential owners deserve better than the Patriot.
As I’ve said, it isn’t all bad and I certainly ‘got it’ after a week behind the wheel. But for a brand that is equally aspirational as it is achievable, slapping a couple of add-ons onto a decade-old Tonka truck and dishing it up for the punters simply isn’t good enough.
I know that sounds harsh, but many brands would do anything for the brand desirability that Jeep has – so the least Jeep can do is give them something great in return.
And it is for this reason that the importance of the forthcoming Renegade cannot be underestimated.
A basic but genuinely new Jeep that matches funky looks with a more capable 4x4 drivetrain, and likely, an attractive price - a worthy entry-point to the lifestyle the brand promotes.