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Patriot is lowest-priced SUV

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

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 $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.

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 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.

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.

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 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.

The ride is quite good. The test Patriot Latitude 4X4, with uplevel 17-inch, all-terrain tires, rode nicely on pavement and dirt lanes.

The Patriot has posted above average reliability ratings in Consumer Reports magazine.

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