Base Price: $23,895

Price as Tested: $27,575

This week, we're driving Jeep's 2011 Patriot Latitude X 4x4, a higher end SUV and still one Jeep's most popular 4x4's on the road today. Although our Latitude X came loaded with equipment, prospective buyers are reminded that a base Patriot 4x2 starts at just $15,995, so there is much leeway in pricing out a Jeep that is correct for you. If you want a 4x4, add another $1,650 to the base.

Gone from the lineup this year is the Patriot Limited, replaced by an "upper scale" Latitude series. All Patriots are built in Belvedere, Illinois by Chrysler Group LLC, and the Latitude series starts at $22,195 for the 4x2. The front end is tweaked compared to last year, with new grill and rounded headlamps.

Under the hood, all Latitudes and base model 4x4s receive motivation from the trusty 16-valve, variable valve timing 2.4-liter 172-horsepower inline 4-cylinder engine. When mated to the standard 5-speed manual transmission, Latitude delivers a respectable 23 city and 28 highway EPA rating. The base Patriot 4x2 still comes with the smaller 2.0 liter 158-horse 4-cylinder that delivers 23 and 29 EPA numbers, respectively.

As for 4x4 transmissions, all Patriots feature 5-speed manuals, although if you prefer not to shift the optional Continuously Variable Transaxle (CVT) II costs $1,100 extra across the line. The CVT reduces EPA numbers to 21 city and 26 highway, and features an Autostick function that allows for either fully automatic shifting or driver-interactive manual control. The manual control includes a six a speed simulated "step-up-gear" ratio to assist in delivering the best fuel mileage possible with more spirited performance.

Inside, Latitude's cabin is loaded with amenities yet is still sheathed in the Jeep simplicity owners have come to expect. Including on Latitude's standard feature list are heated front seats, power driver seat, front passenger folding seat, rear 60/40 reclining seats, Sirius Satellite with 1-year subscription, 230W Media Center for AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3, audio jacks, air conditioning, steering wheel controls, cruise, tilt wheel, premium carpet mats and much more. The seats are firm and all air bags, including curtains for front and second row, are part of the base price.

As for more standard safety features, electronic stability control, traction control and anti-lock 4-wheel disc brakes with brake assist are standard. The tires are 17-inches on very nice aluminum wheels, while the suspension is a fully independent design with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup out back.

Jeep's Freedom Drive II 4x4 system features an electronically controlled coupling (ECC) that attaches to the rear differential. The electronic control module processes signals from the wheel speed sensors and the accelerator pedal to determine how much torque to transfer to the rear wheels, then sends electrical current to the ECC that is proportional to the amount of torque required. Recommended for true off-road situations including steep grades, wheel lift and rock or log climbing, the Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package necessitates the CVT transaxle that engages when the off-road mode is activated.

Acceleration and handling are adequate, but remember this Jeep is no sports car and does have fast corner limitations like all the other SUV based 4x4s. Overall, Patriot is a fine highway performer…but its genes from the many Jeeps of yesteryear of the Willys-Overland Jeeps of yesteryear waiting for its next off-road weekend of fun.

Our tester came with Customer preferred package for $1,195 extra that includes side airbags, security alarm, remote start, Uconnect voice command with Bluetooth, USB port, daytime running lamps, adjustable roof rails, soft tonneau cover, garage door opener and automatic dimming rear view mirror. A $685 430 watt media center with HDD Radio and Navigation by Garmin rounded out the options, bringing to the total to $27,575 with $700 destination.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 103.7 inches, 3,332 pound curb weight, 8.2 inch ground clearance, 23 to 62.7 cu. ft. of cargo capacity depending on seating arrangement, 2,000 pound maximum tow capacity, and a 13.5 gallon fuel tank.

There's much to like about the American made Jeep Patriot. Additionally, if you like the American made versions, including the smaller Compass, I'd hurry to a Jeep dealer as news is that both models will be discontinued after 2012, replaced by a single "Fiat influenced" version in 2013. (Italian-bred Fiat is a Chrysler corporate partner).

Likes: Jeep looks, off road genes, ride, price.

Dislikes: Engine a bit noisy, model discontinuation.


(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist)