Driving the Patriot

The Patriot's smaller engine — a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder — is technically an option on the Patriot Sport with front-wheel drive, which subtracts $200 from its suggested retail price. Either engine comes with a standard five-speed manual transmission. Our test vehicle had the primary engine, a 172-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder paired with an optional continuously variable automatic transmission — certainly the most popular choice.

The Patriot accelerates reasonably quickly, though it's no performance car. This isn't a class known for its acceleration, and for a model carrying the extra weight of four-wheel drive, ours was reasonably quick. However, the CVT — chosen for its fuel-saving properties — has drawbacks. For one, under heavy acceleration it allows the engine to rev higher more quickly than a conventional automatic might, and it holds the high engine speeds as the car accelerates, squeezing out all available power. This results in more noise, at unexpected times, which people tend to interpret as "straining." High-revving engines aren't straining, they're just working. But it's a characteristic to which drivers haven't warmed over the years.

What doesn't help in the Patriot's case is a somewhat noisy engine. Even at low speeds it exhibits a faint chugga-chugga, like a distant diesel, as it revs, and the noise penetrates the cabin. The CVT isn't as refined as some: It could be quicker to deliver passing power on demand, and I detected a consistent, repeatable clunk when letting off the accelerator at roughly 20 mph, as you do frequently when driving from one stop sign to another on side streets. It was probably the torque converter unlocking. I noticed the same thing in a four-cylinder Nissan Altima, but it was much less apparent there.

While I've found Nissan's CVTs more refined, I noticed a different problem — significant vibration — in the Suzuki Kizashi I reviewed last year. All the CVTs I've mentioned are supplied by Jatco of Japan, so it may be an issue of integration. Still, some manufacturers have abandoned CVTs for conventional transmissions and dual-clutch automated manuals with six or more gears, which also provide a wide range of gear ratios. I've come to question how much of a future there is for CVTs.

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