Ride & Handling

Compact crossovers may be car-based, but they don't ride like cars. With this in mind, the Patriot's ride quality is decent — better than the firm-riding Honda CR-V, but not close to the Ford Escape, which I consider the high-water mark for ride comfort in this class.

Despite a tendency to wander a bit at highway speeds, steering is acceptable, and handling is pretty good — definitely more tidy than that of the Hyundai Tucson. Again, this isn't a car, and you feel the high center of gravity, even in the Limited trim level, which has 8.1 inches of ground clearance. When equipped with the Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package, the Patriot's ground clearance is 9 inches.

Off-roading is the Patriot's biggest advantage. Without getting into heavy-duty truck-based models like the Jeep Liberty or Wrangler, the Patriot has few peers among car-based crossovers. The Land Rover LR2 is one, but it's a luxury model priced above $35,000. The Subaru Forester is capable of duty beyond the basic off-pavement trail, but it lacks the additional low gear that facilitates climbing steep inclines and scrambling over larger obstacles. Unlike our test car's Freedom Drive I, which is mainly a hands-off four-wheel-drive system with a manually lockable center coupling for tougher scenarios, Freedom Drive II lets you select a crawl gear. It's not technically a dual-range transfer case, because it uses the CVT's broad range to provide the 19:1 ratio, but the effect is the same. I drove the Patriot off road after its debut and was impressed.

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