The Inside

Unfortunately, off-roading is important only to a minority, even among Jeep buyers, which doesn't make for much of a competitive advantage in the real world. What's important to the majority is a vehicle's interior, and this is a definite disadvantage in the Patriot. In terms of space, it's fine. I would have liked a little more legroom in the driver's seat, but it was workable, and the headroom is good, front and rear, especially when compared with less-boxy competitors. Its backseat legroom is above average, and in a compact crossover you really appreciate that. The Patriot is a few inches narrower than most competitors, which is a problem only if you try to fit three people in the backseat — in or out of child-safety seats. (Actually, it's a problem if you try to fit three people into the backseat of virtually anything other than a minivan, full-size SUV or the equivalent.)

Where the Patriot falls flat is in interior quality, from the noise to the materials quality. In addition to the aforementioned engine noise, there's tire and wind noise, the latter likely a tradeoff for the Patriot's boxy shape. I kept finding myself driving below the speed limit. Only one thing causes that: the impression that I'm going faster than I actually am. The only thing I've known to cause that is noise.

The Patriot came out in 2007 with interior quality that was barely competitive at the time, which is always bad news because competitors are sure to leapfrog you. Right on cue, Honda redesigned its CR-V for 2007 and Nissan joined the fray in 2008 with the Rogue, which now outsells the Patriot by an almost 3-to-1 ratio. Jeep made some interior upgrades in 2009 that improved matters, but it wasn't enough. Intros and redesigns continued, including such knockouts as the redesigned Forester, Chevrolet Equinox and Tucson.

The center armrest feels rickety and cheap when you open the storage compartment. There's less gloss on the plastics, but there's still a lot of hard, plasticky stuff. As a result, the Patriot looks in need of an interior redo. Toyota's RAV4 is in the same boat; it's long been in need of a redesign.

Along with design, quality is in the eye of the beholder, but once you get enough beholders in agreement, there's less room for argument. We had the Patriot at the same time as the Equinox, CR-V and Tucson, and there was no denying the Jeep made the worst impression, even though the Patriot we had was a top trim level and the others weren't.

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