Safety

The Patriot's Latch connectors were wedged between the seat cushions and a little tough to access, but with some elbow grease they were doable. The seat belt buckle receptors were on stable bases, making it easy for kids using booster seats to buckle on their own. The lack of legroom in the second row would make it difficult to fit a rear-facing child-safety seat in the backseat; however, a forward-facing convertible car seat should fit easily.

The Patriot has all of the standard safety features you'd expect to find, including antilock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control. It also has front-impact airbags for the front row and side curtain airbags for both rows. However, the Patriot doesn't have standard side-impact airbags for the front row. They're available as part of the $1,235 Security and Cargo Convenience Package. Without the side-impact airbags, the Patriot received a score of Marginal in side-impact crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. With the side-impact airbags, the Patriot scored the top score of Good.

My test car also came equipped with the $825 Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package, which includes four-wheel-drive off-road mode, an extra inch of ground clearance and hill descent control. I tried the hill descent control with a friend of mine who's a professional driver, and ... it works! Although, she commented about the "strange, chunky, hollow sound" it makes, much like the noise you'd hear when ABS kicks in.

FAMILY LIFESTAGE

In Diapers: Rear seats are behind the times and don't slide front and back to make room for a rear-facing infant-safety seat.

In School: Tight legroom is tricky for little ones with backpacks to maneuver.

Teens: Make sure to opt for the optional side-impact airbags if you're going to put a teen driver behind the wheel.

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