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Looking for a compact crossover sport utility vehicle that has some off-road capability? The search won’t take long.

The front-runner and logical choice is the Jeep Patriot. There are downsides to buying the Patriot, but the off-road capability is certainly not one of them.

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The three Patriot trim models are available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Another important thing to know – all three models are four-cylinders and there is no V6 option.

Also note that the off-road capability comes with an added price – it’s not standard on any trim version, including the base model Patriot Sport, which starts at a very affordable $15,995.

Jeep calls its four-wheel drive options Freedom Drive. The first option is the Freedom Drive I package that includes 16-inch wheels and allows for 9 inches of ground clearance. It offers a 50/50 power distribution for the front and rear wheels, which comes in handy if you get stuck. Freedom Drive I is good for driving in the snow and some mild off-roading.

For more serious off-roaders, the Freedom Drive II is the way to go. It features more low range for off-road driving and has 17-inch all-terrain tires, tow hooks, and a full-size spare tire. The Freedom Drive II is obviously the more elaborate package. It has 10 inches of ground clearance, can rock climb and reportedly drive through 20 inches of water.

Off-roaders will certainly enjoy the Patriot’s versatility. However, they might not be thrilled with the performance. The 2013 Jeep Patriot that was test-driven on a recent Lake Tahoe ski weekend was pokey traveling in the mountains and had unimpressive passing power.

The passing power is understandable. The Sport and Latitude models come standard with five-speed manual transmission that is equipped with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder with 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque.

Upgrading to the Limited is not much better performance wise. The engine is a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder that produces 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. With the Freedom-Drive II system added the Patriot Limited travels 0-60 mph in 10.3 seconds, which is quite slow for a compact crossover SUV.

There are other negatives to the Patriot besides being slow. The gas tank is 13.6 gallons, which is not adequate for a vehicle that’s heading off-road. The braking is average at best, the Patriot engine can be annoying with its frequent droning, the backseat is uncomfortable on any lengthy trip, and the interior has too much hard plastic.

Yet here’s the bottom line for the Patriot, and frankly, for many other Jeep vehicles as well. They are designed for people who care little about vehicle niceties like a smooth, quiet, comfortable ride. The Patriot can tackle the off-road just fine and that’s why people buy them.

2013 Jeep Patriot

  • Performance: 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder, 158 horsepower; 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder, 172 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate range: 21-30 mpg
  • Price: $15,995 to $23,795
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/100,000 miles; corrosion 5 years/100,00; roadside assistance 3 years/36,000
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