The Patriot is unmistakably a Jeep. It looks like a Jeep all the way: more so than the stylish Cherokee or big boxy Commander. The windshield and backlight are relatively vertical, and the bumpers are defined and not molded into the fascia. They're silver on the Limited and body-colored on the Sport; we think the Sport is cleaner looking.
The Jeep Patriot is considered a compact, built on the platform of the Dodge Caliber, but you'd never know it, because it doesn't look that small. It's almost exactly the same size as the new Jeep Compass but it looks more rugged, lacking the rounded edges of the gentrified Compass. It looks more like a Liberty, or maybe like a baby Commander. It's classic, the way it should be.
The seating position is high in the Patriot, two inches higher than in the Caliber; with the upright windshield, the forward visibility inspires confidence. The Jeep Patriot Sport's standard front seats have manual adjustment, and come in a material called Vinyl Tech; they're okay, but the optional material called Yes Essentials also fits this Jeep's character. Our seats were a boring Pebble Beige; Slate Gray looks better. Leather in the Limited is great, but seems to overdress the Patriot. In either leather or cloth and vinyl, the materials are two-tone.
The dashboard and instrument layout is simple, and the gauges are a tidy white on black with glowing orange needles. The climate and sound system controls are easy to understand and operate. The vinyl panel, with a center stack trimmed in brushed aluminum-look plastic, doesn't try to be stylish; the lines are pretty square, but who cares?
The space between the seats includes a nook for change, two fixed cupholders, and the parking brake lever. A short armrest flips up to open the main console compartment, where there's a pocket for a cellphone or iPod. It slides forward three inches for shorter drivers.
The door pockets are on the small side, but can hold six CD cases; much of the space there is taken up by the six- by nine-inch speakers. The door handles are easy to use. There's a nice tray over the good-sized glove compartment that's big enough for books.
Although the Patriot is more than four inches shorter than the redesigned 2007 Honda CR-V, there's nearly an inch more legroom in the rear seat: a healthy 39.4 inches. That's the same as the Compass and a couple inches more than the Liberty, longest of the three.
The standard rear seat is a 60/40 split that easily folds flat, by flipping up the seat and flopping down the seatback. Reclining rear seats are optional, as is a flat-folding front seat. With everything folded flat, there's a spacious 62.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and room for an eight-foot-long kayak, ladder or whatever.
With just the rear seats folded, there's still 54.2 cubic feet; and with all the seats in use there's 23.0 feet in the back, good for any compact SUV. The rear cargo area is something called Ultra Floor, a washable and removable vinyl. No worries with dogs and lawn mowers.