I've got to be honest-I was biased against the Jeep Patriot before I even opened the driver-side door. After all, it's based on the same platform as the disappointing Dodge Caliber and even more disappointing Jeep Compass (it's not an SUV, it's not a car, and it's really not a Jeep). But what made those vehicles such letdowns actually add something to the SUV-shaped Patriot.
The Patriot we had at the office was a bare-bones four-cylinder with a continuously variable transmission and four-wheel drive. It also had rubberized floormats and cargo area (very easy to clean), and lacked power door locks, seats, mirrors, and windows (when was the last time you had to crank down the window at a drive-thru or pull the door-lock knob to let a passenger in?). Plus, it rode rough with a lot of tire noise (two of the biggest complaints about its Dodge and Jeep kin). And I enjoyed every minute.
The weird thing about this crossover is, even though it's a compromise that doesn't have the off-road prowess of the old Cherokee it resembles, being behind the wheel of the new model reminded me of sport/utilities past. Real sport/utilities. The ones that were boxy. The kind you wouldn't be afraid to scrape along boulders for fear of ruining a $2500 clearcoat metallic paint job. The kind you could carry a muddy dog in, even if he shook all that dirt onto the interior. The kind that didn't cost an arm and a leg and could carry all of your stuff.
The Patriot isn't the fastest on the road, and it's not loaded with options, but there's a lot of interior room considering its small size. Its lack of bells and whistles gave it a feeling of purity, of real character. My only complaint is that it doesn't come with a true automatic transmission-the CVT just doesn't sound or feel right. But this is one of the first crossovers I've driven in a long time that actually left me grinning.