Photo By: Gary Anderson/Town Crier
The 2013 Jeep Patriot Latitude, pictured in front of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, has a base price of ,880, which includes heated seats and keyless entry.
With the trees exploding with buds, quaint hostelries offering killer midweek deals in wine country and a practical little 2013 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4x4 in the driveway, we decided it was time for a road trip to Healdsburg.
This little town only 100 miles from Los Altos often gets lost in the limelight of Sonoma, Napa and Carmel, which also seems to be the case for our press vehicle for the week – an inexpensive vehicle in the best Jeep tradition.
Healdsburg seemed the perfect place to visit, with the Inn on the Plaza offering an excellent base from which to do some backroad driving to visit out-of-the-way wineries, stroll the old-town plaza to explore interesting shops and small galleries and walk to two of the several excellent restaurants in the downtown area.
This would be a vintage weekend in more ways than one, as we compared vintages of wines at Ferrani-Carano Winery, whose lovely gardens are under the care of owners Don and Rhonda Carano; shopped for vintage clothing in a new multivendor antique store near the Healdsburg town plaza; and toured the collection of vintage movie memorabilia, including a rare Tucker automobile, at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville.
Enjoying the Jeep’s off-road roots
We thought the trip would be a great way to check out the Patriot, which has its own vintage look. With a base price of $22,880 ($26,220 sticker price on our test vehicle), the Patriot is a no-nonsense utilitarian four-passenger hauler.
While most of the high-clearance crossovers today are styled like space capsules – all curves and sweeping lines – the Patriot looks just like the first Grand Cherokee that Jeep produced when it started the trend toward comfortable urban versions of its military-bred off-road vehicles. The flat sides and squared-off edges have practical benefits as well, giving the car a spacious feeling inside. It offers good head and shoulder room, and an easy-to-pack cargo area. We found the colors on our test vehicle – deep cherry-red paint contrasting with slate-gray trim and light-pebble seats – attractive.
It was comforting to learn that the traditional look was only skin-deep, because the vehicle is equipped with the full range of up-to-date safety gear. This includes electronic stability control and roll mitigation, antilock brakes with brake assist, tire-pressure monitoring and a full set of front, sidecurtain and rear airbags.
Modern conveniences – such as heated front seats, auxiliary 12-volt and 115-volt outlets, a removable/rechargeable flashlight and illuminated keyless entry – are also standard.
It was nice to see Jeep hasn’t lost touch with its off-road roots, even in this comfortable wagon. We were surprised to find that the continuously variable transmission had an off-road crawl ratio. Our test vehicle came with the optional Freedom-Drive II Off-Road Group that includes a locking rear differential, hill-descent control, oil pan skid plate, engine oil cooler and tow hooks, plus all-terrain tires. This earns it “Jeep Trail Rated” designation, which means that it is up to the challenge of most off-road trails and is certainly able to handle dirt tracks or snow-packed roads back to a remote camp or hiking trailhead.
The interior was nicely equipped, attractive and comfortable. It comes with a variety of handy shelves, trays, crannies and compartments to keep everything from cellphone to sunglasses, bottled water and computer gear convenient or tucked out of sight – or both. One cool touch: the rear speakers mounted in the tailgate can be dismounted and hung outside, perfect for a tailgate party.
Our only misgiving about the interior – noticing the wear already apparent after 8,000 miles – was that for the kind of heavy use this vehicle is likely to get, we would probably opt for a durable vinyl interior rather than the “premium” cloth upholstery.
In addition to the standard features, our vehicle was equipped with the optional convenience group including additional airbags, garage-door opener, adjustable roof rails and connections for cellphone, computer, iPod and Sirius satellite radio. With the addition of racks for sports gear, this seems like the ideal choice for a young couple who need family capabilities during the week but appreciate the outdoors opportunities of the coast and mountains on the weekends. The only thing missing was a navigation system, but fortunately there are a variety of inexpensive choices at the nearest electronic gear store.
On the road to Healdsburg
The driving opportunities for our getaway were also perfect to give the Patriot a good workout. The weekday morning run up Interstate 280, across the Golden Gate Bridge, then following Highway 101 to the Healdsburg turnoff was an easy and mostly traffic-free way to see how the car handled at speed.
We were more than satisfied with the stability of the car at highway speeds – even in crosswinds – and were particularly pleased to notice that the cabin was quiet underway, allowing us to enjoy the sound system and chat along the way.
We did think that the 172-horsepower 2.4-liter inline-four engine, with its 165 pound-feet of torque, was a tad underpowered, even for the 3,300-pound weight. It required us to take our time merging with traffic and to keep a close eye on conditions to avoid having to accelerate out of difficulties.
We would also have liked a little better than the 21 mpg that we got on the trip with the CVT transmission. The alternative manual transmission is rated at 26 mpg, but that would have meant a lot of clutching and shifting through San Francisco traffic on the way to the bridge.
The curves of Dry Creek Road, Lytton Springs Road and Alexander Valley Road gave us a chance to see how the vehicle handled on tighter corners. Here the vehicle was surprisingly competent, considering how some of its competitors can wallow and get a little unwieldy. A combination of neutral handling and some electronic assistance kept us balanced at all times.
Over lovely meals at Baci Café & Wine Bar and Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar on our two evenings in town, we couldn’t have been happier. Our only thought when strolling back to the Inn at twilight and looking around the plaza was the number of stores and restaurants that would have to wait for a future trip. But fortunately, with Healdsburg only a two-hour drive from Los Altos, we could promise ourselves we would be back.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.