A full efficient, Trail Rated Jeep?

No, it’s not an oxymoron.

It is, however, one of Jeep’s two new compact SUVs introduced for the 2007 model year (the other being the Jeep Compass).

With a base price starting below $15,000, the five-passenger Patriot provides a lot of options for economy-minded SUV consumers — including an EPA fuel economy rating of 30 mpg highway for the front-wheel drive version.

Buyers also have their choice of Freedom Drive I (a full-time active four-wheel drive system with lock mode) or the Freedom Drive II off-road system, which features a full-time, active four-wheel drive system with low ratio that provides true Jeep 4X4 Trail Rated capabilities.

The Patriot was first introduced this spring in two trim lines — Jeep Patriot Sport and Jeep Patriot Limited and is being sold worldwide in both left- and right-hand drive versions.

Buyers also have their choice of two engines. Both Sport and Limited models are available with a 2.4-liter I-4 World Engine (172 horsepower/165 lb.-ft. torque) featuring variable valve timing and requiring regular unleaded fuel. It is mated to a five-speed manual transmission or a Continuously Variable Ratio (CVT) transmission.

The front-wheel drive Sport is also available with a 2.0-liter I-4 World Engine (158 horsepower/141 lb.-ft. torque) and mated to a CVT transmission. Requiring regular unleaded gasoline, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 26 mpg city/30 mpg highway.

Designed to compete in the booming compact SUV segment (520,000 compact SUV units were sold in the United States in 2006), the Patriot targets both single and married professionals in the 20-40 age group.

In addition to ample room inside (and comfortable rear seats that can be folded flat for additional cargo storage), the Patriot offers command SUV seating with the flexibility to carry an array of cargo.

Standard safety features include brake traction control, driver-controlled three-mode electronic stability program, brake assist, electronic roll mitigation and anti-lock brakes with rough-road detection, dual front airbags and side-curtain airbags.

The Patriot also offers a number of upscale features such as a 458-watt nine-speaker Boston Acoustics Premium Audio System with two articulating speakers packaged in the liftgate. When the liftgate is open, the speakers can swing down to face rearward for tailgating and other activities. There is also an optional navigation system.

All models also include auxiliary audio jack for plugging in an iPod or MP3 player.

During my one-week test drive in the Patriot Sport 4X2, I was very impressed with the Patriot — especially for its affordability factor (with options the test vehicle’s MSRP listed at $20,480). While it is Jeep’s entry level Trail Rated SUV, I found it very capable in terms of performance, ride and handling. For those in the market for a compact Trail Rated SUV, the Jeep Patriot is a must test drive.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 15 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. Comments may be sent to Neal at neal.white@waxahachiedailylight.com.