To the joy of those who disliked the model’s CVT previously, the Cheap Jeep, a.k.a. the Jeep Patriot is adding a conventional six-speed automatic to its transmission options list. Just don’t expect to perform regular transmission fluid checks.
According to a press release from Jeep, the 2014 Patriot will be available with a PowerTech-developed 6F24 transmission with six forward gear ratios in place of the Chrysler CVTII unit that was the sole automatic gearbox in the last few years of the model. The CVTII will carry on in Patriots equipped with the Freedom Drive II package, giving those models a low range more suited for dicey conditions on- and off-road.
That sound you hear is the sound of driving enthusiasts everywhere cheering. While CVTs in general are not bad transmissions, many drivers are put off by their tendency to feel like a “rubber band” linking the engine with the drive wheels. Done right, a CVT can actually prove more efficient than a traditional multi-speed automatic. But as Ram, Chrysler, and Dodge have proven with the eight-speed automatic transmission in the 1500, 300, and Charger, respectively, modern multi-speed automatics are quickly catching up to CVTs in terms of efficiency.
Jeep says the Patriot should be good for 30 MPG on the highway with its new slushbox, which features a 0.77 overdrive in top gear for low-RPM cruising. A five-speed manual is still available in the Patriot Sport model for those drivers whose left feet cannot be content resting on the floormat.
One caveat for those who, like me, are sticklers for routine maintenance and inspection of moving parts: The new six-speed is a “fill for life” unit. According to the release:
There is no transmission dipstick, and transmission filter or fluid changes are not required under normal driving conditions. Low-viscosity fluid is used to improve fuel economy by enabling quicker operating temperatures on the transmission to reduce drag on internal components.
While this may not be of concern to those who dump their cars in five years or less, for those of us who tend to hold onto a car twice that long or longer, it’s intimidating. It gives me nightmares about a transmission giving up the ghost just outside the powertrain warranty, having lived its life sans fluid and filter changes. Everybody knows a horror story about their aunt’s cousin’s brother’s best friend who neglected to change the automatic transmission fluid until one day, with somewhere north of 100,000 miles on the clock, the transmission started slipping, its fluid a toasty caramelized slurry of dinosaur juice and grime. With a “fill for life” transmission, Jeep dealers will doubtless be instructed to never touch the transmission unless the customer requests otherwise. And just as doubtless, some Jeep dealers will encourage heavy-use owners to dump their Patriots at the first sign of transmission trouble in five to seven years, trading them in at wholesale prices for a new Jeep. Planned obsolescence, hallowed be thy name.
We’ll give Chrysler the benefit of the doubt on that one and hope their transmission technology has improved a lot since the days of the K Car-based minivan automatics. Regardless of the future reliability prospects of the six-speed automatic, I’d stick with the manual transmission Sport trim, a model I’ve actually considered adding to my family’s fleet. Though air conditioning is an extra-cost option (!), the rugged, boxy rig that kind of resembles a lighter, front-wheel drive version of an early ’90s Cherokee can be had in the $15,000 ballpark all day long, and any possible nightmares about a “fill for life” automatic gearbox are nonexistent. There’s nothing more quintessentially Jeep than rugged, long-lived components, as any owner of a stick-shift 4.0 inline 6 Jeep will tell you.