Driving a Jeep is like growing up in any small town. Everywhere you go, there’s a familiar face. Go anywhere around Los Angeles in a Jeep and you’ll see that familiar grille on a regular basis – a testament to the brand’s popularity and the fact that this division of DaimlerChrysler is doing something right. And there is no disputing that sport utility vehicles like the Jeep are popular. (Most of my neighbors have two SUVs parked in their driveways or in front of their houses.) “Which one of the neighbors did you let park in the driveway?” my wife wondered when she looked out the front window and spotted the metallic light khaki-colored Patriot. “This is cool,” she added while climbing into the passenger seat for the first time. The Patriot is the newest member of the Jeep family and it delivers the essence of Jeepness at an entry-level price point. “This all-new compact sport utility vehicle delivers fun, freedom, utility and best-in-class Jeep 4×4 capability,” gushed the owner Web site, jeephorizons.com. This model, first introduced in concept at the 2005 International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, is equally adept at handling urban chores or exploring the boonies. Jeephorizons.com likes the fact that the 2007 model features the looks and various interior configurations of an SUV with the price, fuel economy, performance and handling of a small car or truck. But the Patriot is not diminutive by any means, and safety features include side air bags and an electronic stability program. The interior is roomy and comfortable and all the gauges are easy to read. The center-console armrest slides forward and back, so finding a comfortable position is easy. A neat feature is that the top of the armrest flips up and becomes a cell-phone holder, which allows the driver to keep both hands on the wheel. The Patriot is similar in appearance to the Cherokee, which was discontinued in 2001. This was my first experience with an SUV, and the Patriot, with a five-speed manual transmission, proved easy to operate. The stick shift pokes up and out of the dash but still is within easy reach. Visibility is good all around. The 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine churns out 172 horsepower at 6,000 rpms, which provides enough zip for both city and freeway driving. Off-road options are available, too. It is equipped with the Freedom Drive II option, which provides more off-road capabilities. This gives the driver added traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation and water fording for various types of terrain. And with a base price of $14,425, the Patriot is an attractive first-car option for someone yearning for the flexibility of an SUV. [email protected] (818) 713-3743 JEEP PATRIOT TOP SPEED: 120 mph ENGINE: 2.4 liter DOCH TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual SUSPENSION: 4-wheel independent with stabilizer BRAKES: 4-wheel disc FUEL ECONOMY: 26 mpg city, 30 mpg highway PRICE: $14,425 base, $17,615 as tested TRIVIA: The Patriot is also the name of a vehicle in Rockstar Games’ hit video game series “Grand Theft Auto.” Russian car manufacturer UAZ also has a 4×4 off-road vehicle named the Patriot. And the UAZ product line has roots in the original WWII-era Jeep that was supplied by the U.S. to the former USSR. THE MANUAL SAYS: Read 233 pages before starting and operating your vehicle. THE WIFE SAYS: “Which one of the neighbors did you let park in the driveway?” my wife wondered when she looked out the front window and spotted the metallic light khaki-colored Patriot. SOURCE: Daily News research COMING NEXT WEEK: Ford’s Edge Crossover160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!