The new 2006 Commander places the Jeep brand in uncharted territory – three rows of seating to accommodate seven passengers.
The styling of the Commander has created a love-it-or-leave-it polarity for anyone viewing the car for the first time. The upright slab-sided design appears to have come from another Jeep vehicle, the 1980s Cherokee. I happened to park the Commander right next to a late 1990s’ Cherokee and the differences and similarities were astonishing. The Cherokee looked like a 3/4 scale model of the Commander, which if looked at from the Commander’s perspective, shows how much taller, larger and wider it is than the early Cherokee. Most of the body panels were similar in scale and shape.
The Commander’s interior offered little similarity to the older design. A sumptuous leather interior with thick “saddle” stitching was an interesting take on the upscale interpretation of off-road luxury. The dash was a blend of Jeep flat panel styling and DaimlerChrysler proven switchgear and instruments. Overall it was a pleasant place to sit and look out over the boxy expanse of steel. Rear seat passengers were treated to the optional wireless audio and DVD entertainment system. Just about every luxury convenience has been worked into the Commander Limited.
From the driver’s seat, the first thing you might notice is how far away the relatively upright windshield is situated. With arms fully outstretched I could not touch the glass. The effect is one of more space for the driver and front seat passenger, but considering the upright nature of the glass, I see no need for the wasted space. This all factors in to the available seating room. The middle row is pretty much standard for this class of vehicle and there’s ample room to get in and out. Medium-sized adults will be reasonable comfortable with their feet tucked under the front seats. The rear seats are what you would expect – ample for children or adults who have no other way to leave town, or as you may have seen on television ads, one caveman frozen in a block of ice sideways.
With the third row of seats in use, cargo space is limited to about a seven inch gap that narrows against the rake of the seat back. Again, this is pretty typical of all larger SUVs with a third row of seating. This brings us back to that chunk of space taken up by the dashboard. That extra room could have been put to better use in the rear half of the cabin for either passengers or cargo room. And it would have given the Commander another marketing edge for what is still an impressive vehicle.
It’s hard to believe this vehicle is based on a stretched out Grand Cherokee platform once it is underway. The Grand Cherokee has a light and nimble car like agility that has been its signature since inception. Chassis tuning and the longer wheelbase have given the Commander a rock-solid-go-anywhere feeling. During the test cycle, I encountered just about everything Mother Nature in Southern Ontario had to offer: ice, sleet, snow, freezing rain and to top it off, winds at 80 km per hour (50 miles per hour). The Quadra Drive 2 All Wheel drive system with Electronic limited slip differentials, combined with the Stability and Traction control (ESP) performed flawlessly and the Commander did not give cause to break a sweat. The real surprise was the resistance to those severe crosswinds. Logic would dictate that the large slab-side truck would be caught up like a sail in the breeze but not once did the vehicle feel pushed off its intended course. Jeep certifies the Commander as Trail Rated and given what I endured, I’m a believer.
A full list of safety features are incorporated into the full-sized SUV. Smart front driver and passenger air bags are standard, as are side curtain air bags for all outboard occupants. A power adjustable brake pedal, anti-lock brakes, ESP stability control, LATCH child seat anchors, an optional rear ultrasonic hazard warning, and a novel Bluetooth hands free cell phone interface are all available on the Commander.
Our test vehicle was a Limited trim level model and was equipped with the optional Chrysler 5.7L hemi V8 engine, producing a welcome 330 HP and 375 lb-ft or torque. The standard engine on the Limited is the 4.7L V8 while the base model is fitted with the 3.7L V6. These motors produce 235 HP and 210 HP respectively.
The Commander is a large square vehicle and a V8 engine may be necessary. Fuel consumption is theoretically reduced with the larger V8 due to the incorporation of displacement on demand. We observed approximately fuel consumption of about 19L per 100 km which roughly translates to 14.5 miles per Imperial gallon. Once the weather and my driving habits are considered, that’s pretty close to Jeep’s claims.
After being in the Commander Limited for a week, I was left feeling that this truck is perhaps the spiritual successor to the Mercedes G500 (AKA G-Wagon), which has been taken out of the Canadian market. It has the same in-your- face boxy styling. It has a full plate of luxury served up inside and a refined and powerful V8 under the hood. The Commander can now claim to be large and in charge of the SUV market over at DaimlerChrysler, until the Mercedes GL rolls out later this year.
The base Jeep Commander has an MSRP of $40,865 CDN. The Commander Limited lists at $51,195 CDN and our test vehicle with the $1,395 upgrade for the 5.7L Hemi, DVD entertainment system, 7,200 pound trailer towing option, Off Road skid plates, the Saddle seats Bluetooth Hands free and a $2440 GPS navigation system integrated into the 6 CD player/radio, topped out at $58,995.