Jeep's Rubicon-ready standard for off-roading has kept it out of the lucrative big sport/utility market for years, with no three-row-seating models to capture families trying to escape from minivans. Now Jeep has taken the Grand Cherokee's platform, squared up the sheetmetal and added two inches in overall length and four inches in height without stretching its 109.5-inch wheelbase, resulting in seating for seven and better cargo capacity without resorting to Expedition/Suburban-size heft and fuel economy.
The new Commander is available with the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with Multiple Displacement System cylinder shutoff, 4.7-liter SOHC V-8 and 3.7-liter V-6. The two V-8s offer plenty of power to move the big box over rugged desert environs. Its three rows of seats are mounted stadium-style, with the second row higher than the first, and the tight third row towering over both. With its stepped roof and Command-View skylight sunroofs, there's plenty of headroom and outward visibility for rear-seat occupants. The second and third rows easily flip down for a flat floor and 68.7 cubic feet of cargo space.
We drove two Commanders in Moab, Utah. The 4.7-liter had Quadratrac II standard locker differentials. Our go-anywhere Hemi had Quadra-Drive II with electronic limited-slip differentials (ELSD). Despite being larger, the Commander has similar approach/departure angles (34-/27-degree) to the the Grand Cherokee's.
When climbing gets nasty, the Quadra-Drive II's electronic limited-slip front/center/rear diffs methodically deliver traction without the tire squealing and popping associated with traditional low-range "locker" transfer-case systems. The ELSD eliminates the crow-hopping experienced when you turn sharply while moving in 4Low. Quadra-Drive II incorporates other clever off-road aides like fully defeatable traction control and revised ratio throttle tip-in (when in low-range) to eliminate jerkiness during low-speed rock crawling.
The Commander also has two new safety features: Electronic Roll Mitigation, to deter rollovers, and special cradle bars that help contain rear impact energy to minimize crash forces exerted on passengers. An electronic stability program, advanced multistage airbags, traction control, and advanced anti-lock brakes are standard.