What do Acura, Buick, Honda, and Lincoln all have in common? All these companies, best known for cars, had four-wheel-drive three-row SUVs on the market before Jeep. And Jeep knows when you come that late, you better bring something impressive to the party. Hence, the 2006 Commander, with a bit of history-flavored bodywork that cloaks the current Grand Cherokee's skeleton.
Although it's longer and higher in the roof, the Commander is all Grand Cherokee underneath: engines, transmissions, drive systems, brakes--you name it. Spring and shock rates have been softened as three-row 'utes see more conservative use, but the anti-roll bars remain the same. The 2WD Commander corners flatter and is more poised than its 4WD counterpart, which has a more ponderous feel--no surprise, as it weighs over 5000 pounds--yet either supplies a decent ride/handling compromise for a vehicle with a solid rear axle.
The Commander's standard 210-horsepower V-6 is satisfactory with 2WD and 3.55:1 gears to overcome the 235 pound-feet of torque, but get a smoother V-8 for a 4WD model. All engines (3.7, 4.7, 5.7) are offered in 2WD or 4WD models, the latter with three drive systems: a single-speed and a two-speed with brake traction control or a two-speed with electronic limited-slips at each end. Since brake traction control takes away power often when it's needed most, pop for the Quadra-Drive II for 4WD 4.7s (it's included with 5.7-equipped four-wheel-drive models); and note that with 2WD models, traction control is aggressive to help avoid looping the truck; it's possible to lose traction and have the system take out power and bring you to a stop.
Stepping up to a Hemi with MDS bumps the price, which, on 4WDs, as Jeep pointed out, can send up to 2200 pound-feet to any given wheel. That's about one-fifth of full throttle output multiplied by first gear low, so assume the electronic throttle control is aware of this or press gently; tip-in is aggressive on the street.
Every row of seats rides higher than the one ahead, good for viewing, but not so great for tall people in the middle row or average bodies in the kid's third row; however, that back row does have plenty of venting, cupholders, and controls to keep the delinquents calm. Seat folding is simple and access is good for kids. The middle row reclines, but only on the sides--the center location has neither headrest nor child-seat anchor. With both rows folded, the floor is full-length flat; with seats up, there's a flip-over cover/bin along the back and grocery-bag hooks.