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.
The squared outlines allow good room about your head, further expanded by a sunroof that comes with rear-roof glass panels. Careful tuning of the windshield/pillar area and laminated side glass keep wind noise in check and you sit well back from anything--including assist handles--much like a Beetle or PT Cruiser. Inside and out, the cubic design brought comparisons with Hummers and a debate that an eighth slot in the grille would prevent the "looks a size too small" syndrome the grille currently has.
Jeep follows a popular philosophy: If your corporate parts bin is good enough, raid it. Jeep gave the Commander familiar, functional inputs for climate, electronics, and instrumentation. The driver's seat is powered on every model, all offer good support and comfort that lasts longer than a tank of gas, and the topline leather is quite nice. If only some other contact points didn't feel like hard plastic.
Jeep wisely split the Commander in just two lines: Starting near $30,000, more choices get redundant quickly, and a loaded Commander will cost more than the priciest Grand Cherokee. To some eyes, the base Commander is the smarter buy, more cleanly elegant and stylish, with fewer trim adornments, less chrome, and five-spoke wheels. The Limited adds various treatments, including roof rails that extend to handles on the back, though we suspect more base models will actually carry stuff on the roof. The hatch glass can be opened separately, and the steep angle doesn't hold much snow that you would have to remove first.
The Commander was characterized as the "most capable off-road three-row SUV" available. We'd feel that's true at the price, but would wager a GX 470 (ideally with KDSS) or LR3 would have no trouble keeping up, especially if tires or departure angle ever became an issue: The Commander's rear overhang gives 20 degrees, 10 and eight less than an LR3 or Grand Cherokee, respectively. Of course, neither the GX 470 nor LR3 are priced near a Commander.
As a first foray into the seven-seat market, Jeep is keeping mum on production, and as gas prices continue rising--it was introduced when gas cost about $2.59/gallon--fuel economy's significance will rise. Can Chrysler's EPA stats handle another hot Hemi?
It remains to be seen if the general market will support another SUV, or if the Commander will be primarily conquest sales from smaller Jeeps as owners move up to more space. Only one other brand with a history of four-wheel drive--Land Rover--went the seven-seat route (with the Discovery), and it's been working for that manufacturer for 10 years.
Allen-head bolts, both buttonhead and regular, are prevalent on the Commander, and most were labeled design features--we never found one to be a fastener. From the headlights back, we stopped counting at 100 of these "bolts." And when we checked out a 60-year-old restored Willys, we couldn't find a single Allen head on it, so any heritage connection is lost on us.--G.R.W.
Commanding the Trails
Thanks to a successful marketing campaign and a hard-core group of enthusiasts, Jeep has become synonymous with 4x4 off-pavement trail rides. However, Jeep never had a trail-capable vehicle that could hold seven passengers until the Commander. But can a seven-passenger people hauler still do the things expected of a vehicle stamped "Trail Rated?" We recently flogged the Commander in Moab, Utah, on its famed slickrock trails. On hand were two Commanders: one a 4.7-liter V-8 with Quadra-Trac II with the standard center locking differential, and the other a 5.7-liter Hemi with Quadra-Drive II, which includes front and rear electronic limited-slip differentials (ELSD).
While the Commander shares the Cherokee's 109.5-inch wheelbase, it creates slightly more shade with its two-inch-longer and four-inch-taller stance. Despite being larger, the Commander does have slightly better approach and departure angles (34 and 28 degrees, respectively) that allow it to avoid bumper scrapes like the Grand Cherokee can get. On numerous occasions, while inching down steep slickrock slopes, we had to look out of the Commander's sunroof to see the trail in front of us--no kidding. On extreme hillclimbs, the Quadra-Drive II's electronic diffs seemed to magically deliver traction without so much as a tire chirp. The traction system is controlled by computers that constantly monitor all four wheels for slip and can adjust power to a given tire in milliseconds. And the system eliminates crow hopping, typically experienced with conventional locking diffs. In addition, Quadra Drive II allows the driver to defeat the traction control. We also appreciate the fact Jeep engineers included a different throttle sensitivity when in low range to limit the jerkiness we usually feel during low-speed rockcrawling. On our early engineering drive, the Commander flat amazed us during severe off-road testing--even when hauling seven people.
|2006 Jeep Commander|
|Location of final assembly|| Detroit, Michigan; Graz, Austria|
|Body style|| 4-door SUV|
|EPA size class|| Special purpose 4WD|
|Drivetrain layout ||Front engine, RWD, AWD, 4WD|
|Airbags ||Dual front, three-row side curtain |
|Base engine ||90° V-6, iron block, alum heads|
|Bore x stroke, in|| 3.66 x 3.57|
|SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm|| 210 @ 5200|
|SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm|| 235 @ 4000|
|Optional engine ||90° V-8, iron block, alum heads|
|Bore x stroke, in|| 3.66 x 3.41|
|Displacement, ci/L|| 287/4.7|
|SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm|| 235 @ 4500 |
|SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm|| 305 @ 3600|
|Optional engine ||90° V-8, iron block, alum heads|
|Bore x stroke, in ||3.92 x 3.58 |
|Displacement, ci/L|| 345/5.7|
|SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm|| 330 @ 5,000|
|SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm|| 375 @ 4,000|
|Base transmission|| 5-speed automatic|
| 1st|| 3.59:1|
| 2nd|| 2.19:1|
| 3rd|| 1.14:1|
| 4th|| 1.00:1|
| 5th|| 0.83:1|
| Reverse|| 3.16:1|
|Optional transmission|| 5-sp automatic|
| 1st ||3.00:1|
| 2nd ||1.67/1.50:1|
| 3rd ||1.00:1|
| 4th ||0.75:1|
| 5th ||0.67:1|
| Reverse ||3.00:1|
|Axle ratio ||3.07:1, 3.55:1 (V-6); 3.73:1 (V-8)|
|Final drive ratio|| 2.50:1-2.95:1|
|Transfer case model|| NV140|
|Low range ratio|| NA|
|Crawl ratio ||11.0-12.7:1|
|Optional transfer case model ||NV245|
|Low range ratio|| 2.72:1|
|Crawl ratio ||30:1|
|Recommended fuel ||87 oct (89 oct 5.7)|
|Wheelbase, in ||109.5|
|Length, in|| 188.5|
|Width, in ||74.8|
|Height, in ||71.9|
|Track, f/r, in ||62.6/62.6|
|Headroom, f/m/r, in|| 42.1/40.3/35.7|
|Legroom, f/m/r, in ||41.7/36.1/28.9|
|Shoulder room, f/m/r, in|| 59.0/58.5/50.4|
|Cargo volume, third row seat up, cu ft|| 7.5|
|Cargo volume, third row seat down, cu ft|| 36.4|
|Total cargo area volume, cu ft|| 68.9|
|Ground clearance, in ||8.6|
|Approach/departure angle, deg|| 34/20|
|Base curb weight, lb ||4581|
|Max payload capacity, lb|| 1620|
|Max GVWR, lb ||6400|
|Max GCWR, lb ||12,620|
|Max towing capacity, lb|| 7200|
|Fuel capacity, gal ||20.5|
|Suspension, f/r ||Dual A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/live axle, five-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Steering type ||Rack and pinion|
|Turns, lock to lock|| 3.1|
|Turning circle, ft ||36.7|
|Brakes, f/r|| 12.9-in vented disc/12.6 disc, ABS|
|Wheels|| 17 x 7.5|
|Tires|| Goodyear Fortera HP P245/65R17|
|EPA fuel economy (city/hwy) ||17/21-14/19|
|Price range|| $27,985-$45,000|