The Commander was not Jeep’s most popular model, either in total sales or after- market support. It is still a Jeep though, which means that even in stock form it can out-wheel nearly anything else in its class. When someone t-boned David Baltz’s Jeep Cherokee, he decided to upgrade to a more modern Jeep and came home with this ’06 Commander. He put a mild lift on it and headed out to the local trails near his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but the other Jeepers looked at him as if he had two heads. Rather than be discouraged, David took the opportunity to build a unique Jeep with the help of James Morris of BDR Fab.
The Commander is based off of the WK Grand Cherokee and uses a similar Unitbody structure, so some of the components transfer between the models. David strengthened his Commander’s Unitbody with rocker guards and a transfer case skidplate from 4xGuard. The rocker guards have taken a beating over the years and have performed admirably, but they are about ready for replacement. Up front, a custom skidplate from BDR Fab protects the steering and front suspension components.
Speaking of suspension, the 2-inch lift that David originally installed was not on for long before he upgraded to a 4-inch Superlift kit with new steering knuckles and strut spacers in front. The Superlift kit addresses the rear track bar geometry and front and rear sway bars to eliminate any weird handling quirks. Old Man Emu struts are used in the front and FOX remote reservoir shocks were added to the rear for improved damping on the trail and on the pavement. The lift creates enough room for 285/70R17 (33-inch) BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM2s on 17x8.5 MB TKO wheels.
David’s Commander came from the factory with a drivetrain most Jeep owners would kill for. The 5.7L Hemi V-8 breathes through a K&N air filter but is otherwise stock and doesn’t need much help to belt out 345 hp. It is backed by a Mercedes five-speed automatic with a 3.9:1 Frst gear for excellent crawling and a 0.83:1 overdrive that keeps the rpms down on the freeway.
Behind the transmission is the the factory Quadra-Drive II system, which was an option on the Commander and Grand Cherokee. Short of a Wrangler Rubicon, this is the most capable factory offering from Jeep. The fulltime NP245 transfer case has a 2.72:1 low range that works in conjunction with electronic limited-lip differentials in the front and rear axles. David hasn’t seen a need to change this system, as it works very well. The factory IFS frontend and Chrysler 8.25 rear axle have been retained with these limited slips and factory 3.73 gearing.
Body and Interior
One of the first things you notice about David’s Commander is the color-matched bumper from BDR Fab. The front bumper was built to maximize approach angle and holds a Warn Xd9000i winch in front of the grille. The matching rear bumper wraps around the corners of the Commander for complete protection and has a 2-inch receiver hitch, attachment points for d-rings, and holds a Hi-Lift jack and shovel. It also positions a fullsize spare high enough that it will not hit obstacles on the trail, yet remains rattle-free.
The other thing you might notice is how hard this XK has been wheeled, with scratches down both sides of the vehicle that were earned in places like Moab and the Rubicon. Inside, it is all comfort, with heated leather seats, three sunroofs, and satellite radio. The third row seats were ditched for a custom storage box that David built to stow his tools and spare parts. With the second row seats folded flat there is even enough room for him to sleep inside the Commander, as he did at the King of the Hammers.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
The Commander allows David to drive to the trail with the cruise control and heated seats on and still wheel hard when he gets there. The front CV axles seem to be the limiting factor, and while he has considered doing a solid axle swap, he can change out CVs in less than half an hour now. “And you can buy a lot of CVs for the price of a solid front axle!” he adds.
Vehicle: 2006 Jeep Commander
Engine: 5.7L Hemi V8
Transfer Case: NV245
Suspension: 4-inch Superlift with Old Man Emu struts and FOX shocks
Axles: C200 IFS (front), Chrysler 8.25-inch (rear)
Wheels: 17x8.5 MB TKO
Tires: 285/70R17 BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM2s
Built For: Street comfort and trail ability
Why I Wrote this Feature
Dents and scrapes are common on Wranglers, but when I saw the passenger rear door on David’s Commander proudly wearing scars from the Rubicon, I knew that I needed to further investigate. It is a Commander that gets wheeled like a Jeep should.