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2006 Jeep Commander Review - First Drive

Posted in Project Vehicles on December 1, 2005 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Mark Halvorsen

As Jeep expands its brand image and hold on American wheeling-dom, the new seven-seat Commander will carry on the tradition, as it still has the moxie underneath its skin to pull off a trick or two out in the dirt. Borrowing heavily from the '05 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Commander takes a boxier profile and industrial-looking trim to make a jeepophile reminisce about the days of the XJ and FSJ version of Jeeps. The somewhat retro design is just what signifies a Jeep, and the underpinnings are nearly identical to the Grand, which won our 4x4 of the Year award back in February. However, the Commander is its own vehicle with an important difference in today's marketplace: the third row of seats for that crucial seven-passenger market. But make no mistake: Despite Jeep's initial claims, the Commander is not the first Jeep with seating for seven. The Willys Jeep station wagon of the '50s offered such an option in a similarly sized vehicle, but without the three rows, creature comforts, and power of today's offerings.

With seating for seven the Commander can compete in a market better suited to minivans. Yet it is still only a tad longer than the Grand, but with better clearance specs and a more capable suspension and steering system for its larger size. While it's still smaller than many seven-passenger bloat-o-barges, we actually poured two people in the rear seat and they fit quite well, although it harkens back to memories of the rear seat of a '71 VW Beetle. Of course, no significant luggage can be carried inside the Commander in this configuration, but a nice step bumper and grab rails at the rear allow real-world usage of the smartly styled roof rack.

Yeah, it's got a Hemi.

Mechanically, the Commander specs out la Grand with an available 3.7L V-6, 4.7L V-8, or the 5.7L V-8 Hemi with Multi-Displacement System (MDS) which tries to help the Hemi's fuel economy figures. Instead, we found our foot always on the throttle (which it isn't since this is a drive-by-wire system) as we enjoyed the 330hp/375lb-ft of torque at our toe-tips on a recent testdrive. Needless to say it's more fun to drive than economical, which is what Jeeping is all about. Ours was equipped with the Quadratrac II transfer case (NV245), which, when coupled with the Quadra-Drive systems electronically controlled limited slip differentials (ELSD), made for solid traction fun in the slickrock of Moab. If you don't need such performance, you can still opt for the brake traction control system that takes more skill and nerve to use, or even opt for a two-wheel-drive Commander for the pure poser effect.

We plan to include the Commander in our 2006 4x4 of the Year test with the results in our February '06 issue. By then we'll have a complete rundown of the likes and dislikes, as well as how it fared with the other contestants. For now we feel the Commander will do extremely well in the seven-seat marketing segment, and the Jeep brand will hold onto its loyal following of off-road-proven vehicles. True, this rig, like some other Jeep offerings, is equipped with an independent front suspension which hampers some off-road performance, but supposedly increases the on-road feel and ride. As Jeep continues to broaden its market, we hope they don't dilute the brand with vehicles less capable than the Commander.

PhotosView Slideshow
Base Price $38,{{{900}}}
Type {{{90}}}-degree V-8
Displacement (liters) 5.7L
Compression Ratio 9.6:1
Mfg.'s Horsepower 330 @ 5,000 rpm
Mfg.'s Torque (lb-ft) 375 @ 4,000 rpm
Type 545RFE five-speed automatic
Axle Ratio 3.73:1
Low-range Ratio 2.72:1
Front SLA, independent with
coil spring over shock
Rear Live axle, link coil
Type Variable power rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock) 3.14
Ratio 17:4:1 (on center),
15:4:1 (full lock)
Front 12.9-inch vented disc,
two-piston caliper
Rear 12.6-inch, single-piston caliper
Wheel Size 17x7.5
Tires P245/65R17 Goodyear Fortera
EPA city/highway mpg 13/18
Base Curb Weight (lbs) 5,169
Wheelbase (in) 109.5
Overall Length (in) 188.5
Overall width (in) 89
Height (in) 71.9
Track (in) {{{62}}}.6
Min. Ground Clearance (in) 8.6
Max. Cargo Volume (sq ft) 68.7
Angles (deg) 34/27
GVWR (lbs) 6,399
Payload (lbs) 1,230
Max. Towing Capacity (lbs) 7,{{{200}}}
Fuel Capacity (gal) 20.5
Seating (persons) 7


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