I stared at the new Jeep Commander thinking someone was trying to mimic the success of the old trusted-and-boxy XJ. Listening to the presenter's shtick about how the distinct chrome grille, simulated Allen-head bolts, clamshell hood, and classic body lines let you know that its design theme is nothing but pure Jeep made me realize I couldn't see it. To me, a Jeep is something that could just as easily replace a tractor. It really has very little to do with the exterior appearance. Maybe I live in the past, but what I saw was a marketing team in action using the Jeep name and heritage to increase car sales to the masses. Get used to it. There are now three Jeeps built for the general population and there are more on the way. But even though the '06 Jeep Commander isn't what we consider an enthusiast Jeep, it does have some admirable qualities and capabilities. Its basic chassis and entire drivetrain is identical to that of the current Grand Cherokee. This means you can even get the optional 330hp Hemi V-8 and proven Quadra-Drive II. The Commander body is slightly longer and taller than its Grand counterpart, providing more room inside and three rows of theater-like seating (for seven), but there isn't a lot of room for anyone. Forget about loading adults into the cramped third-row seats of the Commander for long trips. They'll feel more like UPS packages than passengers. Save these seats for little people and 8-year-olds with the capacity to operate the separate rear-mounted A/C controls. Positioning the front seats comfortably for most adults eliminates the leg room of the second-row passengers. If you try and fit four adults over 5 feet 10 inches tall, everyone will be uncomfortable and the glovebox will open right into the front passenger's knees.
Inside, the Commander feels very tank-like; similar to a Hummer H2. (By the way, that's not a compliment.) We really like the dual heat and A/C controls allowing the passenger and driver to dial in different temperatures. The new dash vents are also a plus because the air flow can be easily adjusted exactly where you want or completely closed off. The front seats seem more comfortable than those in the Grand Cherokee. Useful storage up front is minimal, but several functional compartments can be found in the second row. The second- and third-row seats are also easy to fold up, providing more interior storage for larger items.
Off-road, the optional flagship Quadra-Drive II system provides unbelievable traction. The electronic limited slip differentials (ELSD) front and rear have the ability to become full lockers when needed. The seamless transition and completely automatic design make driving the Commander over trails it shouldn't be on much easier. However, just like the current model Quadra-Drive II Grand Cherokee, this Jeep's off-road capability is not limited by traction but rather its overhang and underbody clearance. Quadra-Trac I (no low range) with the brake traction control system (BTCS) and Quadra-Trac II (two-speed transfer case with low range and BTCS) are also available, depending on the engine selection.
Ultimately, the '06 Jeep Commander is probably the most off-road-capable family vehicle available that at least attempts to fit seven passengers. With modern amenities like its optional navigation system and DVD player, along with the multiple standard safety features, the Commander will provide a Jeep option in the seven-seat SUV category. But don't expect the enthusiast Jeep market to embrace the new Jeep. There will never be a multitude of aftermarket options available. This Jeep will spend its time on the road in the hands of the masses that have no need or desire for such accessories.