2006 Jeep Commander
This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2010.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Jeep, the sport-utility brand whose 60-year history is full of rugged off-road vehicles, is making history again. For the first time, Jeep has an SUV that can carry seven people—on and off-road.
The newly introduced, 2006 Jeep Commander joins more than a dozen SUVs that in recent years have added third-row seats. The trend is driven, in large part, by active American families who want more seating room but don't necessarily want to buy a minivan to get it. They prefer SUV styling. They also like a high ride height and four-wheel drive.
Boxy, familiar styling
In fact, its boxy styling which Jeep says is inspired by the Wagoneer of the 1960s looks a lot like the old Jeep Cherokee before the Cherokee was dropped from showrooms in 2001. Maybe this is why the Commander, which is larger than the old Cherokee, didn't get a lot of attention from other drivers during my test drive.
Shoppers will notice the Commander's styling includes exposed bolt heads inside and outside. The bolts attaching the wheelwell flares are visible, for example. And I counted more than two dozen—some simulated—in the front seat area. They included authentic, usable bolt heads on the dashboard and fake ones on the gear shift lever.
The two-tone dashboard that sits up rather high took some getting used to, especially for a petite front passenger whose seat didn't include height adjustment.
But the test vehicle's rich brown "Saddle Leather" seats were darker than the beige color we're all accustomed to seeing added a manly, almost rugged Western sense to this SUV.
Built off of the Grand Cherokee platform
This makes the Commander seem like a bargain, except that prices can rise to luxury-car levels quickly. With a HEMI V8, four-wheel drive and leather seats, the Commander is near $40,000, for example.
The Commander and Grand Cherokee share the same platform, wheelbase and powerplants.
But where the Grand Cherokee offers 34.5 cubic feet of cargo room behind its rear seats, the Commander has just 7.5 cubic feet aft of its third row. Indeed, when all seven seats in the Commander are in use, there's just a narrow stretch of cargo space right up against the rear tailgate. It's enough for a few grocery bags or a couple normal-sized suitcases. The rest of your stuff has to go on the roof.
Of course, the Commander's third row also folds flat, as do the second-row seats when not needed. So maximum cargo room is 68.9 cubic feet. This compares with 67.4 cubic feet in the slightly shorter-length and narrower Grand Cherokee.
The base Commander powerplant is a 210-horsepower 3.7-liter single overhead cam V6 with 235 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. The midlevel engine is a 235-horsepower 4.7-liter single overhead cam V8 with 305 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. Both of these engines have the same performance numbers in the Commander as in the lighter-weight Grand Cherokee.
But the engine that's likely to be preferred for moving seven passengers is the 5.7-liter 90-degree, HEMI V8. There's nearly 100 more horsepower—330—from the HEMI as there is in the midline V8, and the HEMI's torque of 375 lb-ft at 4000 rpm means the vehicle won't feel sluggish, even when the Commander has all seats filled.
This engine in the test vehicle performed admirably, with strong, steady power coming on during passing maneuvers and a satisfying feel of get-up-and-go even in city traffic.
There were pleasing, powerful engine sounds, too. All transmissions are automatics.
Note that the HEMI makes the Commander the most powerful seven-seat SUV on the market. And this is despite the fact the 420-horsepower, larger HEMI V8 available in the Grand Cherokee SRT8 was not available on the Commander at its 2006 introduction.
Families looking to maximize their fuel usage, however, might want to compare the Commander to a typical minivan where fuel economy ratings range from 20 miles gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway for a 2006 Honda Odyssey to 17/23-mpg for a 2006 Ford Freestar.
In comparison, the top fuel economy rating for a 2006 Commander is 17 miles a gallon in city driving and 21 mpg on the highway for a two-wheel-drive model with V6.
The worst rating is 15/19 mpg for a 2006 Commander with the HEMI V8. This engine includes a multi-displacement system that automatically disables four of the engine's eight cylinders to save fuel in some driving situations.
Unleaded regular gasoline is acceptable for all Commanders, according to eep.
Maximum towing capacity is 7,200 pounds.
Ride is exemplary
The test Commander was impressively quiet inside and provided a mostly cushioned ride on the pavement, with nary a bump coming through to jar passengers. It was a pleasant highway cruiser, where the impact from expansion cracks was muffled. There's decent management of pothole bumps, too.
Power, rack-and-pinion steering is competent, and the vehicle has a surprisingly agile personality, given its size, in slalom maneuvers. In the test vehicle, there was none of the unwieldy, uncomfortable handling found in some other SUVs.
Going off-road over fallen logs, the Commander's independent front suspension and rear, five-link configuration took the up-and-down motions with plodding grace. And in four-wheel-drive low, the Commander tracked through slick, wet mud like a true, capable Jeep.
This includes curtain airbags with rollover sensor, a tire pressure warning system, Electronic Stability Control, traction control and anti-lock brakes.
But only outer passengers of the Commander have head restraints. The middle person in the second row does not get one.
Every succeeding row of seats in the Commander sits up a bit higher than the one before it, and to ensure decent headroom, the roof of the Commander also rises in height as it goes to the back of the vehicle.
Still, the third row can feel a bit cramped for adults, and climbing into the back row requires clambering over uneven floor surfaces.
Be sure to check out the Commander's nifty skylights in the roof above the second row. These tinted-glass windows don't open, but they add an airy feel inside. There are manual shades to ensure that glaring sunlight overhead doesn't bother passengers.
And youngsters are sure to enjoy the Commander's optional rear-seat entertainment center with wireless headsets.
But beware when loading heavy items into the Commander's cargo area. The cargo floor sits up substantially from the pavement, meaning you have to lift heavy bags upward before sliding them inside.