Wednesday, October 12, 2005
By Donald I. Hammonds, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The big news from Jeep in 2006 is big indeed -- the arrival of the all-new Jeep Commander, a full-size SUV that is the company's first to offer a third row seat.
Don't get the idea that Jeep has gone for the "plus size" SUV market that seems to be imploding. This new Jeep is only about 2 inches longer than the Grand Cherokee and a few inches higher to make room for a stepped roof that helps allow for the third row. Altogether, the Commander is about 188.5 inches long and 72 inches high. And that third row means it now can carry seven passengers.
It will be offered with three full-time, four-wheel-drive systems, Quadra-Track 1, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II. Three engines will be available including the 3.7 liter, 210 horsepower V-6, (17/21 mpg.); a 4.7 liter, 235 horsepower V-8, (15/20 mpg.); and the famed 5.7 liter, 330 horsepower Hemi V-8, (14/18). Two five-speed automatic transmissions are provided, along with standard independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering.
The new Jeep Commander is the company's first vehicle to offer a third-row seat.
Jeep classicists will love the Commander's look because it's based on three legendary vehicles. The most obvious is the Jeep Cherokee, built from 1984 to 2001, which many consider to be the first really car-like SUV. Commander has the square, upright, almost station wagon-like flavor of that model. The other two influences are the Willys-Overland, built from 1946 to 1962, the car industry's first all-steel station wagon, and the Wagoneer, built from 1963 to 1991 and considered to be first true sport utility vehicle.
Jeep employed the novel idea of screw heads openly displayed along the Commander's wheel well ridges on the Limited model, and the screw head symbol on the steering wheel and screw heads dotting the dashboard, on all models.
Inside, the Commander is tastefully done, with top notch materials and lots of chrome and aluminum touches. Though there's plenty of room in the front, back seat space is a bit tight, and as you might expect, the third row is mainly for children. On the other hand, getting into your seats is a snap, and if you lower the third-row seats, you'll find that they are easily raised by long straps on the back that prevent a long, painful stretch by the driver.
Any Jeep has a tough-as-nails image and having driven the new Commander off road, I can tell you that it gives nothing away to ruggedness or usefulness because of its enlarged size. It plowed right through mud, over rocks and barriers, and did so while keeping its passengers in complete comfort.
You can order a navigation system with MP3 player that uses both on-screen directions and voice to help you get to your destination, Sirius satellite radio is available as is a DVD entertainment system.
Problems? Mainly the market. It's anyone's guess as to whether people will even look at an SUV of any kind given the current fuel prices.
Prices begin just under $28,000 for a well-equipped, two-wheel-drive base model Commander.