A host of changes for 2008 aim to make Jeep's Commander SUV more family-friendly. Satellite TV is now available for backseat passengers, and those up front get an optional MyGIG entertainment system that stores up to 1,600 songs. On the mechanical front, the Commander's available 4.7-liter V-8 gets a generous power upgrade. The Commander's competitors include the Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer.
Introduced in 2006, the Commander is the first Jeep product to have three rows of seats. Sport, Limited and Overland trim levels are available, as are three four-wheel-drive systems. Optional features include a power liftgate, Command View skylights, backseat TV and a navigation system.
The Commander is built on the Grand Cherokee's platform and shares the same wheelbase. Designers looked to 1940s Willys utility vehicles and later Jeep Wagoneers for guidance, and inspiration also came from the company's Cherokee SUV, which was replaced by the Liberty in 2002.
Commanders get the same four-wheel-drive systems, suspension and powertrains as the Grand Cherokee, including an independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. Buyers can choose a 3.7-liter V-6, a 4.7-liter V-8 or a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Three full-time four-wheel-drive systems and two transfer cases are also available. In ascending order of ruggedness, Jeep calls its four-wheel-drive systems Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II.
The Commander Sport features body-colored door handles, while Overland models add front tow hooks, platinum finish for the bodyside panels and front, a wire lattice grille, and body-colored outside mirrors. Seventeen- and 18-inch wheels are available.
The Commander is 2 inches longer and 4 inches taller than the Grand Cherokee; they share the same 109.5-inch wheelbase. The Commander features an upright windshield and rear window. Its angular sheet metal and vertical side glass give it a classic Jeep profile and a rugged, upright military look. Even the side mirrors are blocky and stout.
Inside, the Commander Sport has a diamond-plate console shifter bezel. The Overland adds leather to the center floor console, shifter knob, steering wheel and door grab handles. The lower center stack and center floor console bezels are trimmed in wood. Two-tone suede and leather seats round out the Overland's interior touches.
The SUV holds up to five or seven occupants on two or three rows of seats. Each row is slightly higher than the one ahead of it, enhancing forward visibility for rear occupants. The second- and third-row seats fold forward to create a flat load floor. Four round gauges populate the instrument cluster, which is surrounded by a two-tone dashboard.
The optional Sirius Backseat TV system uses a second-row video screen. For a monthly fee, the system broadcasts Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. Parents get satellite radio and available real-time traffic with the navigation system. The traffic feature can give detours based on current congestion, something early real-time traffic programs were unable to do.
An available MyGIG infotainment system combines navigation, audio and entertainment sources onto one dashboard screen. With a 20GB hard drive, it can store up to 1,600 songs, along with voice memos, pictures and more.
A stepped roof provides ample headroom for rear occupants. Innovative twin Command-View skylights over the second row of seats are standard on Limited and Overland models and optional on the Sport model.
Under the Hood
Three engines are available. The 3.7-liter V-6 develops 210 horsepower, while the 4.7-liter V-8 makes 305 hp — up from 235 hp last year. The V-8 can run on regular or ethanol-based E85 gasoline. The optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 makes 330 hp; it runs only on regular gasoline. All models use a five-speed automatic transmission. Models with Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II get new Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist features, intended to help the Commander better tackle offroad elevations.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, three-row side curtain airbags, an electronic stability system and traction control are standard. Parking assistance comes in the form of audible backup sensors on the Commander Sport and a rearview backup camera on the Limited and Overland. An optional Trailer Sway Control System aims to provide better towing stability.