In the cheap muck that defines many Chrysler interiors – the dull, flimsy plastics, the ’80s-inspired rectangular cutouts and build quality – Jeep has kept its head above the goo.
Climb into a Commander, a Grand Cherokee platform with an identical wheelbase but lengthened 1.8 inches and widened 0.6 inches in track, and you’re treated to Land Rover luxury without the Land Rover brittle plastics.
Burl wood trim surrounds the attractive center stack on our top-level $48,210 Overland, which also includes two-tone leather and microfiber seats (also known as Alcantara). Allen-head screws are at all corners, and the squarish, upright presentation matches the Commander’s instantly recognizable brick exterior.
You can tell on the outside – from the chrome 18-inch wheels, xenon headlamps, and D-pillar grab handles – that this is a luxury Jeep. You can’t tell it’s from the same people who make the Dodge Durango.
The driving experience is just as luxurious, far above the smaller Land Rover LR2 HSE which costs almost as much. Considering its non-aero proportions, the Commander exhibits Lexus-like levels of wind noise on the highway, and runs with a library hush around town. The 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 has gobs of torque – and its sound prompts you to open all the windows to take it in – but it’s very, very thirsty, as expected from a vehicle weighing 5,239 pounds (more than a Hummer H3T). The window sticker lists an EPA estimated 13 miles per gallon in the city, and that’s dead-on accurate. Don’t drive the Commander in the city like I did. The fuel gauge drops almost as fast as the temperature needle rises from cold.
The suspension is plush with a fair amount of dive and pitch under cornering and braking. While the Commander stays cool under normal driving, remember that this is a big, body-on-frame truck, and you’d best treat it like one. This is also a serious four-wheel-drive SUV, though certainly not as adventurous as a Wrangler, despite all the skid plates shielding the fuel tank, front suspension, and transfer case. There’s a low-range button near the shifter, but everything else is automatic, including the operation of the limited-slip differentials.
The rest of the goodies exist to coddle and comfort: heated front and rear seats, a backseat multimedia center with a flip-down LCD screen, backseat “skylights,” power adjustable pedals, tri-zone climate control, Bluetooth, Sirius radio, auto highbeams, rain-sensing wipers, and auto-dim mirrors. At this price point, you’re still $10,000 away from a Range Rover Sport, which delivers the same terrible gas mileage but with no backseat entertainment and poor company reliability ratings.
Has Jeep one-upped the British SUV experience? If having “RANGE ROVER” on the front of your vehicle is important, the answer is no. But for shoppers who still crave large luxury SUVs and want value (not to mention a cramped but usable third-row seat), the Commander is the one.