The Jeep brand keeps growing and changing, and the seven-passenger Commander is one of the newest additions.
Commander is one of the first Jeeps with three-row seating, and it was created to satisfy buyers who think the Grand Cherokee is not large enough, though both vehicles utilize the Grand Cherokee’s chassis and most under-skin components.
The Commander’s boxy look evokes thoughts of earlier Jeeps. With close-set headlights, a fairly low roof and upright windshield, it always reminds me of the original Jeep Cherokee.
Some of the Commander’s strengths, just the same as the Grand Cherokee, are the tight and solid body, no-nonsense ride and available Hemi V-8 engine.
The doors slam with a reassuring thud, the dash doesn’t creak or groan as the body flexes over major bumps, and the level of noise and vibration has been reduced to sedan-like levels.
I liked driving the Commander because of its upright driving position and the sweeping view it affords through the wide front glass. It was also as quiet as many luxury sedans, and that’s always a plus.
The Commander is available with a 3.7-liter V-6, a 4.7-liter V-8 or the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. There are three four-wheel-drive systems.
The Hemi is a marvelous, if somewhat thirsty, engine. It has oodles of lowdown grunt for scrambling through mud bogs, deep snow or sand dunes. Not that many people will take their expensive Jeep off-roading, but they could if they wanted. That’s how you market the Jeep brand.
The Hemi not only pulls with authority, but it also cruises very quietly on the highway. There’s just enough exhaust rumble to let you know this engine has muscles, but not so much as to be annoying.
Three-row seating is a key feature of the Commander, but don’t think it has the room of a Suburban or Expedition XL. The Commander’s 109.5-inch wheelbase, the same as the Grand Cherokee, is barely long enough to comfortably accommodate a third-row seat. Legroom in the second row is tight, and you almost have to be an acrobat to get into the third seat if you’re out of your teen years.
When the third seat is folded flat, it sits on the load floor rather than in it, and that limits the height of the cargo hold. The second seat folds down to create a completely flat floor.
A raised roof gives rear-seat headroom, and it is disguised with a thoughtfully designed roof rack. When I needed to play Jethro of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and haul a mattress and box spring on the roof, I removed the roof rack’s cross bars and strapped the bed on the bars. Slots in the lower rack were perfect for looping a rope.
The Commander’s instrument panel uses many of the same components as the Grand Cherokee, but design is more rugged. Screw heads, real or imagined, are plentiful on the face of the fairly flat instrument panel.
On the road, the Commander feels smaller than it looks. The steering has good feel, and the turning circle makes it easy to maneuver in tight parking lots.
The power sunroof is accompanied by two glass roof sections over the back seat. The sections don’t open, but they give a nice feeling of airiness to the back seat.
The test car was a Commander Limited. Its base price was $38,205. Options included the Hemi engine, off-road equipment group, electronic limited slip front axle, electronic limited slip rear axle, overhead console, rear-seat entertainment center and trailer towing package. The sticker price was $44,595.
Three years or 36,000 miles.
Engine: 5.7-liter, 340-hp V-8
Wheelbase: 109.5 inches
Curb weight: 5.169
Base price: $38,205
As driven: $44,595
MPG rating: 14 city, 18 hwy. At A Glance
Point: The Commander offers three-row seating in a vehicle that is not much larger than the Grand Cherokee. Three engines, three four-wheel-drive systems and tons of extras let the consumer tailor the vehicle to his taste and needs.
Counterpoint: Legroom is snug in the second seat, the third seat is small, and the height of the cargo area is limited by the depth of the folding third seat.