The 2006 Jeep Commander, Jeep's first vehicle with seating for seven, has the potential to be a solid family car. But, being that this is its first model year, there are still quite a few issues that need to be worked through and resolved.
Let's start with the pros: Jeff Bell, the former vice president of Jeep, was amazed at how much junk his three boys managed to collect in the car. For this reason, the interior of the Commander is outfitted with plenty of cargo nets and storage bins to contain the clutter. If only other car manufacturers brought their experience as parents to the design table. Better yet, bring the kids themselves.
According to the Commander's product communication manager, "The Jeep Commander has the highest level of safety and security technology and features ever offered on a Chrysler Group vehicle." Some of these features include standard side curtain airbags for all three rows, rollover sensors, an electronic stability system, traction control and, my favorite, the Rear Park Assist Detection System. This system offers an audible tone along with a lighted visual alert to alert drivers about possible obstructions behind the vehicle (though there is no actual camera).
Three sets of Latch connectors in the second row are a rarity in any SUV. The Jeep Commander gets brownie points for Latch connectors that are not only functional, but easy to use.
The Commander is quite flexible and accommodates a wide variety of seating configurations. Both the second and third rows fold fairly easily when additional cargo space is needed. Passengers in the third row can control their own heat and A/C settings. This feature is great for older kids or adults but a nuisance for younger children who want nothing more than to fuss with the buttons and dials.
Drivers of different statures will appreciate adjustable foot pedals and a high seating position with a good view of the road ahead. I also enjoy the surprisingly smooth and quiet ride for such a large, square SUV.
On the flip side, the second row is desperately lacking legroom. My youngest daughter rides in her child safety seat with her feet squished up against the back of the driver's head restraint when my husband drives. My older daughter complains constantly about not having enough room to climb into the car. Although she's slim enough to squeeze through the narrow passageway, her backpack isn't and needs to be lifted up and over the seat.
Three rows of seats are arranged in a stadium-type configuration, with each row higher than the one in front of it. This is great for allowing all passengers a view out the front windshield (and hence keeping motion sickness to a minimum), yet it yields a major problem with rear visibility. By the time you get to the third row, it's so high up it blocks the vast majority of the rear window. Jeep recognizes the problem, but hopes the rear park assist helps the situation. The rear park assist is only active if the car is in Reverse, however, and most people drive their cars in ... wait for it ... Drive (forward). The biggest danger I notice is when changing lanes. I need to see out the back to know when it's safe for me to move into the next lane.
Despite having a standard rollover sensor, the Commander hasn't fared very well in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's rollover test. The Commander received three stars out of five and shows a 22 percent chance of rollover if involved in a single-vehicle crash.
On a more frivolous note, the way the car is designed results in the front visors being extremely far away from the driver. The technical explanation is that "the distance from the A-pillar to the B-pillar is longer than usual." At least it doesn't smack me in the face when I swing it to the side. However, once swung to the side and extended there's still a 4 - 5 inch gap of side window not protected by the visor. The sun seems to eternally linger in this gap during my two-week test drive. It must be a conspiracy. Take note, Commander owners, I've figured out how to fix the problem: Don't drive north between the hours of 3 p.m. and sunset. This locks me out of driving the afternoon carpool, but heck, I don't really love that chore anyhow.
With the 2006 Jeep Commander's roomy, spacious interior and open, airy feel, a large family can fit comfortably. If certain issues are resolved in the future (specifically the rear visibility and rollover issues), I definitely see some potential there. Check back next year for another review and let's see how it does.
*For more information on the Jeep Commander and its safety features, visit www.cars.com. For questions or comments regarding this review, write to MotherProof@msn.com.
LET'S TALK NUMBERS LATCH Connectors: 3 Seating Capacity (includes driver): 7
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair-Great Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove On): Good Times