It’s much like a big station wagon, highly capable off roads, but plush enough to serve as a mobile boardroom or den.
Seen that way, the 2006 Jeep Commander Limited is friendly, acceptable.
It’s certainly addictive.
Technically, it is a midsize sport-utility vehicle, albeit a grander version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, gifted with the rough-and-tumble prowess of a regular rock-climbing Jeep or, maybe, considering its dimensions, a Hummer H3.
Despite its size, it is enjoyable, even in city traffic, where similar vehicles tend to be more of a hindrance than a benefit.
The pleasure of it has little to do with power. The Jeep Commander series offers three different engines — the least of which, a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6, produces one less horsepower than a base Chevrolet Impala LS sedan.
The tested Commander Limited (an odd name in a nation obsessed with the power-expanding “unitary executive theory”) came with a 235-horsepower, 4.7-liter V-8. But, again, in city traffic, it was surrounded by cars having substantially more oomph.
What was pleasing about the Commander Limited was its surprising maneuverability and responsiveness. It had a knack for getting out of tight spots, as well as for getting into parking spaces on crammed downtown streets.
When traffic stood still, as it often does in the District of Columbia and environs, the Commander Limited’s cabin — outfitted with Yuma leather seat surfaces and a Boston Acoustic sound system — proved the perfect place to roost.
DaimlerChrysler AG, maker of all things Jeep, is going after affluent activists with this one. Those people are not necessarily political liberals.
They are folks with average annual household incomes of $100,000. They’re married, or otherwise partnered. The several bedrooms in their suburban homes usually stay occupied; and on weekends, after shedding office wear and donning casual clothes with cell phones and other personal communications and entertainment devices attached, they pull boats, haul camping gear and set out for roads less traveled in those rare quarters of the country that are less developed.
But I toured the District of Columbia and vicinity, where I experienced some of the toughest off-road driving conditions on streets that were supposed to be properly paved and hospitable to vehicles with the gentlest of suspensions.
There were potholes, ruffles, ridges and cracks aplenty in the District; and in my home suburb of Arlington, the Commander Limited was put to the test on mini-mansion-bounded streets made difficult by speed bumps, also called “traffic calming devices” by the county officials who used some of our tax dollars to build them.
The Commander Limited, assembled in Detroit and Austria under DaimlerChrysler’s “Uniframe Construction” theory — meaning that its underpinnings, doors, et al. are attached to a single, unitized steel frame — handled all of the bad roads with aplomb.
The Commander Limited is a true full-time four-wheel-drive vehicle, meaning that it comes with a four-wheel-low gear and an electronic limited slip differential to help those hardy souls — and there actually are quite a few — brave enough to pursue real off-road adventures. I did nothing like that during my week of driving, but I did run into several rain storms in which the Commander Limited behaved well.
The marketing of such a vehicle might seem an onerous task in a time of gasoline prices that frequently fall, rise and rise again. If so, it is not a challenge DaimlerChrysler is facing alone.
Automakers generally believe that 2006 will be another year in which they sell 17 million new cars and trucks in the United States, with nearly half of those being trucks, or truck-derived vehicles. And of those trucks, the car companies believe 700,000 will be large sport-utility vehicles, which is why many of them are introducing models to compete with the Commander Limited and its siblings.
In short, despite rumors to the contrary, car companies believe there is still money in those big wheels; and they are bound and determined to get it.
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Nuts & Bolts
2006 Jeep Commander Limited
Downside: The Commander Limited is not a vehicle for the weak of pocket — and here, I’m not only talking about the purchase price. A week’s worth of driving around the Washington metropolitan area yielded a $50 tab for regular unleaded gasoline.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Acceleration was good. Ride and handling, surprisingly, were excellent. It is not so much that the Commander Limited rides and handles like a limousine, which it doesn’t. It’s just that it’s an exceptionally easy, agreeable, obedient truck to drive.
Head-turning quotient: High, pleasant. It’s funny. That Jeep seven-slot grille is so famous, so accepted that, coupled with Jeep’s traditional, utilitarian flat side-panels, even SUV haters were willing to give this one a pass.
Body style/layout: The Jeep Commander is a four-door, mid-size SUV (although it seems much larger) with a rear hatch. It has a unitized steel frame body, and it is available with four-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive.
Engines/transmissions: The Jeep Commander line offers three engines and two transmissions. The engines include a base 3.7-liter V-6 that develops 210 horsepower and 235 foot-pounds of torque; a 4.7-liter V-8, 235 hp and 305 foot-pounds of torque; and a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, 330 hp and 375 foot-pounds of torque. Two five-speed automatic transmissions are available.
Capacities: The tested Commander Limited has seating for up to seven people. Maximum payload, the weight of what can be carried onboard, is 1,490 pounds. Maximum cargo capacity is 68.9 cubic feet. It can be equipped to tow up to 7,200 pounds. The fuel tank holds 20.5 gallons of required regular unleaded gasoline.
Mileage: I averaged 16 miles per gallon in city/highway driving. Ouch!
Safety: Four-wheel antilock brakes; multi-stage-deployment front air bags; side and head-curtain air bags; traction and stability control.
Price: Base price on the 2006 Jeep Commander Limited with four-wheel drive is $38,205. The dealer’s invoice price is $34,867. Price as tested is $41,230, including $2,330 in options (GPS navigation radio, Quadra-Drive, trailer package and off-road equipment) and a $695 destination charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $37,612. Prices sourced from DaimlerChrysler, http://www.edmunds.com and http://www.cars.com , an affiliate of The Washington Post.
Purse-strings note: Compare with Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT and upscale editions of the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner.