One of the mysteries of the automotive world was why Jeep has been so reluctant to cash in on the humongous opportunities offered by the consumer craze for sport utility vehicles of all strips and spots.
But help is on the way. Jeep has just launched the fourth model in its line and the new, larger seven-passenger Commander seems to be the most important new product in decades. It moves the Jeep line into a new market, yet remains faithful to Jeep’s highly regarded heritage.
Jeep has taken the contrarian’s position in its product development. Jeep has eschewed several of the recent trends that have been driving volume in the market, such as the crossover SUV that’s built on a car chassis with limited off-road ability, and also the huge people hauler SUV that features maximized interior space at the expense of agility.
The Commander is built on the same platform as the highly regarded Grand Cherokee. It offers the same wheelbase and track between the wheels. On the other hand, the Commander is about 2 inches longer and about 4 inches taller, offers seating for seven passengers in three rows of seating and considerably more interior cargo volume while retaining excellent off-road capability.
Jeep’s designers developed a new body that basically looks like a box. This translates into an upright shape featuring planar, as opposed to curved surfaces. The idea was to maximize space without going too far past the volumetric envelopment of the Grand Cherokee. Design details feature a constructed, industrial look that seems quite appropriate for the market.
The Jeep franchise stands for a vehicle that may offer a load of luxury, but not at the expense of solid off-road credentials. Jeep spends a lot of money in developing and offering multiple options that can outfit a Jeep to go almost anywhere or brave extreme weather conditions.
The Commander offers the choice of two V-8 and one V-6 engine and three four-wheel-drive systems. The top choice is Quadra-Drive, which delivers electronic front-and-rear limited-slip differentials for quick response to off-road conditions and increased ability to put torque on the ground. The promise of more power is in the capable hands of Chrysler’s 330-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, which was installed in our test vehicle. Jeep not only claims top off-road capability, but also offers one of the most powerful engines in its class. To keep gasoline consumption in check, the huge Hemi engine advances a technology, the Multi-Displacement System that is able to deactivate half the eight cylinders at cruising speeds. But thanks to advanced computer and fuel-delivery technology, the system can reactivate all eight cylinders in a fraction of a second to ensure instant throttle response when the need arises. Jeep claims the boost in economy can approach 20 percent.
The Jeep is quite possibly the top choice for the buyer who really wants to go off-road in the most demanding conditions, yet desires a vehicle with performance and good ride and handling.
Our off-road excursion proves such. The Commander seems fully capable off-road. Despite the increase in length, it offers excellent approach and departure angles, or the ability to deal with difficult terrain with very large and steep humps, bumps and dips. The vehicle also displayed a very stout chassis that is resistant to bending and twisting forces, which is magnified in those occasions in which one wheel is actually off the ground.
The Commander also can deal with reasonable water hazards, such as crossing streams. But most of all, I was very impressed with its ability to creep across a field of boulders that relied upon the drivetrain’s capacity to redirect engine torque from one wheel to another to direct traction only where needed. If the torque is apportioned equally to all wheels, it can lead to a very unpleasant experience with a lot of lurching back and forth.
On the road, the Commander was just as impressive. It is quiet at cruising speeds and offers excellent road feel, something that is forgotten by many of its competitors. It is a pleasant family cruiser at all reasonable speeds.
Cordell Koland is an automotive journalist based in California’s central coast. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jeep Commander Limited
Price as tested: $44,520.
Type: 5.7-liter V-8.
Horsepower: 330 @ 5,000 rpm.
Torque: 375 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm.
Fuel economy, automatic transmission:
City , & #173; 14 mpg.
Highway , 19 mpg.
Curb weight: 5,169 pounds.