The Jeep Commander can haul up to seven people and a lot of stuff just about anywhere it can fit. Launched as an all-new product last year, the Commander offers more capability over rugged terrain than most drivers will ever need, benefits of its ground clearance and excellent traction. If you're expecting an unrefined vehicle with sluggish performance, however, you'll be surprised.
For 2007, the ultra-luxury Commander Overland joins the lineup, with more standard equipment, platinum-chrome exterior accents, and wood, leather and suede inside. Several new features are available for 2007 as well. Among them: a rearview camera, a power liftgate, a remote starter, and active turn signals. In most states, the optional 4.7-liter V8 can operate on gasoline or up to 85 percent Ethanol. Last year's base model has been re-named Commander Sport for 2007.
As suggested by its slab-sided styling, the Commander offers utility and a roomy, airy cabin. The rear seats are progressively stepped up, theater style, giving back-seat riders a view of the road. This feeling of airiness is enhanced by a pair of glass roof panels, though the third row is best reserved for 10-year-olds.
Utility comes in the form of a perfectly flat cargo floor when the rear two rows are folded down, providing nearly 69 cubic feet of cargo space. Those in the front seats enjoy a comfortable cabin, much of which is shared with the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Belied by the utilitarian styling, however, is the Commander's responsiveness and agility. It handles surprisingly well for a tall, seven-passenger SUV. On the highway, the Commander is a notably smooth and comfortable cruiser, and we think it'd be a good choice for that cross country trip to Yellowstone. It's reasonably quiet, allowing easy conversation, a pleasant surprise given the squared-off styling and all-terrain tires.
A choice of V6 and V8 engines is available. The mid-level 4.7-liter V8 seems an excellent choice, with responsive acceleration performance for working through traffic and fuel economy just slightly lower than the 3.7-liter V6. The 5.7-liter V8 Hemi is a good choice for buyers who tow trailers of up to 7,400 pounds.
Two-wheel-drive models are available, though that seems a curious choice because it sacrifices the benefits of Jeep's highly capable four-wheel-drive systems, one of the Commander's most compelling features. Buyers who don't need off-road capability might be better served by something else.
Based on the Grand Cherokee, the Jeep Commander is the second-largest civilian-production Jeep in history. (The largest was the J-120/J-130 Gladiator pickup of the 1960s and '70s.) The Commander is two inches longer and more three inches taller than the Grand Cherokee. The Commander's stepped roofline makes headroom for the rear-seat passengers, but the stepped effect is camouflaged by a roof rack rail.
The Commander is instantly recognizable as a Jeep, thanks to liberal use of Jeep design cues, such as the seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel wells, and squared-off lines with flat surfaces. Exposed Allen-head bolts along the wheelwells and in the headlamp module are decorative, intended to create a technical look.
Its body sides are more vertical than those on most SUVs, consistent with Jeep design heritage. From the rear, the flat hatch helps define a boxier space that reminds us of the Hummer H2. Jeep literature points instead to boxier ancestors within the Jeep family, including the 1946-65 Station Wagon, the 1963-91 Wagoneer, and the 1984-01 Cherokee.
The roof rack rail has three integrated tie-downs on each side. On Limited and Overland, assist handles extend from the roof rail down the back of the D-pillars, adding to the rugged, utilitarian appearance of the vehicle. The assist handles are black with chrome inserts on Limited, and black with platinum inserts on the Overland. On top of the rear bumper is a diamond-plate-texture step pad. The pad's nonskid surface is helpful when stepping on the rear bumper to gain access to the roof of the vehicle for tying down kayaks, bicycles and other gear.
Jeep has reached deep into its heritage to revive the Overland name. First built in 1903, the Overland automobile was the earliest ancestor of the Willys. Willys played an instrumental role in the development and production of the World War II-era Jeep, but was also the first automaker to seriously envision a civilian market for a military-style utility vehicle. The Willys Jeep debuted in 1946 and had its name shortened to just-plain Jeep in the early 1960s. Although the Jeep brand has passed through several owners since then, its lineage remains unbroken.
The cockpit of the Jeep Commander has a cozy, cocooning feel to it. The seats are nicely shaped and padded, and the steering wheel, a four-spoke design with cruise control buttons at the thumb positions, has the substantial feel of leather and exposed stitching. The Commander has a tangible sheltering quality that immediately appealed to us. It's the kind of vehicle we'd like to get into on a cold, windy day.
At the same time, the Commander offers a sense of spaciousness. Overhead skylights add an airy feeling for passengers in the second row. The skylights are fixed and don't open, but they have pull-out shades to filter light and reduce heat. The Commander's raised roof permits use of stadium seating; each row is higher than the one in front of it, giving second- and third-row passengers enhanced forward visibility.
The third-row seat will accommodate an adult, but seems designed for children in the eight- to 10-year-old range. To access the rear, the second-row seat flops forward, providing a careful adult with a reasonably easy path to the rearmost bench seat, which is split 50-50. My average size and weight allowed me to make my way into the third row with minimal effort. Still, the Commander is only a few inches bigger than a standard Grand Cherokee, so back-row seating is not ideal for taller adults and longer trips. The third row does have available rear heating and air conditioning controls, and nearby power points. In addition to providing comfort for children, the rear HVAC can be a relief to dogs on hot days.
Both the second- and third-row seats fold perfectly flat to create a load floor, and there is an L-shaped storage bin located behind the third-row seats. The arrangement means that there will always be a practical way to configure the Commander for either more passenger seating, or added cargo and gear. It strikes us as versatile, with few tradeoffs. The load floor height is relatively high, however, at 36.2 inches, meaning it requires extra effort to lift cargo up and in.
Interior refinements for '07 include color-coordinated cupholders and a diamond-plate pattern on the shifter bezel of the Sport model.
The Jeep Commander is remarkably nimble and responsive around town for a seven-passenger SUV, traits we noticed while driving them in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Its rack-and-pinion steering feels more precise than in many truck-based SUVs. Driving in rush-hour traffic, reveals the Commander to be quicker, better balanced, and a little more conducive to aggressive driving than the average SUV, and far more so than its appearance suggests.
The 4.7-liter V8 engine delivers good throttle response around town. The five-speed automatic transmission enhances this responsiveness and features two second-gear ratios. Punching the throttle signaled the automatic to kick down into the lower second gear to supply greater acceleration. Otherwise, a taller ratio with a smoother upshift is used. The effect is an energetic surge when you call for it, and a sense that you can control the transmission with your right foot.
We found the 4.7-liter V8 to be more than adequate for routine around-town and highway driving, leaving us to consider the 5.7-liter Hemi as a requirement only for those who plan to tow. The Hemi is rated to handle up to 7,400 pounds vs. 6,500 pounds for the 4.7-liter V8.
The 3.7-liter V6 uses the same electronic throttle control as the V8s, but is EPA-rated only 16/20 mpg City/Highway (16/19 with 4WD), compared to 15/19 mpg for the 4.7-liter V8. In terms of horsepower, the V6 and V8 engines are not that far apart, but the 4.7-liter V8 offers more torque, important for towing, driving off road and when accelerating.
For '07, the 4.7 offers the additional advantage of Flex-Fuel Vehicle (FFV) capability, meaning it can run happily on gasoline or up to 85 percent ethanol (E85). Except, that is, in Maine, New York, Vermont, Connecticut and California, where the 4.7 remains a gas-only unit.
On the highway, the Commander is a notably smooth and comfortable cruiser. Jeeps are not the most aerodynamic vehicles in the world, but wind and tire noise seemed unremarkable, well within the range of the average SUV and something less than in bigger, square-bodied truck-based 4x4s. It was easy to maintain a conversation using normal tones of voice throughout the drive, and easy to imagine this would be a fine vehicle for cross-country touring.
The advanced Quadra Drive II system and a 2.72:1 low-range gear gives the Commander excellent capability, something we learned on rocky forest trails in the Pocono Mountains. This system supplies lots of traction, and the Commander has quick steering that makes it maneuverable in tight quarters.
The Goodyear Fortera tires, with their all-terrain tread, proved their worth as traction devices and suspension components, helping to soak up the lumps from rocks and logs, and maintaining a grip clearly enhanced by the Commander's electronic traction control.
Ground clearance is sufficient to negotiate rocky terrain, but the trail was challenging enough to create a few clangs and clunks when we touched the underbody. We found the Commander capable of going anywhere it will fit. The limitation would come if the Commander were used to cross steep, narrow gulches that call for extreme angles of departure because its longer body has more rear overhang than a Grand Cherokee. Still, for most people, there is probably more rough terrain capability built into the Commander than they will ever need or use.
The 2007 Jeep Commander should be attractive to families that need four-wheel-drive capability for vacations, camping, or challenging winters. Its seven-passenger seating capability is complemented by seats that fold flat for big cargo capacity. With a wide range of engines, options and prices, the Commander is versatile enough to appeal to a broad array of buyers. On the road, it's far more agile, quick and quiet than its slab-sided styling suggest.
Off-road expert John Stewart filed the original report, with NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
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2010 Jeep Commander$14,981 | 63,473 mi
2010 Jeep Commander$19,845 | 86,761 mi
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2009 Jeep Commander$16,981 | 43,155 mi
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