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FIRST DRIVE: Jeep Commander

2006-06-02 07:32

New Jeep Commander now available in South Africa

Wilmer Muller

Yes, the Commander certainly looks the Jeep part with its bold and boxy design. Furthermore its retro styling hints at Jeeps of yesteryear thanks to its angular lines and of course the trademark 7-slot grille.

It is also bigger than any Jeep that we have seen before and it comes with a third row of seats.

But one could argue that the Commander is only a 7-seater version of the Grand Cherokee as it shares the same platform and Quadra-Drive II 4x4 system. Even pricing is similar to that of the Grand Cherokee.

However, Jeep says whereas the Grand Cherokee is aimed at those looking for an SUV with a sportier edge, the Commander targets buyers looking for a more traditional 4x4.

Perhaps the reasoning behind the Commander is to lure back the staunch supporters of the first Grand Cherokees. They might feel betrayed by the trendsetting and sportier genes of the latest model.

The Commander definitely reminds of the old Jeeps such as the Wagoneer, which was the forerunner for the Grand Cherokee.

Of course as a Yank truck you expect some serious muscle power too, and the Commander doesn't disappoint.

The South African engine range include a 4.7-litre V8 and the Commander Limited comes with the Chrysler 300C's 5.7-litre HEMI V8. Jeep also says that a turbodiesel model could join the line-up in 2007.


Despite the Commander's rugged looks luxury is still the name of the game as it comes with all the bells and whistles expected of a top notch SUV.

In general both models are well-equipped to ensure a luxury ride for all seven passengers.

The top of the range Limited model features a host of nice touches such as a front-mounted sun roof as well as innovative skylights for the second row of seats. On this model you even get a DVD player with a drop-down screen for the rear passengers as a standard feature.

But we do question Jeep's specification level for the entry-level 4.7-litre model because leather isn't a standard (or even optional) feature for a vehicle with a price tag of close to R400k.

And if you do transport seven people the Commander's stepped roof provides second- and third-row occupants with plenty of head room.

The Commander's "theatre-style" seating enhances the functionality of its three-row, seven-passenger layout. The second-row seats are mounted 117 mm higher than the front row, and third row seats are 120 mm higher than the second row - to ensure a better view for all passengers.

The second-row 40/20/40 split seats are engineered so the outer sections fold down and tumble forward to allow passengers entry or exit from the third row on either side of the vehicle. All three second-row seatbacks can be folded onto the cushions to form a flat load area.

With seven people on board, Commander has 170 litres of luggage space. Folding the third-row seats expands the cargo space to 974 litres, and folding the second row gives a total of 1 776 litres.


Jeep's engineering team provided the Commander with the same 4x4 systems, suspension and powertrains as the Grand Cherokee, including an independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering.

It comes with the Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system which offers electronic limited slip differentials at the front and rear. This system also provides electronic engagement of torque biasing for the front and rear axles.

As a result, torque transfer is faster, and almost 100% of the torque can be distributed to any of the four wheels, a capability that is unique to Commander.

For 4x4 buyers who are hungry for maximum performance, the 5.7-litre HEMI engine will live up to their wildest dreams. This V8 develops 240 kW and 500 Nm and 90% of peak torque is available over a broad rev-band (from 2 400 to 5 100 r/min).

The 4.7-litre engine kicks out 170 kW at 4 500 r/min, and maximum torque is 410 Nm at 3 600 r/min.

Both engine derivatives come with a five-speed automatic transmission, which features Electronic Range Select driver interactive shift control.

The transmission provides fully automatic shifting in the "drive" position or the driver can manually select each gear sequentially by moving the shift lever left or right from the "drive" position. This gives the driver precise control to match any driving conditions.

On and off the road

The Commander is huge. It is hardcore wheels with tons of road presence. You also feel the vehicle's size on the open road and like typical American wheels the ride is soft.

But the ride is comfortable and at cruising speeds the Commander is a real pleasure.

As a Jeep, the Commander's real capabilities are supposed to be reserved for rough terrain.

Naturally the Commander is at ease on gravel and rocky terrain. And when things get really tough you simply select low-ratio gears via the button next to the gearlever.

However when things got dirty on the Commander launch the toughness of the vehicle became debatable.

With its well-engineered 4x4 setup, high ground clearance and under-body skid plates it is suppose to cope with most difficult terrain, however, on the launch the Jeep execs were red-faced when seven Commanders got stuck in mud.

This isn't necessarily a big reason for concern as it could have been driver error as well.

But perhaps it shows that the Commander is not quite on par with the big boys of the 4x4 gang such as the Toyota Land Cruiser or the Nissan Patrol.

Although the Commander is pitched as a "proper off-roader" it is a pity that it is probably destined to become another lifestyle accessory like most other 4x4s.

Its butch looks will definitely appeal to some image conscious buyers who want a 4x4 with a military-like appearance. But it is still a Jeep at heart and have all the attributes expected from the brand such as ruggedness and American muscle.


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