It’s difficult to find much love for large, boxy, V8-powered SUVs these days, even with gas prices significantly lower than they were last summer. However, there are still those with valid reasons to look for a body-on-frame sport-ute with lots of horses – towing boats, trailers or, well, horses.
|1. The top-line Commander gets a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with 357 hp and 389 ft-lbs of torque.
2. Despite the ability to shut off up to 4 cylinders when cruising, the HEMI V8 engine, equipped with a five-speed automatic, gets 19 mpg on the highway and just 13 mpg in the city.
3. All Jeep Commanders have a tow rating of 7,200 lbs.
But all those Yukons and Expeditions and Durangos are virtually useless when the road gets more than a little rough – they’re usually equipped with big, low-hanging front fascias and fiberglass running boards. What’s really needed is a seven-seat V8-powered SUV created by the company synonymous with off-road expertise.
No, we’re not talking about the latest Toyota Land Cruiser, but the venerable Jeep Commander. Created in 2006 in response to all of Jeep’s competitors growing third row seats, the Commander is really a throwback to the old Wagoneer that stayed in production for 27 years.
The first thing you’ll notice is the very upright styling, which owes much to the original Cherokee, albeit in 11/10th scale. The Commander is also unique in that its beltline is really low for a modern design, meaning visibility is really quite excellent. Because the rear seats are mounted higher than the fronts – what’s referred to as stadium seating – in order to aid passenger comfort, the roof is actually stepped, although unlike the Nissan Xterra or GMC Envoy, the Jeep’s is hidden by the standard roof rails.
Otherwise, the Commander’s design is obviously aimed at aiding off-road ability, thanks to decent approach and departure angles. Under the skin, it looks remarkably similar to the Grand Cherokee, including the coil-sprung independent front suspension and beam-axle rear end.
FAMILIAR ENGINE OPTIONS
Power comes from a trio of familiar engines: a base 3.7-liter V6 with an adequate 210 hp and 237 ft-lbs of torque, the mid-range 4.7-liter V8 with 305 hp and 334 ft-lbs, and finally the ubiquitous 5.7-litre HEMI V8 with 357 hp and 389 ft-lbs. All get a five-speed automatic in one form or another, and all get absolutely dismal fuel mileage. Even though the Multi Displacement System-equipped HEMI, which can shut off two or four cylinders while cruising at a constant speed has ratings of 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. That means the 21-gallon fuel tank gives it a theoretical best range of just 400 miles. Ask more of it by hauling your family around or making trips to Home Depot and single-digit mileage is possible.
Strangely, you can get the Commander in most trim levels with only rear-wheel drive, but that completely defeats its purpose. For those not wimping-out, depending on which trim level or engine you pick, customers either get Jeep’s traditional Quadra-Trac I full-time 4WD system, or the optional active Quadra-Trac II version. Neither requires much input from the driver, unless you want to lock the system for even more rock-crawling ability.
The $795 4×4 option group includes the upgraded four-wheel drive system, electronic limited slip front and rear differentials, skid plates over the front suspension, transfer case and fuel tank, and a pair of burly tow hooks.
For $280, the Trailer Tow Group includes a class IV receiver hitch, heavy-duty engine cooling and trailer sway damping, but regardless of which system you choose, the Commander is able to tow a respectable 7,200 lbs. And all models bar the Overland use 17-inch aluminum wheels and off-road tires.
BEST JEEP INTERIOR YET
Inside, things start to clear up a little. First, when introduced, the Commander was easily the nicest, most luxurious Jeep cabin to date, especially in $41,105 Limited trim with the Axis Perforated Royale Leather in saddle brown, which is a $150 option. That helps disguise the parts-bin components for the radio, climate control, power windows and mirrors, but Limited and Overland models also get standard heated seats in the first two rows.
Perhaps the nicest feature is the trio of glass sunroofs – one of which actually opens – that Jeep calls Command View. It gives the cabin a wonderful airiness, and is a worthwhile option on the lower trim levels. Limiteds also get the Bluetooth uConnect system, DVD-based navigation standard and 30GB Music Box to store your music files on. Otherwise, you can option up the Commander with all the usual niceties including HID headlights ($500), a power tailgate ($400) and a rear entertainment system with a DVD player and flip-down screen ($1,720).
Overlands also include bespoke leather seats, 18-inch wheels, and all the niceties bar the rear-seat DVD player for a price of $46,490.
The problem comes in relation to the third-row seats. While it’s not too difficult to get back there with the Commander’s second-row flip and fold seats, the space allocated for passengers is really quite tiny. Only small children should apply. And, if you’re using the seats for passengers, any useful cargo room behind them is immediately negated. You’d be lucky to stuff a soft-shelled bag in the leftover area, let alone a set of golf clubs. So really, the Commander is more a large five-seater with a pair of emergency jump seats rather than a fully-fledged seven-seater.
Competition at this price comes from the V8-powered Kia Borrego Limited ($39,995), which provides more space for passengers and cargo than the Jeep. The Kia would be next in line to the Commander to hit the off-road trails, but the Borrego actually beats the Jeep in towing capacity.
All of which means you have to wonder how long the Commander is for this world. Given the current situation, it wouldn’t surprise us to see it fade into history with its Wagoneer predecessor.
Off-road ability Handsome interior Powerful HEMI V8
Horrible fuel economy Tiny cargo area with third-row in use Price