Seven-passenger seating, rugged styling, off-road prowess, and optional Hemi power - that's the 2006 Jeep Commander.
Many moons have passed since the world has seen an all-new Jeep model, but that ends with the introduction of the 2006 Commander. Looking much like the defunct Cherokee and riding on basically the same underpinnings as the Grand Cherokee, the Commander is all Jeep in regard to its design and functionality.
What it is
Billed as the first Jeep ever with a third-row seat, the 2006 Commander is the newest addition to the trail-rated family. Larger than the current Grand Cherokee and looking much like the last generation Cherokee, the long and classicly-cued 2006 Jeep Commander made its official debut at the 2005 New York International Auto Show.
Why it matters
Jeeps have always been respected for their off-road capabilities, but they've never been known as people-haulers. As the first Jeep with a third-row seat and capacity for seven passengers, the 2006 Jeep Commander attempts to marry great off-road performance with added interior utility. It's an important step, since competitors like the Dodge Durango and Honda Pilot have been offering third-row seating for some time.
When you can buy it
During the 2006 Jeep Commander's debut at the 2005 New York International Auto Show, company executives suggested that this new suv will be on the market later this summer or fall. The all-new Commander is the first of many new products Jeep is planning to release over the next few years.
How much it costs
Pricing has not been released, but given that the 2006 Jeep Commander falls into rank above the Grand Cherokee, we can expect that Jeep will charge a premium for the larger Commander. Base pricing for the Grand Cherokee starts in the mid $20s and runs into the $30s, which means that shoppers will likely be looking at a cover charge in the high $20s to get inside of a 2006 Jeep Commander, and somewhere in the mid to high $30s for access to the best the Commander has to offer.
How quick it is
It may not win many street races, but the 2006 Jeep Commander will certainly leave many wannabes in its off-road dust. That is, of course, if the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is bolted in. That's the top-of-the-line motor available in the Commander, one that puts out 330 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 375 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. The Hemi features a multi-displacement system (MDS) which shuts down four of the cylinders when less power is needed, such as when cruising on the highway, all in an effort to increase fuel economy. There's a smaller 4.7-liter V8 that's also available, good for 235 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 305 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm. Finally, the base engine, a 3.7-liter V6, generates 210 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 235 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm.
What it looks like
After glancing at the 2006 Jeep Commander, you may ask yourself "Haven't I seen this before?" The quick answer is no, but Jeep designers intended on that sense of déjà vu when they sketched the Commander. Their inspiration came primarily from the now-deceased Cherokee and less from classic Willys models of the long distant past. What we see is a resurrected Jeep Cherokee that has grown in size. The shape is appropriately boxy, and the grille and windshield verge on vertical. Stacked headlights, used on only one Cherokee model within the past twenty years, outline a large chrome grille with Jeep's signature vertical slats. Inside, second- and third-row seats are raised for better front visibility, so the rear roofline rises to offer extra headroom. And in back there's a large, flat tailgate with grab handles carried down from the roof rails (presumably used to hoist oneself up to load/unload roof cargo).
What it does best
Since it's got Jeep's first third-row seat, it would be safe to assume that the 2006 Jeep Commander excels in the area of interior versatility and comfort. But, that would be wrong. What will make the 2006 Jeep Commander a success is what lies under its hood and under the skin. Three engines are available, ranging from the base 3.7-liter V6 to a choice of powerful V8s, one of which is the enviable 5.7-liter Hemi. And like all Jeeps, the four-wheel-drive systems can't be beat. As with the Grand Cherokee, the 2006 Jeep Commander can be outfitted with Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, or Quadra-Drive II.
What we think
Jeep had to build the 2006 Commander, if for no other reason than to match the seating capacity of its competitors. But, as is the case with most of those competitors' vehicles, that third-row seat is basically useless to anyone over a few feet tall. And that's just for city driving - put some adults in that back row and take advantage of the Commander's trail-rated capabilities, and you'll likely find yourself charged with torture. For those who require that miniscule third seat and like the throwback styling, the 2006 Jeep Commander will likely fit the bill as a versatile off-roader.
Photos courtesy of Erik Hanson