So far, only the Wrangler has been spared what we can only refer to as the emasculation of Jeep. But the rest of the product lineup, amounting to the cute wittle Liberty and soft cuddly Grand Cherokee until the 2006 Commander arrived, has been compromised by the demands of a public that wants to look like it can go anywhere at any time but usually only rolls into the Trader Joe’s parking lot a couple of times a week, and wants that ride nice and cushy. Adding insult to injury, next year the Jeep Compass debuts, the first vehicle to wear the signature seven-slot grille and round headlights with absolutely no hope of ever traveling California’s famed Rubicon Trail.
Basing the 2006 Jeep Commander on the Grand Cherokee platform has its drawbacks, and we cannot understand why, if the company wanted a seven-passenger SUV, DaimlerChrysler’s excellent Dodge Durango didn’t serve as the starting point. (DaimlerChrysler owns both Dodge and Jeep, as well as Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz.) A Grand Cherokee is not a large SUV. It’s not even a midsize SUV by our standards, since it doesn’t offer 75 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume. So attempting to stuff three rows of seating into the Commander, atop the Grand Cherokee’s solid rear axle no less, seems a mission as futile as teaching Paris Hilton grace, poise, elegance, and wit. If you’re wondering why the Commander looks like a FedEx Box on wheels, getting three rows of seats inside is one reason. The other is that many Jeep freaks miss the old Cherokee, which enjoyed a production run of almost two decades with very few updates.
If the 2006 Jeep Commander still sounds appealing, here’s what you need to know to pick the right model. Choose rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Next, pick an engine. A weak and raucous 3.7-liter V6 makes just 210hp/235 lb.-ft., and though the EPA says you can get 16/20 mpg city/highway, you’ll be flooring this sucker everywhere you go to make up for the power deficit, which means you’ll be getting the same fuel economy as the V8 upgrade. The 4.7-liter V8, optional on the base Commander and standard on Limited models, is the best blend of economy and performance, making 235hp/305 lb.-ft. and rating 15/19 by the EPA. Or put the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 in your Limited for 330hp/375 lb.-ft. and a 14/18 fuel economy rating on 89-octane unleaded. If you get a 4WD model, you can choose one of three systems – light-duty automatic Quadra-Trac I, full-time active Quadra-Trac II with low-range gearing, or full-time active Quadra-Drive II with low-range and electronic limited-slip differentials.
Now you need to choose between standard and Limited trim levels. Every 2006 Jeep Commander includes a sturdy roof rack, power heated folding side mirrors, rear parking sensors, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Inside, the standard Commander is equipped with cloth seats for seven passengers, air conditioning, cruise control, a stereo with a CD player, and a power driver’s seat. Options include leather, a power sunroof, rear A/C, a rear DVD entertainment system, a navigation system, Boston Acoustics speakers, Bluetooth wireless communications, and other goodies. The Commander Limited gets chrome exterior trim, fake bolts for the exterior fender flares, rear exterior grab handles, fog lights, and intelligent headlamps. Limited interiors are decked out in leather, dual-zone automatic climate control, power adjustable pedals, a power sunroof with CommandView rear seat skylights, Boston Acoustics sound, and a one-year subscription to Sirius satellite radio. Limited models can be upgraded with chrome wheels, navigation, and a rear DVD entertainment system. Safety gear for all Commanders includes ABS with EBD and Brake Assist, stability control with electronic roll mitigation, a tire pressure monitor, and side curtain airbags that remain inflated for an extended period of time in a rollover accident.
Cracking wise on Jeep might be deserved, but the bottom line is that despite its faults, we liked the Commander’s interior design, we liked its thirsty 5.7-liter V8 engine, and we liked it more than the Grand Cherokee that donates the foundation. The third row of seats is no more laughable than what Subaru jams into a B9 Tribeca or Toyota crams into the new RAV4, and despite woozy suspension tuning and all-season tires best kept on pavement, the Commander can handle difficult off-roading situations better than most.
Still, with a loaded sticker price of nearly $43,000, an observed fuel economy of 13.4 mpg, a maximum cargo volume of just 68.9 cubic feet, and a marketing campaign that pits this small sport-ute against big guys like the redesigned Chevy Tahoe and newly updated Ford Expedition, our 2006 Jeep Commander Limited test vehicle didn’t strike us as much of a bargain. Consumers are asked to pay dearly for the privilege of owning this powerful, retro-styled Jeep – a premium too steep to justify given the compromises and the competition. If you insist on selecting the Commander, stick with the 4.7-liter V8, keep your fingers out of the cookie jar, and hunt for deals. Despite Jeep’s best intentions, the Commander’s not a sell-out, and dealers are eager for your business.