The Commander is Jeep's first seven-passenger SUV, and it is built on the same architecture introduced on the redesigned '05 Grand Cherokee, which won our SUV of the Year award last year. Like the Tribeca, the Commander's love-it-or-leave-it styling will either inspire or alienate onlookers. If you don't like archetypal utilitarianism, then you won't like this. But if you appreciate the brand's go-anywhere cachet, then the Commander's design cues will read like a family album.
Attempting such a boxy appearance is not for the faint of heart, but the Jeep pulled it off and garnered second and third glances from passersby during our testing. The fender flares attached with chrome Allen, button-style bolts lend a tidy aggressiveness, and the insides of the headlights have a matching setup. Legacy styling abounds on the Commander, which borrows from the Grand and the Cherokee, among other models. The grille, of course, is all Jeep. Not everyone appreciated the rear, however, with its Land Rover-esque lines and the Limited's chromed grab handles.
Inside, the Commander enjoys a nice layout, although it does appear to be balancing three different aesthetics. Use of Allen bolts on the dash brought the exterior Jeepiness to the dash. The seats are the best of the bunch, both visually and ergonomically. While the second and certainly the third row seats are minimally spaced, their stadium-style arrangement and the overhead skylights at least make passengers feel like they haven't been banished to rear-seat oblivion. Flip down the seats, and the Jeep offers plenty of cargo space. And with an AM/FM/MP3/six-disc CD, satellite radio, navigation, and rear-seat DVD the Commander features a full mobile electronics package.
Flipping down the sun visors or raising the third-row seats compromised visibility through the windshield and rear glass, respectively. Grab handles on the A-pillars are too far forward to be comfortably used and were needed during our off-road testing.
Around town, the Commander made excellent use of its 5.7L V-8 Hemi with 330 hp. It drove nimbly, had a great turning radius, and wove through freeway traffic with ease. Its suspension and steering response leans slightly more toward off-road performance than the Grand, therefore body roll and cornering are noticeably, but not detrimentally, looser. Off-road, the Quadra-Drive II turns mountains into mole hill, although wheelers may not appreciate its comparatively low ground clearance.
All in all, the Commander is a well-executed, all-around performer on and off-road, as a suburban utility vehicle or wilderness explorer; and it conducts its business with unmistakable brand recognition and style. The TrailBlazer should have screamed "super sport" in the same way that the Commander radiates "trail rated." The Mark LT should have the tightly screwed-together fit and finish and the entertainment offerings of the Commander's well-appointed interior. The Explorer, which comes the closest to the Commander as an all-around winner, lacks the nimbleness and relative engine performance of the slightly smaller Commander. The Tribeca is simply too car-like to offer the same utility of the Commander.
With its amenities, handling, and visual appeal, the '06 Jeep Commander Limited 4x4 was the clear and obvious choice for the Truckin' SUV of the Year Award.
Some standard features as tested: 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, brake traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, electronic stability program (ESP) with electronic roll mitigation, side-occupant protection system with side-curtain airbags, Boston Acoustics premium sound system (AM/FM/MP3/six-disc CD player), infrared dual-zone climate control with solar-sensing function, sycamore interior trim, luxury leather-trimmed seats, rain-sensitive automatic wipers, Jeep memory system, SmartBeam intelligent headlamps, foglamps, ParkSense rear-park assist system, power sunroof with CommandView skylights.
Optional features as tested: 5.7L Hemi V-8 with Multi-Displacement System (MDS), Quadrat-Drive IJ Active 4WD with electronic limited-slip differentials (ELSD), DVD rear-seat entertainment system, navigation system with large color screen.
Final Price: $38,205Aftermarket Upgrades:Suspension lift, bigger wheels and tires, engine performance upgrades.