Jeep's entry into the seven-passenger SUV market wears Moab's dust well. The Jeep Commander's angular design, with its sharp lines and flat surfaces, harkens back to the Willys station wagons, Wagoneers, and Cherokees; but this vehicle is hardly mired in the past. In fact, the Commander is what Jeep calls its vanguard of new products, set to cross the rocky North American automotive market over the next few years.
The Commander shares the same line and underpinnings as the '05 Grand Cherokee. As such, it offers some similar features: 5.7L Hemi V-8 with the Multi-Displacement System, 4.7L Power Tech V-8, and 3.7-liter Power Tech V-6 engines; Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II full-time four-wheel-drive systems; Brake Traction Control System (BTCS); and Electronic Limited Slip Differentials (ELSD) transfer cases
Truckin' and three other Primedia publications were invited to risk the lives a few Jeep engineers and PR professionals and the mechanical integrity of two pre-production Commanders on a trek across the colorful Utah desert led by four-wheeler and Moab-based guide Dan Mick. We alternated between disconcerting views of nothing but sky and nothing but ground as we drove up and down one mound of slickrock after another. Luckily, there were no mishaps. We would have had to drive the Commanders on a bad line up a rock (which we did a couple times) or steer them off a cliff (not this time) for a screwup to have occurred. That's because both the vehicles we drove tackled obstacles with relative ease, particularly the Limited model wielding Quadra-Drive II, ELSD, and a 5.7L Hemi. Simply butting that vehicle's front tires against a steep wall of rock, tapping its variable-response fly-by-wire accelerator, and pointing the nose in the right direction allowed us to climb a 50 or 60-degree grade without breaking traction, the conversation, or a sweat. The other Commander had a 4.7L engine, Quadra-Trac II, BTCS, and cable-controlled throttle body, and it tackled obstacles with just as much skill but with noticeably less finesse as the other model
Like the Grand Cherokee, the Commander also has independent front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering for better road manners, although we can't accurately comment about the on-road handling since the earlier-generation vehicles we drove were supposedly not quite ready for prime time in this area
Unlike the Grand, the Commander's steering is geared to be a tad slower to make it more manageable over rough terrain, and the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is tweaked to be less intrusive. It is 2 inches longer, 4 inches taller, and 250 pounds heavier than the Grand Cherokee. The Commander with the 4.7L powerplant tows 6,500 pounds, while the Hemi version pulls 7,200. The roof rack carries 150 pounds. Stadium-style seating gives second- and third-row passengers a commanding view of the road, rather than of the back of the driver's head. The middle row is split into three seats, 40-20-40, each of which folds down flat. Headroom in this row is adequate for a 6-foot-2-inch writer, and two sealed and shaded skylights in the roof over this row complement the fully functional sunroof over the driver and front passenger. The rear row's two seats split 50-50 and also fold flat, and AC vents and controls give these passengers some control over their comfort. We couldn't judge the interior fit, finish, or overall cosmetics due to the pre-production nature of these vehicles. Chromed exterior handles on the outside of the Limited's D-pillars give a hand to someone loading people or cargo through the back hatch.
Safety and stability features on the Commander include its Electronic Stability Program, which compensates for oversteer, understeer, and slippery roads; ABS brakes; tire pressure monitoring; airbags that deploy to counter certain roll-over accidents; and more. We'll give you a more in-depth review of the Commander in the future.