Car reviews - Jeep - Commander - 5.7 V8 5-dr wagon
Blocky looks, smooth, quiet ride, seven-seat capacity
Room for improvement
Massively thirsty, gets smaller as you move rearward
16 Feb 2007
By CHRIS HARRIS
LIKE all recent Jeeps beginning with the Cherokee model that brought the brand back to Australia in the 1990s, what you think you see isn’t always what you actually get.
And the new seven-seat Commander flagship, which hits Australia to broaden an already quite comprehensive Jeep lineup, helps strengthen the experience.
A first photographic sighting, followed by the revelation it’s Jeep’s first seven-seater, suggests we have another gargantuan off-roader in our midst, in the same idiom as Audi’s Q7 and the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.
Certainly there’s nothing apologetic or retiring about the Commander.
A frontal aspect that looks set to chew up and spit out any other 4WD this side of a Hummer, an angular side profile that looks more like Stalinesque architecture than a motor vehicle, and an overkill of chrome all combine to make the Commander loom large in the imagination.
The reality is that, for all its seven seats and menacing looks, it is barely any bigger than the current Grand Cherokee with which it shares its base mechanicals, and is way smaller than the aforementioned newcomers from Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
The Commander has the same wheelbase as the Grand Cherokee, and measures the same from stem to stern although it’s a little broader and sits a little higher.
The upshot is that, while impressions from the front seats – where the roofline stretches way ahead to meet up with a low-browed windscreen and the width from door to door looks more than generous – suggest what we have here is a miniature Yankee stadium, the back seat is cruelly short of legroom and the third-row perch is definitely kids-only.
And what else would you expect given the Commander is Grand Cherokee, not Audi Q7 size?
But seven seats there are, which opens up possibilities for families who would in the past have liked a Jeep but are too populous to manage one.
The seven seats, like the Land Rover Discovery but on a smaller scale, are arranged stadium-style so those up back are claustrophobia-free.
Everything folds away quickly and simply without any convoluted space-saving actions, meaning the rearmost seat takes up luggage space even when sitting flat. But the centre row does do a double flip to make way for a fair bit of cargo if you’re not using all the seats – up to 1940 litres worth.
The centre row is also a three-piece set-up, which allows extra versatility over the more common 60/40 split.
The rear window also does a double flip to allow easy loading of small pieces of luggage – although those unacquainted with the Commander are advised to step well back when activating the top-hinged rear glass because it snaps open with a viciousness that could claim the odd scalp.
Our test car was a top of the range 5.7-litre Limited, which meant, among other things, it had full-leather seating with power adjustment and heating for driver and front passenger, dual-zone climate-control (like the lesser Commanders, offering outlets for the third-row occupants), full-bore 276-watt Boston Acoustics sound system, front and rear park assist, and auto-dimming interior and driver’s side exterior mirrors.
The interior treatment is unquestionably American, with plenty of hard – though seemingly reasonable quality – plastic and macho touches like the fake Allen keys scattered around the dash to match those on the hunky wheel arches outside.
But if the legroom gets less generous the further you move back into the Commander, at least the seats are comfortable and, up front, offer a broad range of adjustment.
And if the Jeep Commander is about style and hitherto unheard of practicality, it’s also about real off-road performance and easy-going US V8 muscle.
The 5.7-litre pushrod V8 is shared with the Chrysler 300C and produces sufficient torque to handle the Jeep’s 2.3 tonnes (100kg or so above equivalent Grand Cherokees) although the penalty of the weight, and the bluff, non-aero styling is a thirst almost unmatched among 4WDs.
On test we battled to get the 5.7-litre Jeep below 20.0L/100km around town, and managed an average of 17.2L/100km over 500km or so of mostly-freeway driving.
Even with a fairly decent 78-litre tank, refills after not much more than 300 kilometres won’t be uncommon for city types.
This is offset by the ability to blast from 0-100km/h in a rapid 7.4 seconds and a decent accelerative surge out on the open road. The muted sound of the multi-displacement Hemi V8 (it runs on four cylinders under light loads to help conserve fuel and is not hugely thirstier than the small 4.7-litre V8 also available) is always a pleasure to hear.
The Commander’s five-speed auto transmission doesn’t do any harm to on-road smoothness either, slipping quickly between gears and offering a manual-select mode via a Benz-style sideways-shift action.
Despite its fairly basic suspension system – independent with short and long arms at the front and a live, five-link axle at the back – the Commander rides serenely and steers with a nice precision perhaps unexpected in a weighty American 4WD.
Alloy wheels with 245/65R17 tyres are the order of the day, on all versions, and there’s a full-size spare hanging underneath the back.
The steering goes from lock to lock in a tidy 3.1 turns and is given a bit of weight to relieve any over-sensitivity. And it turns pretty tight too, managing a quite compact 11.8m from kerb to kerb.
The Commander’s off-road credentials are there for all to see, with a chromed lift-up handle nestling alongside the shift lever enabling the driver to switch the Quadra-Dive II 4WD system smartly between high and low ranges.
The three-differential system runs as a constant 4WD on the road, with electronic control allowing front or rear diffs to lock up when maximum traction is needed. Jeep says its Quadra-drive II system is the only one of its type capable of sending almost 100 per cent torque to one wheel if the off-road situation gets bizarre enough.
With a decent 213mm ground clearance, a live rear axle as respected by dinkum off-roaders and workable front and rear approach and departure angles, the Commander is well and truly bush-track certified.
The Commander also comes with electronic stability control (with ERM – Electronic Roll Mitigation), all-speed traction control, ABS with EBD and brake assist, and has dual front airbags as well as full-length curtain airbags that also double as side airbags for all outboard passengers.
Jeep says the Commander scored the highest rating for frontal-impact crash protection from the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But here’s the interesting bit.
Although the Commander is more brutish and accommodating than the Grand Cherokee, it opens – and continues – with starting prices just $1000 above its more-svelte siblings. That’s an entirely reasonable premium to ask, but the question is: Will the styling – which seemed to attract admirers and denigrators in equal numbers during our time with the Commander – do for Jeep what the 300C’s adventurously garish looks did for Chrysler?
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