2007 Jeep Commander | road test

Posted on Oct 27, 2006 by

 

That’s what we thought when taking the out for a stroll, only to find out that true to its name, this new seven-seater showed just who the boss really is. Read on…

Car manufacturers are constantly looking at ways and means to develop new models. While most are, at best, conservative in the sense that they follow the design trend prevalent at a given period of time, churning out vehicles that could hardly be distinguished in a crowd. And then there are those who would indulge in a bit of sensationalism to draw attention to their products and those who would look at their past to gain some inspiration for the future.

It is in this category that the Commander falls in. The team at DaimlerChrysler has drawn on its rich heritage of the brand that, incidentally spawns back over 60 years, to blend with 21st century technology. In many ways, the Commander also parts way with badge engineering. How so, one may ask? Although the Commander is based on the mechanicals of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, it is as different as chalk from cheese. For one, the Commander does not favour the soft-looking design elements of the Grand Cherokee – it draws inspiration from the hard-nosed, boxy Jeep Cherokee that helped launch the SUV craze back in the USA in the 1980s. While the Grand Cherokee blended in with the scores of other SUVs in the market, the Commander stands out with its boxy and angular design. It looks like the design staff had only a pair of set squares to work with no access to a protractor to give some rounded edges to the form. However, in a sense it works, although the styling may not be to everyone’s fancy. But from DaimlerChrysler’s point of view, it gives the German-American company a vehicle to compete against General Motors’ line-up of macho, edgy-shaped Hummer models.

Underneath the chiselled look, the Commander shares quite a bit with the Grand Cherokee, especially in the mechanical department. Taller and bigger in appearance, thanks to four inches of additional height, the Commander sits on a 109.5 inch wheelbase – again similar to the Grand Cherokee but gains nearly two inches in length over its rounded sibling. But the big story is the availability of a third row of seats in the Commander enabling this big boy to carry a maximum of seven occupants – a first for Jeep. Big boy, did I say? Jeep has a fearsome reputation in off-road performance and the dynamics of the Commander are such that it envelopes the traits of its ancestors to its soul and is ‘Trail Rated’. This means that it is most capable in the rough and this is thanks in no small part to its size, which is pretty compact for a seven-seater SUV. The flip side is that there have been too many compromises on interior packaging and of course space, especially for third row occupants.

Inside, the Commander is loaded with creature comforts. There is a sunroof with CommandView skylights (that’s what DC calls it), CD changer with radio, leather seats with heating and memory, rear park assist, power assisted foot pedals, six Boston Acoustics speakers, rain sensitive wipers, Chrysler’s SmartBeam headlights (which automatically switch beams on and off), dual-zone automatic temperature control. All this is standard fare on the Commander Limited model which was our test car. Optional extras include rear-seat DVD, engine block heater and Goodyear OWL all-season tyres.

Our tester was powered by the awesome 5.7-litre Hemi V8 engine also seen in other DaimlerChrysler models. A most capable powerplant, the Hemi V8 produces 326 horsepower at 5000 rpm and a whooping 500 Nm of torque at a lowly 4000 rpm. The Hemi is the best thing to have happened to DC’s range of vehicles and its unobtrusive MDS (Multi-Displacement System) that deactivates half the cylinders during cruising to increase fuel efficiency by upto 20 per cent, according to the company.

With its tough as nails look, we were not expecting the Commander to behave like a ballet dancer on the roads and it didn’t. Road imperfections do seep in the cabin and there are other SUVs that deliver a kinder ride. Hey, think of it as beef jerky to smooth chocolate.

 

 

Whilst there is cool leather on the seats, the dash is typical American with a multitude of Allen-head bolts (which by the way are fakes, just adding to the aesthetics). Seats are comfortable allowing for a variety of human forms to size them up, although I felt that the driver’s seat could do with some more side support. With seating for seven within its compact dimensions, someone somewhere is bound to get the short end of the stick and it obviously falls to the occupants in the third row which – to be fair to Jeep – like most other third row seats are good enough only for the vertically stunted or children. The interior otherwise is functional and both second and third row seats can be folded in a manner that could do a contortion artist proud.

Seven seats or no, this is a Jeep and that is more than ably proved when we leave the black tops of Dubai and venture into the soft sands outside Sharjah. This is where the Commander shows off even more of its mettle, having behaved quite impeccably on tarmac on civilised roads in and around Dubai. Again, like many SUVs, its on-road behaviour may fall short of many a lofty expectation but I enjoyed its mannerisms to the hilt. Knowing fully well that this is a true blue SUV with its limitations on paved roads, I kept my natural instincts within and did not really push the limits of the Commander. It was only when we got off-road that I (and the AutoMiddleEast.com test team who also wanted to have a go in the Commander) started exploring the boundaries of this SUV. Our managing editor had already sampled the prowess of the Commander in a drive in Oman and was raving about its abilities to all and sundry he could manage to pin down. “We did this and that in the Commander. It went over a massive boulder and the axles were articulated at insane angles and we went slopes of solid rock, along wadis and nothing stopped it.” Yaka yak yak yak! Oh dear, he went on and on and I was determined to prove him that the Commander would have some failings.

We were at a big dune near Fossil Rock and soon I was revelling in the power of the 5.7 Hemi V8 which coupled with a five-speed automatic box and Jeep’s legendary Quadra-Trac full-time four wheel drive system made dune bashing a seriously fun thing with me ignoring all calls, hand signals and what have you to stop and let the other blokes have a go. No sirree, I was in charge of the Commander and I wasn’t about to let go.

After playing around for the camera, it was time for some serious business of making the ascent of this huge dune. I seriously didn’t think that the Commander had it in it to go the distance in tackling the quite steep angles of golden sand shimmering in the evening sun. And I thought that yes, maybe this would show the boss that the Commander was not all that good for all his bragging.

Well, to cut things short, it was me who had the egg on his face as the Commander, making full use of its 500 Nm of torque, quite literally sailed over the inclines to make a mockery of the steep slope. And it did time after time…turning my resoluteness to smother it into one of genuine admiration in the way it behaved. Trying to break the Commander, I found myself broken. Well, it was just another day in the office – an enjoyable one at that! Thank you.

So, while the power, dynamic ability of the suspension and chassis definitely made me appreciate the Commander, I do feel that the looks of this latest Jeep are a bit of a downer – for me at least. Others do like the boxy, butch appearance which is as subtle as a professional wrestler from the WWE. But then, Yank tanks aren’t really known for their humility, their imposing stature and so the Commander feels pretty patriotically apt given its lineage and the self confident nameplate.

For: powerful Hemi engine; good suspension and chassis; reasonably good manners on tarmac; fantastic performance off-road.

Against: Interior aesthetics; exterior styling, quality of plastics.

 

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