2010 Jeep Commander Road Test Review

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The Jeep Commander is an unlikely survivor of the current product-cutting bloodbath going on at Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep.  It started life in 2006 as the answer to a question nobody had asked, a three-row, not-quite-full-size SUV that fell somewhere between being a retro homage to the 1980s Cherokee and an attempt to compete with the infamous Hummer H2. 

The Commander proved to be a capable off-roader for its size, but prices were high, its V8 engine was a fuelish performer, and it hit the market just as gas prices soared through the roof.  Unsold Commanders promptly filled acres of runoff parking lots around the Detroit factory.  For several years running, the Commander has been at the top of the list to be dropped, but a last-minute reprieve always seems to arrive.  In 2009 it escaped the axe yet again.  Someone among Jeep's higher-ups clearly likes this truck.

For 2009, the Commander's big news (other than surviving) was the introduction of a new 5.7-litre HEMI V8, and it soldiers into 2010 essentially unchanged.  The new engine produces 357 horsepower with an improved fuel economy rating.  The gains come primarily from the adoption of variable valve timing and Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System (MDS).  The now-familiar MDS switches the big V8 over to a fuel-saving four-cylinder mode when full power is not called for.  The HEMI V8 is the top of the line; the Commander can also be had with a 210-horsepower SOHC 3.7-litre V6 or 305-horsepower flex-fuel 4.7-litre V8.  Five-speed automatic transmissions are standard across the board.  Jeep equips the Commander with one of three four-wheel drive systems, offering full-time four-wheel drive (Quadra-Trac I), a two-speed electronic transfer case (Quadra-Trac II), or an active transfer case with front, centre and rear limited-slip differentials (Quadra-Drive II).

It's easy to miss the Commander on the road.  Though it's fairly uncommon in most areas, the lines are very similar to those of the smaller Liberty and mid-1980s Jeep Cherokee models.  Boxy, angular lines and a vertical windshield offer a retro feeling, making the Commander look a bit larger than it is.  Size-wise, it's comparable to the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Range Rover, though it's not priced as high as those luxury trucks.  The familiar seven-slot Jeep grille is rendered in chrome and flanked by roundish headlamps in square housings, while an upright two-box design is marked by chunky fender flares, squared-off wheel openings and distinct bumpers.  An interesting style fillip is the roof rack, which extends down the back end of the Jeep to form a pair of neatly integrated grab handles.

The interior is comfortable if a bit snug; I remain of the opinion that the Commander is not large enough to provide sufficient legroom for a third-row seat.  Keep it folded down and there's a handy 1,019 litre (36 cubic-foot) cargo area, however.  As for the working bits, a purposeful dash offers full instrumentation.  The Commander's also available with a full complement of amenities, from new dual-zone climate control to a DVD entertainment system with a large 9-inch screen.  The interior is brightened somewhat with available "CommandView" skylight panels for the rear seat passengers and a sunroof up front.  Opt for the navigation system, and there's an iPod jack in the dash.  Rain-sensing wipers and HID headlamps are newly available as well.  The available power tailgate is a convenience, though its operation is almost painfully slow.  The available leather seats are broad and comfortable, and a full day of road-trip driving won't leave you aching or fatigued. 

That long-distance comfort is something of a shame, since the Commander's not much of a road-tripper.  A smallish fuel tank and average fuel economy in V8 models limit its range.   Acceleration is leisurely at best; passing on a two-lane road when going up a slight grade is not advised.   When not on the freeway, power is adequate, and off-roaders will definitely appreciate the 389 pound-feet of torque available from the HEMI.  This truck serves well as a modern-expedition vehicle, ready to spend days slogging through uncharted territory--while keeping everyone entertained with concert-quality music and movies, of course. 

The Commander is similar to the Liberty in that it's a sturdy, off-road capable vehicle.  That also means it drives heavy.  Like any self-respecting vehicle to wear the Jeep badge, this truck is well matched to off-roading, if less than smooth on pavement.  The Commander is equipped with a short-long arm suspension up front and a five-link rear, and it's quite trucklike.  Turn too quickly into a steep driveway or hit a speed bump and it reacts violently, tossing passengers and cargo around.  It's stable, but far from refined.  Four-wheel disc brakes with standard ESP and ABS are also adequate, but the Commander frequently reminds of its over-5000-pound weight when braking. 

The Commander is something of a throwback to Jeep's Grand Wagoneer; it's a go-anywhere device that's better suited to life off-pavement in spite of its luxury trappings.  The market for such vehicles these days is small, but crowded, and to many objective measures, vehicles like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Range Rover do it better.  However, none of those vehicles sport the all-important Jeep badge, and that counts for a lot.  It's persuasive enough that it's kept the Commander in the lineup for a few years past its expiration date, at the very least, and in spite of somewhat stiff pricing.   Commanders start at $30,160 for a five-passenger, 4x4 model; 4x2 models are relegated to the US.  You'll have to walk up to $48,445 to get Limited along with its standard seven-passenger seating.  My fully optioned Limited tester stickered for $54,345, less $1,400 for destination.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: SUV, Jeep, 2010, Commander, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999,

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