BY ANDY ENRIGHT
While the British car buying public may recognise Jeep models like the Wrangler and the Cherokee, the Commander is one that, rather gallingly for its importers, remains resolutely beneath the popular radar. Introduced to combat the threat of seven-seater Volvo XC90 and Land Rover Discovery models, the Commander is big, blocky and a bit of a bargain, in the used market at the very least. If you can track one down, you'll get a whole heap of capability for a lot less than the going rate for its key rivals.
Models Covered: 2006-to date (3.0 V6 diesel [Limited, Predator])
For a company that has such a long and illustrious history of building 4x4 vehicles, it's perhaps a little surprising that Jeep seemed to be caught on the hop by the surge in popularity in this country of seven seat 4x4s. The market started germinating in 2003, helped by the runaway success of the Volvo XC90 but really took off in 2004 when the Land Rover Discovery 3 started to dominate the marketplace. Jeep needed to respond and given that the Grand Cherokee was a little too compact to seat seven sensibly, the company used the Grand Cherokee platform and added a little more overhang and roof height at the back so that another pair of seats could be incorporated. While the Commander could never be accused of being a proactive product, it is a pragmatic one and one that makes a lot of sense as a used buy. Introduced with both the 5.7-litre 'hemi' petrol engine and 3.0-litre CRD diesel in 2006, the petrol engine was deleted from the line up in late 2007.
What You Get
The military surplus styling of the Commander takes a little getting used to. With its tacked on wheelarches and heavy duty scuff plates, it looks like something that should be touring Fallujah looking for insurgents rather than collecting the kids from school. It is, therefore, perfect for the burgeoning quantity of buyers who prefer a little presence to get ahead in the traffic. Jeep never expected to sell too many, importing just 600 cars to the UK annually, so there's set to be a measure of exclusivity to boot. The seating system is interesting insofar as Jeep have allowed every passenger a decent view out of the car. It's easy to miss the subtle step-up in roof height half way along as the eye is diverted by the roof rails, but this increase in headroom means that each successive row of seats sits higher than the one in front. Five six-footers will fit easily into the first two rows of seats although the back two seats are best left to the kids. Squeeze seven passengers on board and you'd better hope they've packed light because that'll leave a mere 6 cubic feet of luggage space available. Seat five, fold the rearmost pair of seats down and you'll have a more satisfactory 36.3 cubic feet. Drop the middle row as well and you'll have a massive 67.4 cubic feet of available space. Although the Commander is a mere two inches longer than the Grand Cherokee and shares that model's 109.5 inch wheelbase, the additional 4 inches of headroom make the third row of seats viable and also give a much airier feel than the somewhat sporty Grand. The track is half an inch wider so the Commander is big but not of behemoth proportions. That's important when you're trying to slot it down a city street without depriving every other motorist of their door mirrors.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
As with any used 4x4, check for signs of heavy off road use. Few Commanders will have done much more than climb a grass verge but you can never be too careful. Oil leaks and worn rear shock absorbers have been known. The wheels are easy to scratch during enthusiastic off-roading. Otherwise this is a pretty tough vehicle that has few reported gremlins. Don't pay top dollar from a buyer who claims to have paid full list price from new.
As you might expect for a car of American origin, parts are not particularly cheap. However, there is a well-established dealer network so it should be reasonably easy to track spares down. A clutch assembly is around £400. Front brakepads are around £40, a full exhaust about £700 (with the catalyst) and an alternator around £300.
On the Road
The 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel has seen the light of day in other Jeep, Chrysler and Mercedes products and with 215bhp on tap, it doesn't want for power. It's also surprisingly economical (a combined figure of around 25mpg is reckoned) and the 376lb/ft of torque make it a great companion if you do decide to leave the beaten track. The 5.7-litre Hemi is rather sprightly, getting to 60mph in 7.4 seconds although its 18mpg fuel consumption may deter many. The diesel car gets to 60 in 9 seconds and will return just over 26mpg. The Commander's beefy five-link solid rear axle combines with an independent short-and-long-arm front suspension which Jeep have designed to give a better than class average ride and steering feel. The rack and pinion steering system is a revelation if you've only ever driven a previous generation Grand Cherokee model. In short, it turns the car from a bit of a lumberer into something a whole lot sharper and the Commander benefits hugely from its inclusion. Like all Jeep products, this means that there's not a great deal of roll when cornering hard. Get a little too enthusiastic with the cornering and you'll feel grateful for the standard fit electronic stability control, antilock brakes with BrakeAssist, and side curtain airbags that cover all three rows. Like most Jeeps, the Commander has a relatively high waistline, but you don't get the feeling you're that far off the ground. The front seats are rather flat in the cushion, but otherwise they'll fit most bodies without offering too much in the way of lateral support. The instrument panel will hold no surprises to anybody with a passing familiarity with Jeep products either. The Commander is unlikely to be anyone's first choice to tackle really rough off-road terrain, but Jeep gamely insists that the Commander, appropriately equipped, is "Trail Rated." There are two available 4x4 systems: the diesel model features Quadra-Trac II which features an NV245 two-speed active transfer case, while Quadra-Drive II has front and rear electronic limited-slip differentials and pretty much every trick Jeep has up its 4x4 sleeve. When slippage is detected, 100 percent of the power can be sent to an individual wheel with traction. It'll get you out of some seemingly unsalvageably sticky situations.
The Commander might not be the most obvious choice amongst luxury 7-seater used 4x4s but then the smart buys never are. For the price of an entry-level Zafira, you could pick up a low mileage Jeep Commander with a Mercedes-sourced 3.0-litre diesel engine. Sound tempting? It does to me.