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2006 Jeep Commander
Jeep grows a third row of seating with its new retro-industrial-look SUV

By Larry Walton & Bruce W. Smith / Editorial Services
Special to GCN

No matter what you think of the trend toward retro styling, sometimes it just makes sense.  Take the newly released Jeep Commander, a “retro” version of the old Jeep Wagoneer that debuted in 1962 as a modern replacement for the then 20-year-old Willys station wagon (Willys-Overland, 1946 to 1962). 

It’s funny how the auto manufacturers are digging into their past for future vehicles.  The Wagoneer (1963-1991) remained a mainstay in the Jeep line for 30 years and was actually the basis for the “Cherokee” line of sport utility vehicles. In a move to update the style and technology, Jeep ditched the Wagoneer and two years later came out with the Grand Cherokee.  

Now, a decade later, the Wagoneer of old is back again in the form of the 2006 Jeep Commander and shares a place in the ever-expanding Jeep offerings alongside the Grand Cherokee.

“The past is the inspiration for our future,” said Jeff Bell, Vice President – Jeep, Chrysler Group. “The Jeep Commander succeeds because it blends the Jeep brand’s unrivaled heritage with 21st Century technology.”

The Commander succeeds  because Jeep wanted to expand passenger capacity of the Grand Cherokee from six to seven and it was the boxy lines of the Wagoneer of old that provided the much needed headroom for the third row of seating needed for the increased demand in passenger capacity.

JEEP VERSATILITY

While the Commander shares a lot of visual cues with yesterday’s Wagoneer and Cherokee, those familiar with today’s Grand Cherokee will feel right at home behind the wheel.  That’s because the Commander and the Grand Cherokee share underpinnings all the way from the engine and four-wheel drive systems to the transmissions and suspensions.

These are all good things for those who want a seven-passenger SUV with real world on- and off-road capabilities.  The Commander, after all, is a Jeep.  It has an innate ability to take on less than ideal driving conditions better than the majority of other four-wheel-drive vehicles.

This was brought to light during our off-road excursions with the Commander. The new Jeep SUV surprised us with better than expected agility, turning radius and traction while driving over some truly rugged terrain. 

For those unfamiliar with seven passenger SUVs, don’t confuse the capacity with the spaciousness of a van; with each row you sit farter back from the front seat in a mid-size or compact SUV, the shorter you had better be.  Head clearance, and more importantly the distance between the seat surface and floor, diminish as the row numbers go up and the closer one sits to the cargo area. 

(Before loading your six passengers, have everyone line up by height and load the vertically challenged first and direct them to the third row.)

During the times when one doesn’t need seven-passenger seating the convenient fold-flat third-row seat transforms drops into the floor opening up a good amount of cargo space.  Actually both the second and third rows of seats fold down to open up an impressive 68.9 cubic feet of cargo area.  With the third row only folded down, a very common configuration, there is 36.4 cubic feet of space but with full passenger capacity the cargo space goes to a skinny 7.5 cubic feet.

This cargo arrangement is a very handy feature when want to toss a bicycle that needs a quick lift to the repair shop in the back, or don’t want to bother with strapping down skis, snowboards or wakeboards on a short trip to or from the recreation area.

The hatch glass can be opened while the tailgate remains closed, which helps when loading stuff into the limited space behind the third row. For those who need a lot of room in an SUV for everyday work and home duties, the Commander rear hatch opens nearly to the full interior width, which allows you to actually load cargo into the available space.

POWER ON TAP

One of the nice attributes of the Commander is buyers have the choice of three engines to suit their power and fuel economy needs. The base engine is the 210hp 3.7L V6 that has become a mainstay offering in the Jeep line from the Liberty to now the Commander. The V6 is relatively fuel-efficient, with an EPA rating of 17 city/21 hwy, but the lack of torque makes it a little sluggish under the Commander hood. 

A better choice is the optional 235hp, 4.7L V8, which offers a lot more sporty feeling to the Commander driving experience while increasing its towing capacity beyond that of the little V6. Overall the 4.7L will probably be the engine of choice because it offers a nice compromise between power and fuel economy.   

Of course, for anyone who really wants both the feel and sound of power, it’s the 5.7L, 330hp Hemi option that turns heads—and lightens pockets at the gas pumps. The Hemi puts a lot of life into the Commander throttle, making passing and merging fast-moving interstate traffic thoroughly enjoyed opportunities. 

Such a combination also makes the Commander the optimum sport utility vehicle of the Jeep line; a Commander equipped with the Hemi and a weight-distribution hitch can tow trailers up to 7,200 pounds. 

Speaking of sportiness, although the Commander stands a bit taller than the Grand Cherokee, it didn’t seem to hinder it’s handling ability.  Jeep suspension engineers have done a good job of tuning the new SUV in such a way that there’s a nice balance between comfortable ride and cornering stability.

During the road test there were numerous opportunities on twisting mountain and country roads to test the Commander’s sport aspect. The new Jeep commanded respect with a minimum of body roll in every situation.  Both braking and steering have a good balance of assistance and road feel, which is what you hope for in a vehicle that is suppose to be sporty, family friendly, and off-road capable.

Drivability is further enhanced by the better-than-expected turning radius and outstanding visibility. You feel safe and secure whether behind the wheel or riding along as a passenger. Add in the almost un-Jeep-like quietness of the interior and you end up with a vehicle that is not unwieldy for the kid chauffer in the family to drive every day.

I wouldn’t call the boxy look of the 2006 Commander stylish in any way. But I do like the neo-industrial look of the exposed bolt heads even if they aren’t functional—and we already know that some will find the retro look of the new Jeep quite appealing.

Driving the Jeep Commander is a lot like finding a new pair of jeans that look and feel a lot like one of you favorites in the day that felt comfortable then and now are suddenly back in fashion. The difference is now they are made a lot better.

  KIDDING AROUND

The third row of seating in the Commander is kid’s stuff. But that’s ok because the Commander is really kid friendly.  Younger kids are going to love the back row where they can have their own space to hang out.  Some kids will think it’s cool to be able to run their own climate controls while having cubbies for their action figures and cup holders for their drinks.

Older kids will dig the available DVD entertainment system, which has a console-mounted DVD player and an overhead LCD monitor.  Equipped with a remote control, the system also has wireless headsets that can be used in the second or third row. 

Plug-in jacks allow video games to display on the screen and music can be played directly from an MP3 player.  Parents will agree that the ability to play separate music selections through the speakers and the head-sets will lower the teen-tension level.

The Commander has a number of kid friendly safety features including three point belts in all seating positions, child seat anchor system and side-curtain air bags with roll detection. There are a number of  other general braking and traction safety features that will also help protect your most precious cargo.

Specifications

GENERAL INFORMATION

Vehicle Type         Sport-utility

Construction         Steel UniFrame®

Assembly Plant    Jefferson Avenue North, Detroit, USA and Magna Steyr, Graz, Austria

EPA Vehicle Class               Special Purpose 4WD

 

DRIVETRAIN

Engine 1: 3.7-LITER SOHC V-6                                          90-degree, cast-iron block and alum heads

                Bore x stroke                                                         3.66 x 3.57

                Displacement, ci/L                                               226/3.7

                SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm                               210 @ 5200

                SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm                                     235 @ 4000

                Recommended fuel                                              87 octane

Engine 2: 4.7-LITER SOHC V-8                                          90-degree, cast-iron block, alum heads

Bore x stroke                                                         3.66 x 3.41

Displacement, ci/L                                               287/4.7

SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm                               235 @ 4500

SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm                                     305 @ 3600

Recommended fuel                                              87 octane

Engine 3: 5.7-LITER HEMI® V-8                                       90-degree, cast-iron block, alum heads

Bore x stroke                                                         3.92 X 3.58

Displacement, ci/L                                               345/5.7

SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm                               330 @ 5000

SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm                                     375 @ 4000

Recommended fuel                                              89 octane

Transmission 1: W5A580 AUTOMATIC, FIVE-SPEED OVERDRIVE

                Gear Ratios:

1st           3.59

2nd         2.19

3rd          1.41

4th          1.00

5th          0.83

Reverse  3.16

Final Drive Ratio  3.07:1 with 3.7L engine or 3.55:1 with 3.7L engine and

NV245 transfer case

Overall Top Gear  2.55 with 3.07 axle or 2.95 with 3.55 axle

 

Transmission 2: 545RFE, AUTOMATIC MULTI-SPEED

Gear Ratios

1st           3.00

2nd         1.67 upshift; 1.50 kick-down

3rd          1.00

4th          0.75

5th          0.67

Final Drive Ratio  3.73 with 4.7L or 5.7L engine

Overall Top Gear  2.50 with 3.73 axle

Transfer case 1: NV140

                Low range ratio                                    N/A

Transfer case 2: NV245                      

                Low range ratio                                    2.72:1

DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES

Wheelbase            109.5 (2781)

Track, Front          62.6 (1589)

Track, Rear            62.6 (1589)

Overall Length      188.5 (4787)

Body Width          74.8 (1900)

Overall Height      71.9 (1826)

Load Floor Height                36.2 (920.3)

Sill Step Height Ground Clearance    9.9 (504.9) (4x4)

Chassis (Fuel Tank)             9.9 (250.6)

Front Axle             9.0 (227.4)

Rear Axle               8.6 (217.9)

Approach Angle, degrees  34.0

Ramp Breakover Angle, degrees       20.0

Departure Angle, degrees  27.0

Aero Cd(a)            13.26

Fuel Tank Capacity              20.5 gal. (77.6L)

Head room f/m/r   42.1/40.3/35.7

Leg room f/m/r      41.7/36.1/28.9

Shoulder room f/m/r  59.0/58.5/50.4

Cargo Volume

Behind front-row seats with second and third-row seats folded 68.9 cu. ft. (1.95 cu. m)

Behind second-row seats with third-row seats folded  36.4 cu. ft. (1.03 cu. m)

Behind third-row seat  7.5 cu. ft. (.17 cu. m)

           

CHASSIS

                Suspension, front                                dual a-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar

                Suspension, rear                  live axle, five-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar

                Steering type                        rack and pinion

                Steering ratio                        15.4-17.4:1

                Steering wheel turns lock to lock      3.1

                Turning room needed, ft                     36.7

                Brakes, front                         12.9 inch vented disk, ABS

                Brakes, rear                           12.6 disk, ABS

Tires                                       Goodyear Fortera HP P245/65R17

EPA fuel economy (city/hwy)                            17/21-14/19

PRICE

                Price range                                            $27,985-$45,000 US

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