- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

Jeep’s all-new, seven-seat 2006 Commander is undeniably more Jeep than ever. In its traditional context the phrase “more Jeep than ever” signifies an unparalleled off-road performance potential, exclusive to the brand. Such is not the case here, however.

More Jeep, literally, means more sheet metal and more passenger-carrying capacity than ever.

Those familiar with the Jeep lineup, especially its recent styling progression, will recognize the Commander’s facade as consistent with the modern Jeep philosophy, but departing noticeably in key areas.

The 2005 Grand Cherokee underwent a design revolution that included an increase in the body-to-glass ratio, new design of the hood/front clip contour, a “chiseling” method applied to the rear hatch/taillights and a flaring of the fenders.

Although sharing the Grand Cherokee’s 109.5-inch wheelbase, Commander’s stance is not as aggressive, owing to ample glass, the smaller scale of the fender bulges and the traditional flatly contoured exchange among the grille, headlights and hood lip.

The historical design reference is to both the Willys-Overland (1946-1962) and the Jeep Wagoneer (1963-1991). Observant pedestrians will recognize the contemporary Liberty-inspired orientation of the amber side markers alongside the front lamps.

Just below the Commander’s grille and headlights, the new body lines are worthy of note. Jeep has established a nice progression of styling elements that, while remaining distinct from one another, also contribute to a cohesive and convincing look.

Sharply defined outer blocks flank the lower bumper and house perfectly sized fog lamps; vertical bumper guards keep a low profile by emerging with subtlety; a horizontal center panel establishes the outermost vertical plane; and a rearward-slanting air dam emphasizes all of the mechanical capabilities inherent in the Jeep brand.

It’s no surprise that DaimlerChrysler has enjoyed increased sales and nearly endless praise for its recently introduced 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine. Commander, luckily, arrives with this revered powerplant as an option.

Starting close to $40,000, Limited models with the retro-labeled eight-cylinder Hemi are motivated by 330 horsepower and an asphalt-punishing 375 foot-pounds of torque. Additionally, 90 percent of peak torque is available after just 2,400 revs, an attribute that will enhance towing ability.

But, the Hemi V-8 isn’t just about tire-burning power and trailer-pulling performance. Its Multi-Displacement System deactivates half of the cylinders during light acceleration and cruising, which, according to Jeep, yields as much as a 20 percent increase in fuel economy.

EPA estimates are 14 miles per gallon city and 19 highway.

Two other engines are available. A 4.7-liter V-8, with output at 235 horsepower and 305 foot-pounds of torque propels Limited models, while a 3.7-liter V-6, rated at 210 horsepower and 235 foot-pounds fits inside base Commanders starting at $27,985.

All engines are backed by a five-speed automatic.

The V-8s get a heavy-duty transmission, but both gearboxes include Electronic Range Select, a system that allows drivers to manually change gears by pivoting the shift selector right or left.

Although also offered in rear-drive (RWD) form, Commander is available with three different 4WD systems.

Quadra-Trac I uses a single-speed transfer case that splits power 48/52 front to rear. Combined with the Brake Traction Control System (BTCS), Quadra-Trac I offers competence in a variety of driving situations. Quadra-Trac II brings an active transfer case and a variety of sensors to deliver torque where traction is best. This system also includes Throttle Anticipate, which senses quick pedal movement, and BTCS to minimize slippage and maximize grip.

The most advanced system is Quadra-Drive II, which couples an active transfer case with Electronic Limited Slip Differentials. These advanced differentials respond instantly to a loss of traction, locking the axles to provide better bite.

Models equipped with the 3.7-liter engine use the single-speed transfer case as standard equipment and the two-speed unit optionally. All V-8-powered Commanders come fitted with the dual-speed (4X4 Low, Neutral, Full-time Active 4X4) gear box.

Additionally, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, rack-and-pinion steering, independent front suspension, and a live rear axle provide both refinement and robustness on the road.

DaimlerChrysler makes occupant protection a high priority, as evidenced by the Commander’s abundant safety features.

Standard side-curtain air bags, dual frontal air bags with Occupant Classification, Electronic Stability Program, Electronic Roll Mitigation, tire-pressure monitoring and Brake Assist all contribute to preserving passenger safety.

Another uplevel feature, SmartBeam, adjusts headlight intensity depending on ambient lighting and oncoming traffic to provide the best and safest lighting situation.

Several technological features provide convenience, guidance and entertainment. UConnect Bluetooth technology allows hands-free use of a cellular phone, a navigation system includes a built-in MP3 player, six-disc CD player and a 5.8-inch full-color display.

Sirius satellite radio connects occupants to more than 100 channels of commercial-free music and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system keeps the attention of the little ones — or adults — using wireless headsets, a wireless remote and center-console DVD mounting.

Simultaneous audio transferred via the vehicle’s interior speakers and the wireless headphones allows a “dual-zone” effect of sound, as passengers are not committed to listening to only one device at a time.

All Commanders are Trail Rated, assuring that Jeep has paid attention to traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation and water fording.

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