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It has the heart and guts of the Grand Cherokee, but with a bulky body 37mm longer, 86mm higher and 113mm wider to fit a third row of seats.
Jeep Australia managing director Gerry Jenkins says the Commander is a machine the company has needed. Jeep enthusiasts with four or more children no longer have to look elsewhere for offroad thrills.
"A lot of people have told us they need room for their families. They don't want a people mover. Their appetite is for an SUV (offroader)," Jenkins says.
"They want to go to the Outback or safely deliver their kids in Toorak. It wasn't the Voyager they wanted. It was a Jeep with seven seats.
"It is every bit as capable as every other Jeep we have."
Prices start from $54,990. The Commander has a $1000 premium over the Grand Cherokee with the same engine.
There are three engines available. The cheapest is a 4.7-litre petrol V8 with 170kW and 410Nm and the most expensive is the 5.7-litre Hemi V8 with 240kW and 500Nm. Splitting the difference in price is the 3.0-litre V6 CRD common rail diesel with 160kW and 510Nm of torque.
The entry-level 4.7-litre V8 and the diesel are available on the entry-level Commander and the luxury-pack Limited. The Hemi V8 is available only on the Limited model.
The Commander 4.7-litre has Jeep's Quadra-Trac II full-time four-wheel-drive system.
All other variants have the advanced Quadra-drive system with electronic limited-slip differentials -- front and rear -- which can transfer virtually all the torque to any wheel that has traction.
Five-speed automatics are standard. The two petrol engines have what amounts to a half-step extra gear for a smoother shift.
The transmission also has a low-range gear mode for heavy-duty work. Towing capacity is an impressive 3500kg.
All variants have dual front airbags and two full-length side curtain airbags, electronic stability control and rollover mitigation systems.
The three-row heater-airconditioner means the rearmost seats don't miss out. These seats are higher for a better view and, if not required, fold away to give more luggage space.
The Limited has dual-zone climate control, leather trim and heated front seats.
An interesting $2700 option is the Command-View sunroof, with two skylights above the second row of seats as well as a sliding roof above the driver and front passenger.
IT WASN'T long ago we found it very hard to find a Jeep worth recommending. The Wrangler was entertaining in a crude sort of way, but the rest were not best in class.
But after driving the new Jeep Commander in the Outback for the first time, I find it hard to go past the seven-seater for the adventurous family looking to travel rugged terrain and country road kilometres.
The Commander looks like an old-fashioned troop carrier with a boxy body and spartan interior.
But its Grand Cherokee underpinnings, space for two additional seats, and clean, unsophisticated cockpit make it practical for a large family.
The view from the driver's seat isn't what you would expect from a $50,000-plus vehicle. The plastics have a hard, screwed-together appearance. The controls are blocky.
But it seems to work in a Jeep, about the only brand that could get away with making a virtue of visible allen-key bolts.
It's all user-friendly and the seats are surprisingly comfortable.
The better-than-expected theme carries over on to the road. The Commander carries itself in an effortless, if soft, way that is respectable for a 2300kg four-wheel-drive and better than some traditional best sellers.
On gravel roads, the Jeep is in its element, handling corrugations and bumps with ease.
Notably, it is much better coping with harsh bumps on dirt than uneven outback bitumen. Deep dips in the road tend to throw the softly sprung truck around.
The grip is reasonable without quite matching more road-biased softroaders such as the BMW X5 and Ford Territory.
Steering is lighter than ideal at speed but not unpleasant.
The Jeep impresses in the really rough stuff. We took it up and down nasty sloping tracks with loose rocks and awkward ruts to test its low-range gearing.
The only mishap was a flat tyre on a sharp rock. Otherwise the Commander left us with the impression it could handle a lot more.
The brakes are also a plus. They felt strong enough to cope with urgent stops.
Each of the three engines has a bit going for it. The 3.0-litre diesel wins on economy and torque.
However, we didn't get close to the claimed economy rating of 10.5 litres/100km. It was more like 13.0 litres/100km.
The 5.7-litre Hemi V8 nearly matches the diesel for torque and
has substantially more pull at highway speeds.
But it is an indulgence. The quoted fuel economy figure is 16.0 litres, which we stretched out to 18.1itres/100km without much effort.
The cheapest engine, the 4.7-litre V8, is more than adequate in most roles and saves up to $5000.
But none is going to save at the bowser.
Luggage room with seven seats is tiny, and the rear row is for kids only.
|(base)||3.0L, Diesel, 5 SP AUTO||$10,120 – 13,860||2006 Jeep Commander 2006 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|Limited||5.7L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$10,120 – 13,860||2006 Jeep Commander 2006 Limited Pricing and Specs|
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