By on November 17, 2005

The flying brick is back.You can't blame Jeep for launching a retro-styled seven-seater at a time when dealers' forecourts have become sport utility tar pits. The Dark Lords of DCX pulled the trigger on the Commander when the petrochemical sun was shining, hay was being made and the word "hybrid" applied to orchids, vegetables and farm animals. The logic was sound: build a more commodious SUV to keep fecund followers of Jeep's trail rated trucks within the fold. Something that would also lure lifestylers helming less venerable vehicles. But the execution is inexcusable. Even if Shell V-Power was free, you wouldn't want to waste it on the new Jeep Commander.

Before I tear the Commander a new tailpipe, I want to point out that Jeep's largest ever SUV is as a far more civilized beast than the rough-and-ready Cherokees of yore. Sure it looks exactly like the rough-and-ready Cherokees of yore: a remorselessly rectilinear shape with all the aerodynamic efficiency of a breeze block. And yes, it sucks gas with the same gay (but butch) abandon as its four-by-forbearers. And the Commander boasts all the steering feel of its predecessors (i.e. none). But the big Jeep is a thoroughly modern motor that carries five passengers in safety and comfort, regardless of weather (ex tornados) or terrain (ex precipices). It's those two remaining passengers that are the bitch.

Knees-up Mother Brown!Well, if they weren't bitches when you put them in, they will be when they get out. After five minutes in the Commander's tippy-up "theater-style" rear seats, full-sized adults will wish they weren't. Thanks to a foot well that's shallower than the British Royal family's gene pool, even polypeptide deficient three-year-olds sitting in the way back run the risk of giving themselves a pair of shiners with their knees (try explaining THAT to social services). The Commander's third row is like the Porsche 911 Turbo's cupholders: you may be glad they're there, but you'd be foolish to use them. And yet you do.

And pay the price at the pump. Bopping around town, the Commander's mileage readout never posted numbers capable of challenging our two-year-old's numeracy skills. Although I have no moral/political/environmental/social qualms about driving a vehicle that gets single digit mileage, I can't abide a gas hog that doesn't offer suitable compensation. The Lincoln Navigator may burn fuel less efficiently than an Icelandic fishing trawler, but at least it's NFL-linebacker compatible transportation. Not to belabor the point [much], the Commander couldn't schlep a Pee Wee soccer team's midfield without seriously compromising their ability to walk– never mind run.

If you think this looks dark, you should [try to] see it in black.While a Navi is suffused with bling, the Commander's interior makes a Calvinist church look like a Chuck E. Cheese pizzeria. Saying that, the Jeep's soft-touch plastics offer yet more proof that DCX has mastered the art of fabricating and fitting world class polymers. But the cabin's unrelentingly dark coloration and generic Chrysler design make it seem small and bleak. The Brink's truck-sized front windscreen does nothing to relieve the interior's claustrophobia, and much to increase it. And what's with the dashboard's fake Allen holes? If they were meant to be reassuring in a Tool Time manly sort of way perhaps Jeep should have resisted the urge to emboss fake Allen holes onto the ersatz chrome adorning its steering wheel and shift knob.

There's only one other possible justification for the Commander's prodigious thirst: speed. Our 5273-pound tester holstered a 4.7-liter V8, good for 235hp at 4500rpm. As those numbers suggest, the Commander's official zero to sixty stat is decidedly leisurely: 10.2 seconds. On the positive side, the V8 torques a good game; the Commander tips in with genuine conviction and feels a lot faster than it is– especially when kickdown rouses the powerplant from its default torpor. As the Hemi engine option trims a couple of seconds from the Commander's erstwhile sprint times and cuts consumption by "up to" 20%, it's hard to understand why anyone wouldn't saddle-up those 95 extra ponies.

A touch of H3, but great in H2O.Money. Yes, well, our tester cost $37k without sat nav or a cargo net (the trunk floor doubles as a launch pad). That's a lot of wedge for a cramped vehicle sans spizzarkle und Hemi. We would be remiss for not pointing out that many of the Jeep Commander's inherent shortcomings are directly related to the big, heavy, clunky gubbins that enable its superior off-road abilities. There, that's done. Now, can someone please tell me why Jeep didn't make a better job of this?

No one expects a Jeep– any Jeep– to drink like a Prius or coddle like a minivan. But surely the guardians of the legendary brand know that a nostalgic shape needn't be accompanied by nostalgic mileage and packaging. Heads-up guys: it's time to go back to the future.

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