Jeep SUVs have a reputation of always being tough enough for serious off-roading - it’s what they call “trail rated” - yet also be practical suburban family haulers. For 2006, Jeep takes that strategy one step larger with the new 7-passenger Commander. It’s a bigger Jeep for bigger families. But is it too much Jeep, too late?

In some ways, the 2006 Jeep Commander is hardly earth-shaking news; it’s a solid, boxy 4-door sport-ute from the brand that practically invented 4-door family-duty SUVs. But there’s much more to the Commander than that. For starters, this is Jeep’s first SUV with 3 rows of seats and 7-passenger capacity. Important, since that’s 40% of the full-size SUV market. But they did it without really having to go full-size. Commander is only an inch-and-a-half wider and 2-inches longer than Jeep’s mid-size Grand Cherokee, and it rides on the same 109.5-inch wheelbase.

Much of this packaging feat is due to the boxy styling that favors the original 4-door Cherokee of the 1980s and classic Jeep wagons of the 1950s.

Inside the angular exterior is a high-comfort cabin with a raised roof that can include Command View skylights over the second row seats. Behind that 40-20-40-split second row is an easy access third row split bench. It’s sized more for the kids, but it’s not as tight as some rivals.

Behind the third row, space is limited to 7.5 cubic-feet. But lowered it grows to 36.4 cubic-feet of flat luggage space. Fold the second row, and you can fit 68.9 cubic-feet of stuff.

Along with front side impact airbags, all outboard bodies are protected by standard head curtain airbags with rollover sensor. They also have oversize head rests, which unfortunately do restrict rear vision.

Our loaded Limited-grade test Commander featured leather clad seats with heat and power adjustments plus power adjustable pedals, a 276-watt Boston Acoustics audio system with Sirius satellite radio and 6-disc CD changer, and automatic dual-zone climate controls. DVD-based navigation and a DVD entertainment system are available as options.

Commander uses Jeep’s pioneering and super stiff Uniframe chassis, which consists of a box frame welded to a unibody. The suspension is a short-long arm independent front, and a tough 5-link solid axle rear. 
The drive trains are also pure Grand Cherokee. Power comes from three different engines. Chrysler’s 210 horsepower 3.7-liter V6, the popular 235 horsepower 4.7-liter single-cam V8, and our test vehicle’s 5.7-liter pushrod Hemi V8 with 330 horsepower, 375 pound-feet of torque, and Multi-Displacement cylinder deactivation to help save fuel.

Transmissions are all 5-speed automatic, linked to a standard electronic stability program. There are three 4-wheel-drive systems with traction control. Quadra-Trac I and II, and our Hemi-equipped Limited model’s standard Quadra-Drive II.

We put the Commander to the test on the off-road training course at Summit Point Raceway, as well as this summer’s Camp Jeep in the Poconos. With 8.6-inches of ground clearance, long suspension travel, and Quadra-Drive’s front, center, and rear electronic limited slip differentials, the Commander easily pulled through sand and mud and over large rocks and downed trees. A more aggressive tire is definitely needed, however; the standard all-season radials lack bite in the soft stuff. The long rear overhang did touch down a few times, but a rear impact structure, and available skid plates, protected all vital components.
Back on pavement, our Hemi Commander recorded a fine 0 to 60 time of 7.8 seconds. The quarter mile passed in 16-seconds at 87 miles-per-hour. Our Hemi’s transmission felt a little sluggish on shifts, but the wide, flat power band more than makes up for it.

You pay for all that power, however. EPA fuel economy is 14 city/19 highway. Even with cylinder deactivation, we averaged only 16 miles-per-gallon in mixed driving. But we were able to tow up to 7,200 pounds with the Hemi 4x4 combination. And as for cruising comfort, this is quietest Jeep that we’ve driven by a mile.

On our handling course, the Commander exhibits a fair bit of front plow, but the quick steering makes for easy direction changes. Lateral suspension movement has a slight stutter, sort of a Jeep trademark, but body roll is well controlled.

The brakes are 4-wheel discs with 4-channel ABS. They stopped our Commander from 60 in a long 146 feet. The pedal feels soft and the nose really dives, but straight-on stability is very good.

Prices for this plus-size Jeep start at $27,985 for a 4x2 V6. The 4x4 Commander starts at $29,985. Move up to the V8 Limited, and pay $36,280 for the 4x2, and $38,900 for the 4x4.

Jeep has built its reputation on vehicles that are seriously tough, yet also comfortable and practical. The 2006 Commander is all that, and with its 7-passenger seating, a whole lot more. Yes, it’s a bigger Jeep for bigger families. It fills its niche well, and without going overboard.



  • Engine: 5.7-Liter Pushrod Hemi V8
  • Horsepower: 330
  • Torque: 375 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.8 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 16.0 Seconds @ 87 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH: 146 Feet
  • EPA: 14 City/19 Highway MPG
  • Mixed Loop: 16 MPG