Machine Design

2006 Jeep Commander

The Commander, Jeep's new SUV, is a boxy, upscale off-roader on steroids.

Driving it really does make you feel "in command." The driver sits up high, surrounded by enough metal to shrug off sideswiping Minis and hybrids. The driver also has access to comforts not found in most Holiday Inns. Of course, it all comes at a price. The vehicle I tested carried a $37,000 sticker. And the SUV didn't carry some of the more high-priced options.

TV commercials tout the Commander's seven-passenger seating. And yes, there are designated spaces for seven, but shoehorning seven 190-lb, 6-ft adults into them would be cruel and inhumane, especially for the two in the back row. A better fit would be four or five grade-schoolers in back and two adults up front.

The front seats, where I spent most of my time, are roomy, with plenty of hip, leg, and headroom. The seats sport lumbar supports, eight-way power for the driver, four-way power for the passenger, and heating for both. A power sunroof comes with two small "CommandView" skylights over the second row of seats. Maybe it's just me, but I rarely look straight up when searching for a nice, scenic view and I rarely need more light when traveling. The skylights are different enough to elicit comments, but I hope they don't add much to the cost or maintenance, or detract from safety.

Under the aluminum hood, a 4.7-liter SOHC V8 generates 235 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque. It's rated at 15/19 mpg, but your mileage will probably be lower. If you're feeling green, you can get the smaller 3.7-liter V6 (210 hp, 235 lb-ft of torque). And if you're feeling mean, you can pay extra for the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 (330 hp, 375 lb-ft of torque). There are also three flavors of four-wheel drive or, like the model I tested, it can be a simple rear-wheel-drive 4X2 SUV.

The 15-ft-long Commander drives more like a car than an oversized SUV. I attribute that to Jeep's experience building offroad/on-road vehicles. The front end uses short/long-arm independent suspension with coil springs, gas-charged, twin-tube coil-over shock absorbers with lower and upper control arms, and a stabilizer bar. Power rack-and-pinion steering is effortless and precise. The rear end uses a link coil with track and stabilizer bars, and gas-charged, twin-tube shocks.

The SUV was a joy to test drive. It's quiet, powerful, sure-footed, and comfortable if you're in the front seats. It'd be a good fit for a couple with kids. And it's cheaper than sending a kid to MIT ($44.6k/year), as long as you don't go overboard on options and horsepower.

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