A lot of Jeep for the money, but the dynamics could let it down in the UK.

Change is everywhere at DaimlerChrysler. The American branch is making more money than the Stuttgart arm. With the recent posting of Dieter Zetsche to the top spot at DaimlerChrysler, the American company has been given a shake-up. Chrysler has cars people want to buy. Dodge is on the biggest product roll in its entire history. And good old Jeep? Well, Jeep is well on its way from three product lines to six over the next couple of years.Two years ago, the ageing Cherokee was scrapped in favour of a trimmer, more modern car, the Liberty. More recently, the Grand Cherokee was replaced by a brand-new model. Jeep sales are currently running nine per cent ahead of last year’s, and even the ancient Wrangler is still selling more than it did in 2004. And now Jeep has just introduced its fourth model, the Commander.This isn’t an all-new car. Jeep has used the Grand Cherokee’s engines and transmissions, and designed a new three-row, seven-seat body to fit on top of the proven components. Then the designers wrapped the interior package with a combination of old and new design licks, borrowed the name from an obsolete Studebaker, and created the first seven-seat Jeep in the company’s 60-year history.Left- and right-hand-drive European production will start in the first quarter of 2006 at Magna in Austria, using the Mercedes-Benz 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine currently found in the Grand Cherokee.The Commander will come in two- and four-wheel-drive versions, as a standard model, which is nearly devoid of chrome trim and looks much the better for it. Next is the Limited, which has chrome trim on and under the grille, on the bodysides, two chrome grab bars on the tailgate, chrome roof rails and chrome door handles. The Limited also gets chrome hex-head bolts on each wing lip, described by an executive as ‘Jeep jewellery’.Engines include a 3.7-litre 210bhp, 235lb ft V6 coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission and a 4.7-litre V8 producing 235bhp and 305lb ft. Only the Limited gets the 5.7-litre Hemi V8 with 330bhp and 375lb ft. The two V8s come with stronger five-speed autos, but there’s no six-speed option.At the heart of every Jeep is four-wheel drive, and there are several options. The standard V6 comes with Quadra-Trac 1, which gives four-wheel drive but no high/low-ratio transfer box for off-road work. Optional on the V6 and standard on the two V8s is Quadra-Trac 2, with a two-speed transfer case and Jeep’s version of the Mercedes traction-control system. V8-powered Commanders also get electronic limited-slip differentials which improve off-road performance.Electronic options abound. For those who can’t leave the world behind when they go off-road, there’s Bluetooth wireless connectivity for mobile phones and optional DVD satellite navigation displayed on the monitor in the centre of the dash. There’s also an optional DVD entertainment system with screens in the rear headrests.We sampled both the 4.7- and 5.7-litre V8 versions, and found the chassis dynamics very similar to those of the donor Grand Cherokee. On smooth, well-maintained American roads the Commander was very quiet, with a comfortable ride and minimal body roll for such a tall, heavy machine. However, after the disappointing performance of the Grand Cherokee in our recent road test (9 August), we’ll reserve final judgement on the Commander’s ride and handling until we can try one on UK roads. The steering is not so good with a rather disconnected feel, but the brakes are very strong and have impressive stopping power – a useful quality in a vehicle that weighs 2361kg.The cabin borrows its basic structure from the Grand Cherokee, with a new dashtop, instruments and air vents. The controls are easy to read, reach and use, but the tidy overall look is rather spoilt by the clumsy chromed hex-head screws surrounding the vent panels. The new front seats are very comfortable and supportive, with figure-hugging backrests that provide great support but don’t intrude. The second and third rows of seats stow with remarkable ease, leaving a flat load floor and up to 1953 litres of cargo space with all the seats folded and 1019 litres with the third row down.However, while Jeep styles the Commander as a true seven-seater, the passengers scrambling over the folded second row to get into the back had better be children, and small children at that – there’s not very much legroom back there. And although the Commander is about as rectilinear as it’s possible for a car to be, the space increase over the Grand Cherokee is not that impressive. It looks bigger without the Cherokee’s inward-sloping rear roof design, but the gain in interior space is only about 28 litres.In the States, pressure on new car prices generated by GM, Ford and Chrysler selling cars at employee prices to anyone means the Commander is pretty cheap, ranging from $125 (£70) to $2200 (£1200) more than the five-seater Grand Cherokee. It looks likely to cost only slightly more than that car in the UK, too: prices are expected to range from £30,000 to £37,000 when sales start next March. We probably won’t be getting the petrol V6, and the V8s haven’t been confirmed either, but it’s the diesel that Jeep will be banking on to do the business in Europe. And we’ll have to wait until next year to try that Commander.Jim McCraw

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Comments
7

24 March 2012

A big V8 4x4 for under £35k! That's what I call good value! A few years on and an equivalent car is now likely to cost twice that!

24 March 2012

A "lot of metal" for the money and the Hemi V8 is a great engine but I once drove a 3.0 diesel of these in Italy years ago and it was quite crap. Big outside but not inside, the third row of seats was quite narrow, the steering was poor even for these kind of car, the interior low rent. The engine had something like 218ps but it didn't felt brisk in any sense...

24 March 2012

I thought for a minute that this was a new test bout it's seven years old.

Still, The Commander 5.7 would make a great second-hand buy if you could fuel it with LPG.

24 March 2012

It's funny this article should pop up, I saw a Commander 5.7 on Thursday for the first time. Didn't even realise you could get the Hemi in the UK. I am glad the Commander is a rare sight - (only 167 Hemi versions on the road here) it's not exactly great to look at.

24 March 2012

I think they look ok in a blocky sort of way.

The 5.7 Hemi was reasonably common at one point.

One would be able to pick up one for peanuts with today's fuel prices.

24 March 2012

[quote mrcliodCi]

I think they look ok in a blocky sort of way.

[/quote]

I agree. It has a certain boxy charm about it.

24 March 2012

Eh,

Why has this popped up from a good 7 years ago?

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