Over the years, Jeep has made a few attempts at a full-size offering, something that could take on the Chevy Suburbans and Ford Expeditions of the world. While Jeep’s original Grand Wagoneer attempt remained fairly successful for nearly 30 years, Jeep’s second stab at a viable competitor wasn’t as big or noteworthy. That effort was known as Jeep Commander.
Welcome to Forgotten Cars where we go into a brief history and background of some models you may not remember. Join us on a drive down memory lane.
Like many of Chrysler’s products, the Jeep Commander began life as a concept. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the only thing the concept and production Commander had in common in the end was the seven-slot grille. I will, but say the concept was ahead of its time. The driveline in original idea introduced in 2000 was exotic in its use of a methanol fuel cell. That cell converted energy in the fluid into electricity, which is then fed to electric motors at each wheel. Of course, we never saw anything like it on the production model.
The actual customer-ready Commander debuted at the 2005 New York Auto Show for the 2006 model year. It shared a platform, independent suspension, active rear axle and unibody construction with the Jeep Grand Cherokee but visually looked like just a larger Liberty.
Jeep’s reasoning for the Commander’s existence was also a bit odd. According to All pair, Michael BerubeJeep’s marketing manager at the time, claimed that customers expressed that they didn’t actually need a permanent set of three rows of seats, just seats that could be used as “in a pinch” flexibility – needing to drive two more kids or adults home from time to time.
Basically, the Commander came out as the largest vehicle in the Jeep range. And much of that is due to its boxy design. The SUV was only two inches longer than the Grand Cherokee and had a terribly cramped third row with just 28.9 inches of legroom. While kids could easily get back there, adults could tolerate being back there for quick jaunts around the block. Ask me how I know.
Speaking of its design, Jeep really embraced the box for the Commander. Senior manager of Jeep’s design studio Donald A. Renkert didn’t want to do anything too big or imposing and said, “…let’s embrace and celebrate the box. Let’s not think outside the box, let’s build a cool box.” The design became something new but familiar to Jeep customers, but perhaps larger than the designer imagined, which may or may not be a good thing.
Inside the commander it was just like odd. Chrysler offered a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with 357 horsepower—more than enough engine to power the boxy three-row titan. In all cases, its two other engine options were less appealing.
Intermediate level trims came standard with the 4.7-liter 305-hp PowerTech V8. It was an odd option, given that the 5.7-liter Hemi was larger than the PowerTech, just $820 more (on the Limited trim), and got better fuel economy with its Multi-Displacement System. The PowerTech was also slower than the Hemi. Our very own Mike Spinelli clocked 10.2 seconds for a 0 to 60 mph time from a 4.7-liter-equipped Commander.
Base Commander buyers, if there were such a thing, were even worse off with the 3.7-liter 210-horsepower PowerTech V6 (the 3.7) was only a 4.7-liter V8 missing two cylinders) that turned the Commander into a quiet block on wheels. At least buyers could choose three different four-wheel drive systems and two transfer cases.
Perhaps its demise was easy to see coming as cargo space was almost non-existent with all seven seats full; Fuel economy was garbage across the board with the Hemi-powered all-wheel-drive versions being shut down 13/19/15 mpg combined (Similar another huge three row jeep); and that boxy design gave way to disturbing handling with Car and driver describing it as “really disturbing transient behavior.”
But the press loved this box of a Jeep, something. Its high driving and stadium seating was praised, as was how well equipped the higher tiers were.
Base Commander Sports started at $27,985, with Limited 4x4s going for upwards of $38,900. Nearly 85,000 Commanders found a home in the first year of production, with a total of close to 200,000 sold through 2010.
As Jeep tries again at a three-row, full-size SUV in the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, you have to wonder if this type of vehicle will find as many buyers today as it did then in a world of high gas prices and a looming EV transition.