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Jeep Commander

Broadcast date : 2nd July 2006

A talking point amongst journalists at the recent Jeep Commander launch near Cullinan was the back-to-the-roots looks of Jeepís new sports-utility. Generally the feeling was that the chunky-charlie Commander was up to the job.

Like most journos on the launch, David wasnít convinced by Jeepís luggage space claims with the third row of seats erect.

The point about the Commander is that it does have seating for seven, which can be useful during short game viewing trips when everyone wants to come along for the ride.

Off road the Commander is extremely comfortable, with an isolated ride that is quite typical of DaimlerChrsylerís Jeep division.

This is a vehicle with quite serious off-road aspirations despite its luxury cabin, with a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system that, of course, includes a low-range option to its automatic transmission.

Itís a long distance highway hauler that copes with typical game tracks with almost contemptuous ease.

All sorts of electronic features are designed to assist the Commander driver, both on and off-road. Thereís an electronic stability programme, a tyre pressure monitoring system, and an anti-roll mitigation system which compensates for body tilt when traversing a steep slope.

The steering uses a variable ratio rack-and-pinion system which explains its light feel at low speeds. For this type of terrain the Jeep Commander was quite happy with the high transmission ratio selected.

All the launch vehicles were fitted with the stump-pulling 5,7 litre Hemi V8, which has ample torque for almost all situations.

When preparing for rockier surfaces, changing from high to low is a doddle with Jeepís electronic Range Select. The suspension travel is reasonable, but not in the Land Rover class, as there is not quite enough extension on each individual wheel.

But the Quadradrive 2 system is designed to transfer torque to the wheels with enough bite.

Perhaps its biggest limitation off-road is ground clearance, the overhang at the rear being quite long.

The Commander is visually profiled as a more purposeful looking Jeep rendition, to the extent of dummy bolts giving the appearance of securing the squared off wheel-arch extensions.

We have long wondered at the wisdom of fitting beautifully polished alloy wheels to any vehicles going off road, as itís hard enough keeping them scuff-free when dealing with typical South African suburban kerb stones!

The metallic paint too is bound to take a pounding in the bushveld, but sales of these slightly more "on" than "off" roaders suggest that we are in the minority in this viewpoint.

Game viewing trips are what they are about and if that goes with a few thorn bush excursions, so be it.

The legendary Hemi motor is in fact a modern derivative of the old V8 from the 1950s which ruled Nascar races when fitted to the original Chrysler 300.

The Jeep Commander, too can trace its roots back over half a century, as the original Willys Station Wagon was a 1946 seven seater version of the famous World War Two Jeep.

While the Commanderís ancestors made do with four cylinders, the 2006 Commander Limited, which uses the very modern 5,7 litre Hemi V8, switches from eight to four cylinders in cruise mode, which makes it a frugal device on the highway.

Cylinders 1, 4, 6 and 7 are shut down when moderate throttle openings are employed, and Chrysler claim fuel consumption reductions of between 12 and 15 per cent.

Another interesting device is an alternative second gear, activated by throttle kick-down for use in extreme situations. 

At 213 millimetres, the ground clearance is okay-ish, but with a long wheelbase you have to take care not to bottom it. 

Weíve always enjoyed the chunky Tonka Toy-meets-cocktail-lounge approach to Jeep SUV interiors. What is noticeable is that Chrysler, like its American counterparts Ford and GM, has upped its game in the fit and finish department, as it strives to crack the European markets.

Plastics are more expensive, panel fit is approaching millimeter perfect and the Jeep has an ambience of luxury that speaks of integrated elegance, rather than striving to be something it isnít.

This is an SUV with a long heritage, and in fact Jeep, with some justification, claims to have invented the concept back in 1946. And in a game-viewing vehicle, sun-roofs are totally appropriate.

What has survived on the Jeep, weíre happy to say, is the original seven-slot grille, which dates way back to the desert and jungles in World War Two.

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