REVIEW DATE: 16 Nov 2006
Underneath The Jeep Commander 3.0 CRD's Military SurPlus Styling Is A Very Sophisticated Piece Of Engineering. Andy Enright Reports
Traction. When it comes to off roading you've either got it or you haven't and thanks to Jeep's Quadra Drive system fitted to their Commander we had it. Lots of it. Clambering up a rocky wadi on a part of the map just marked 'Sand and Gravel' wasn't a place you'd relish getting stuck but the big Jeep was making mincemeat of sand, gravel, rocks and anything else placed in its path. Its party trick was that clever Quadra Drive transmission.
Older Jeeps campaigned with a system called Quadra Trac which could detect when either the front or rear wheels were slipping and could divert drive to the other end of the car. It was a rugged, effective system but the latest Commander 3.0-litre CRD features the next development. Quadra Drive not only shifts torque from the front to the rear axles and vice versa but because each axle is fitted with a clever electronic differential, it can direct drive to whichever wheel can best deploy traction. This means that even if three tyres are spinning uselessly in soft sand and one can get a purchase on rock, Quadra Drive will ensure that the Jeep will crawl out. It's hugely impressive.
As is the engine fitted to both Commander variants including the entry-level £27,490 Predator model we're looking at here. The 3.0-litre CRD diesel powerplant pops up all over the Chrysler, Jeep and Mercedes-Benz Ranges and with good reason. It's one of the most impressive diesel engines money can buy. Its 218bhp output is capable of making a Mercedes C-Class feel indecently quick but when tasked with hauling the rather weightier Commander body about, it instead relies on its 510Nm of torque. This is more than even the Commander's Range-topping V8 Hemi engine can manage.
"The Commander 3.0CRD features one of the finest diesel engines in series production"
On the road it equates to a sprint to 60mph in 8.7 seconds and a top speed of 120mph. Economy is very respectable at 30.9mpg and emissions are rated at 284g/km. When it comes to serious off-roading, this is probably the engine to plump for. The Commander may be able to tackle the wadis and dunes of our Omani test route with ease but the truth remains that most UK buyers won't expose their vehicle to anything like this and will instead rely on the car's other assets.
Chief among these is the seven seat layout - a first for Jeep and a necessity given that the Land Rover Discovery and many other rivals now boasts a septet of chairs. Space in the first two rows of seats is good, although those with longer legs won't relish a lengthy spell in the back pair. Kneeroom may not be great in the back but the view out is. Jeep have stepped each row of seats so that the second row is 11.7cm higher than the front and the third row seats are another 12cm higher than the second. This means that everybody in the car gets a decent view and children seated in the very back can be easily monitored.
The second row of seats splits 40/20/40 and the outer sections can fold down then tumble forwards to allow passengers in the back easy access from either side. There's even a separate air-conditioning system for third row occupants. Squeeze seven passengers on board and you'd better hope they've packed light because that'll leave a mere 6 cubic feet of luggage space available. Seat five, fold the rearmost pair of seats down and you'll have a more satisfactory 36.3 cubic feet. Drop the middle row as well and you'll have a massive 67.4 cubic feet of available space.
The military surPlus styling of the Commander takes a little getting used to. With its tacked on wheelarches and heavy duty scuff plates, it looks like something that should be touring Fallujah looking for insurgents rather than collecting the kids from school. It is, therefore, perfect for the burgeoning quantity of buyers who prefer a little presence to get ahead in the traffic. Jeep don't expect to sell too many, importing just 600 cars to the UK, so there's set to be a measure of exclusivity to boot.
The beefy five-link solid rear axle combines with an independent short-and-long-arm front suspension which Jeep have designed to give ride and steering feel that's better than the class average. The rack and pinion steering system is a revelation if you've only ever driven a previous generation Grand Cherokee model. In short, it turns the Commander from a bit of a lumberer into something a whole lot sharper and the vehicle benefits hugely from its inclusion. Like all Jeep products, this means that there's not a great deal of roll when cornering hard. Get a little too enthusiastic with the cornering and you'll be grateful for the standard fit electronic stability control, antilock brakes with BrakeAssist and side curtain airbags that cover all three rows.
The Commander 3.0CRD is a far better vehicle than many will ever realise. The sad fact is that a decent proportion of buyers will be deterred by the bloodhound front end and never realise what lies beneath. At the vehicle's launch, senior Jeep executives were notably defensive about the styling. They claimed that this 'heritage design' was in response to customer demand. Maybe that demand doesn't travel so well this side of the Atlantic, because as much as such a well-engineered vehicle deserves success, it's very hard to see the Commander 3.0-litre CRD putting a sizeable dent in Discovery sales. America leads the way in cosmetic surgery. A nip here, a minor tuck there and the Commander could be a winner.
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