The Jeep Cherokee lasted to the ripe old car age of 17, living through four presidential administrations and three changes in Jeep ownership from American Motors to Chrysler to German-owned DaimlerChrysler. Understandably, the old girl picked up a devoted following. When the cutesy Liberty was introduced, this Cherokee tribe-of-sorts cried foul, demanding a return to the traditional Jeep aesthetics of looking like a rolling Frigidaire.
Alas, their prayers have been answered with the Jeep Commander that from afar looks almost identical to the old Cherokee. Mind you, if you went afar enough, the Titanic would probably start to resemble the S.S. Minnow, which is a good way of describing the size difference between the Commander and the Cherokee (the former is longer by a whopping 21 inches). But this is an entirely different Jeep, which offers seating for seven in an effort to meet a market-driven need for three rows of seats. For the sake of costs, it shares the smaller Grand Cherokee’s platform, wheelbase and engine choices, including the famed 330-horsepower Hemi.
Our test car, however, came with the middle-of-the-road 4.7-liter V8 that makes 235 horsepower and a robust 305 pounds-feet of torque. This engine gets a piddling EPA mileage rating of 15 city and 19 highway with a very high smog index. Not only should you not expect a Christmas card from Greenpeace, the 4.7 gets only one mpg better in the city and none on the highway compared with the Hemi that makes 100 more horses. That’s just not good.
Nevertheless, most SUV buyers don’t care much about fuel economy anyway, so for them the Commander’s other attributes should meet their needs. Equipped with QuadraDrive II, the Commander can tackle Trail-Rated off-road adventures with the best of them. For mall-rated on-road adventures, our Commander offered lots of space with such creature comforts as heated power leather seats, a Boston Acoustics premium sound system, rear A/C controls, rain sensitive wipers and rear parking assist to prevent parking lot catastrophes. This last feature is particularly important as rear visibility was seemingly inspired by a mail slot. The third row “stadium seating” pushes the seat backs and passengers’ heads skyward impeding both vision and comfort for adults.
The Commander’s mix of size, retro looks and features create a package that, despite its dismal fuel economy, is an attractive full-size SUV option. For those Cherokee faithful who have grown up, added kids and increased their disposable income, the Commander should make them very happy.