2010 Jeep Commander 3.7 V6 Sport (USA)

The origins of the Jeep – a civilian version of a vehicle initially developed for service in the Second World War are well documented. For most of the marque’s 70 year history, Jeep has offered a limited number of different models, but about 5 years ago, the range suddenly blossomed forth into something quite extensive, in the hope that they could harness the strong brand reputation and the growing demand for SUV type vehicles of all shapes and sizes. One of the additional models to emerge in this period was the Commander, a rather boxy design, with seating for 7. It has been on sale for a few years now, both in the US and in Europe, but has only enjoyed moderate success. A number of them have appeared in the Hertz rental fleet recently – the test car was plated in December 2009 and had done just under 3000 miles – which gave me an opportunity to find out whether it has been unfairly ignored by the market or if it actually is not all that good a proposition.
 

The origins of the Jeep – a civilian version of a vehicle initially developed for service in the Second World War are well documented. For most of the marque’s 70 year history, Jeep has offered a limited number of different models, but about 5 years ago, the range suddenly blossomed forth into something quite extensive, in the hope that they could harness the strong brand reputation and the growing demand for SUV type vehicles of all shapes and sizes. One of the additional models to emerge in this period was the Commander, a rather boxy design, with seating for 7. It has been on sale for a few years now, both in the US and in Europe, but has only enjoyed moderate success. A number of them have appeared in the Hertz rental fleet recently – the test car was plated in December 2009 and had done just under 3000 miles – which gave me an opportunity to find out whether it has been unfairly ignored by the market or if it actually is not all that good a proposition.
I have to confess that although it is rather a boxy design, I quite like the looks of the Commander. Unlike the rather effete looking Compass, or the slightly squashed looking Liberty (Cherokee), this one looks like you think a proper on-road Jeep should do. It has not exactly been a market success though, and rumours of its imminent demise have abounded for some time. Currently it looks like it 2010 will be its last year, not least because the Grand Cherokee on which it is heavily based will undergo a model change during the coming weeks.
There are two  engine options for the Commander – a 3.7 litre V6 developing 210 bhp and a 5.7 litre Hemi V8 putting out 357 bhp, and each is available with either rear or four wheel drive. The V6 model is designated “Sport” and the V8 the “Limited”, though you can upgrade your 3.7 litre model to a Limited. The intermediate 4.7 litre engine and the Overland trim variants were discontinued at the end of the 2009 model year. Given the power outputs of the two engines, you could argue that these nomenclatures are the wrong way round. There is no doubt that my test car was a Sport, as a glance under the bonnet confirmed the presence of the 6 cylinder engine. What puzzled me was the badge on the tailgate which said “4×4”, as I am pretty sure, judging by the absence of any controls for it, that I did not have the benefit of four wheel drive.
Firing up the Commander, and the engine noise sounds good. Very good, in fact. OK, not Camaro SS good, but a nice smooth rumble from the 6 cylinders. Sadly, that is really where the goodness of this engine ceases. On the move it is simply sluggish. l am not sure whether the problem is truly the engine or the lethargic five speed automatic gearbox.  The problem comes when you need anything more than the most general increase in speed. Put your foot down, even quite hard and nothing much happens. Plant the right foot very hard on the go pedal and the transmission eventually wakes up, probably shifts down a gear or two and the Commander does gather some speed. But going up inclines, and joining freeways, it can be a very frustrating device. It is, however, a very refined cruiser. 70 mph represents around 2000 rpm, meaning that the engine is all but inaudible. All the noise comes from the road and California’s cursed concrete freeways. On asphalt surfaced roads, it is much quieter. With the aerodynamics of the proverbial barn door, and more than a few kilos in weight, you would not expect the Commander to be particularly miserly on the old jungle juice. And it is not.
The trip computer showed 16.1 mpg (US), though I had not reset it, and the figure did improve steadily (but slowly) during the test, so I assume I actually got slightly better than this, but certainly if that is all you get from the V6 engine, then the V8 would need be acquired complete with your own private oil well. Whilst the transmission is lazy, it is also smooth, with no discernible shifts between the gears being felt. The steering was light, but not to excess, so there was moderate feel for what the wheels were going to do. Shame that the wheel itself is a rather nasty plastic affair, so not that nice to hold. I have clearly been spoiled by too many nice leather covered wheels lately! A tall SUV like this is also unlikely to win any prizes for handling, but I thought the Commander was not too bad. Granted I did not push it too hard, but it was able to take the swooping curves on freeway intersections without causing undue alarm. The ride was decent enough too. Visibility caused some concerns, as despite the sizeable door mirrors, there appeared to be something of a blind spot over my left shoulder, Otherwise, positioning the Commander was easy and judging its extremities for parking was not a problem.
It is inside the cabin where the disappointment really sets in, though. None of the Chrysler Group cars are renowned for the luxurious feel to their interiors and nowhere is this more obvious than chez Jeep. This would probably have been perfectly acceptable in about 1980 but the great slab of a dashboard, made out of the hardest and nastiest plastic in a production car this side of China is simply not competitive or even acceptable these days. There are several exposed torks screw heads in the dash. I assume that these are considered a design feature rather than simply such poor design that they could not be hidden. Or. so I would hope. Although the quality of materials is disappointing, and the design makes no effort to link the dash to the door trims, the actual fit of what is there seemed reasonable enough, and the layout of the instruments and controls is OK. A main binnacle houses two large dials, containing speedo and rev counter, with smaller gauges for fuel and water temperature set in the bottom of these. There is a display area for the trip computer, which can be cycled through it is different options by pressing the buttons on the left hand spoke the steering wheel. It was the Service Information setting here which advised me that this 3000 mile needed an oil change – a warning which kept flashing up frequently as a reminder,. now matter what other display I had showing – which caused the test to be cut short as I took the car back after one day rather than keeping it for a second. The central part of the dash contains the Sirius XM radio, which worked well, was easy to use and had great sound, and the manual air conditioning controls. Full climate control is available only with the Limited trim. Other functions are largely operated by the two column stalks, and there are numerous easy to use buttons on the wheel for remote operation of the sound system. A conventional transmission selector and pull up handbrake are in between the seats. One thing really did surprise me and that is the considerable reach needed to get hold of the sunvisor. Given my short legs, and so I sit relatively close to the column, you would not expect this. Anyone who sits further back is going to find it all but impossible to reach the visor, especially when it is in position shielding glare and sunshine from the top of the screen.
The raison d’etre of the Commander is its ability to seat 7. And it genuinely could. Whilst not massively long, one way it can house all the people is because of its height. I found out just how tall when I approached the underground car park at my LA hotel, and set off the sensor for an overheight vehicle. That meant valet parking (and extra cost, curses!) The middle row of seats is for three people. I was surprised to find that there is no real adjustment possible for these seats, as although the backrest does tilt, it has to be locked in position and there only seems to be one position. My immediate impression of these seats is how high up you sit, but headroom is not an issue, and if there were, I would discover it. The outer pair of middle seats will tilt completely forward allowing for access to the rearmost seats, though you would still need to be quite agile to get in and out. Once installed there is decent enough room in these seats, too. The passengers in the seats get their own controls for the air con, and also numerous stowage cubby holes and cup holders in the side trim. With all 7 seats in use, there really is not a boot. A very small area indeed remains for luggage. There is another reason to fold forward the rear most seats unless they are in use. Namely that the seat backrests for these seats severely restricts rear visibility from the central mirror. Dropping the seats down – an easy task, accomplished by releasing the catch on the side pillar – makes a substantial improvement to the view backwards. It also generates a much more useful sized luggage area, which would actually accommodate my suitcase and lap top bag. The central row of seats, split into three sections, can also be folded forwards, simply by pulling a lever on each of the outer seats and a strap on the right hand side of the middle one, creating a long and flat load platform. Although the outer pair of seats will tip forwards, the instructions say that you should not drive with them in this position.   Inside the cabin there are more places to put odds and ends than you could find in most cars, with a tray on top of the dash, a cubby above the mirror, lots of places in the centre console, door pockets, a generous glove box and a cubby between the seats.
If you analyse my comments, you would have to conclude that the Commander simply is not very good. And yet, I so wanted to like this car. I have the feeling that it would not take that much to fix many of its weakest points. A new interior, made of decent quality plastics and designed so it looks like it all fits together would be a start. Sorting out the engine/gearbox lethargy ought not be that hard, either. The visibility issues with the rear-most seats erected and consequent lack of luggage space are endemic in the design, but if they were the only weak point, I guess they might be forgivable. There are other 7 seater SUVs out there, and the most obvious rival, certainly in Europe, is the much lauded Land-Rover Discovery. Although I have not driven one, just static impressions suggest that the Disco is leagues apart from the Commander. Unfortunately, its price is also leagues apart. Whereas the Jeep starts at $32,000, the entry point for the Land-Rover is 50% more at $48,000, partly because the only engine option in the US is the 5.0 litre V8, so they are not really rivals at all.  In the US, then the new Toyota 4Runner and Nissan X-Terra are probably rather better vehicles.
2010-02-20 14:50:08

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Home Forums 2010 Jeep Commander 3.7 V6 Sport (USA)

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    Colin
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    The origins of the Jeep – a civilian version of a vehicle initially developed for service in the Second World War are well documented. For most of the
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