Iñigo S. Roces / Iñigo S. Roces | September 11, 2007 00:00
Over the rank and fileI have a friend who tends to call all 4x4's "Jeeps". I would always correct her, insisting she adopt the term SUV instead. She's not entirely at fault. In a way, she's right because it's the Jeep, the original military General Purpose, that started it all.
Being latest descendant of the G.P., there's a lot this most recent incarnation, the Jeep Commander 4x4 Limited, has to live up to. Well, maybe not. Just toughness and off-road superiority. We don't exactly wish for that jarring ride or sparse military issue interior to apply to production models.
Of course the most surprising thing about the Commander is its civility, especially with a name like "Commander". One would expect Drill Sergeant toughness and no ounce of loving save for your own pain. Inside is a different story. The interiors, although true to the boxy theme, are lined with stitched leather seats and upholstery, chrome accents and faux wood inlays. There are pockets, slots and compartments everywhere, designed perhaps, for even the most disorganized of drivers. A soft amber glow illuminates it all and if that is not to your taste, there's always natural light, thanks to the sunroofs (for front and 2nd row passengers). Seats, air conditioning and stereo are all controlled by electric switches within the driver's reach. In fact, you needn't even lift your hand from the steering wheel as stereo controls are mounted behind the wheel. Anti-glare rearview mirrors mute the bright lights from behind. As for your own, a sensor in the windshield automatically dims your own for oncoming cars. Rain sensitive wipers activate within the first few drops. There's so much technology and comfort on hand that it nearly overwhelms.
Start the car and even the burble of the 4.7 liter V8 is almost silenced out by the car's insulation. Step on the gas and the car doesn't lunge forward, it climbs up to pace. Even flooring the pedal will kick down the gear and do the same, at a much more hurried pace, the jerk you expect is muted to a gentle push. Even on the 5-speed automatic's manual mode, shifts are smooth and seamless. The ride is soft and cradling, floating over every pothole and bump in the road. The ride is so heavenly, you'd be forgiven for comparing it to a luxury SUV worth nearly twice the vehicle's price. Turn the wheel and the steering feels light, even if 245mm thick tires roll beneath you. Best of all, there's room for two more people to enjoy all of its comforts thanks to the easy unfold 3rd row seats — just pull up and snap into place.
So with all the comforts, one begins to wonder what bit of rough and tough SUV is left in this vehicle, there's a "Trail Rated 4x4" badge after all on the side. Sticky situations are easily solved by the "4x4 low" lever, just beside the automatic transmission stick. The sheer mudslinging fun begins the moment you drive it onto roads less traveled, no preparations nor adjustments needed. The trail Rated badge simple means the vehicle's approach angle, clearance and 4x4 mechanism are already capable of tackling many 4x4 trails, factory stock. As for heavy duty, a "tow/haul" button engages a special program in the vehicle's control unit to adjust the vehicle's response so you don't have to.
Then, there's its 231 hp V8 engine. Times like these when emissions and fuel economy are under prime scrutiny, the Commander cruises with the times, capable of running on up to 15% ethanol fuel (E85). Even on regular fuel, if one has the discipline of foot, the Commander can achieve an admirable 8.59 kilometers per liter on the highway, even when fully loaded.
So what can't the Commander do? It can't provide you a stealthy arrival nor departure, that's for sure. Its boxy looks will stand out in any parking lot just as any enthusiast of Hummers and Land Rovers would want it to. The disguise is so effective that only an owner, or perhaps those who avail of a test drive, will truly see just how comfortable this car really is.
Some will find the car a little too floaty, lumbering like an old Cadillac and lacking some control found in Japanese SUVs. Then, there's always the fuel consumption. While 8 km/L is accomplished easily, city driving with a V8 is an entirely different fuel feeding beast altogether.
For those who crave off-roading American V8 muscle style without ruffling their feathers while doing it, the Commander may very well be their answer. Like its namesake, I can't recall a time that I've seen a military commander with muddied fatigues and his person quite unkempt. Not like this car couldn't, more like it has been promoted beyond the need to. And should the occasion call for it, or a subordinate might question its ability… let's just say they should never question authority.