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22 September 2008

Command Performer | 2008 Jeep Commander

Words and photos by Eric Ayrton S. Soriano
The Jeep Commander is not the typical American SUV your beloved high-ranking government official likes to glide through traffic with. Despite being a seven-seater, the Commander is not as hulking or imposing as the  Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban, which both dwarf the Commander. But what the Commander lacks in size, it makes up for with its off-roading might. 

Unlike Sarah Jessica Parker, the Commander begins to look a bit better the longer you stare at it. Then again, some of the world’s toughest SUVs such as the Land Rover Defender, the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, and the AM Hummer put function before form too. The Commander’s taut proportions are quite purposeful as they lend it agility and nimbleness the Expedition and Suburban could only dream of when the going gets really rough.
Trail Rated
On the fenders of the Commander are “Trail Rated” badges - Jeep’s certification that this model performs well under five exacting off-road criteria: “Traction”, “Ground Clearance”, “Maneuverability”,  “Articulation”, and “Water Fording”. Articulation or suspension travel is the vertical movement of the tire in response to the terrain, thus keeping the rubber firmly planted on terra firma under most conditions. Flood-phobic Commander owners will be glad to know that their steed can wade through waters up to an amazing 19 inches deep. 

The Quadra-Trac II all-wheel drive system can transfer up to 100% of the torque to one axle should the other lose traction. This system also features low-range gearing which moderates the truck’s crawl speed regardless of the terrain.
Good bye Charity Fund
Upon sliding into the driver’s seat of the 2007-spec test unit, the first thing that caught my eye was the previous driver’s average fuel consumption figure displayed on the Vehicle Information Center: 29 liters/100 km. That’s an effing 3.4 liters per km! Thankfully, the Commander was turned over to me with a full tank of fuel. The Vehicle Information Center, which also computes the distance the Commander could travel before the fuel tank goes empty, flashed “328 km”. 

I planned to travel about 600 km for that weekend and despite expecting to get better mileage outside the metro, I was quite certain I was going to have to load at least 20 liters more. That was the week that the price of regular unleaded fuel threatened to kiss the P51 to a liter mark. Since this was an unplanned expense, I decided to take it from the weekly fund I set aside for charity (yeah, right).
The V8 engine of the Commander displaces 4.7 liters, making 235 hp and 413.5 Nm of torque. This allowed effortless sprints to triple digit speeds and quick assaults up mountain roads. All that power comes with a price, however. The seven-seater truck returned a horrendous 2.9 km per liter in equally horrendous traffic around the metropolis. All-wheel drive (which means more mechanical movement and thus more friction) plus the Commander’s brick-like aerodynamic profile also contribute to the poor fuel economy.

On the North Luzon Expressway, I kept the Commander’s thirst in check by maintaining a speed of about 80 kph as much as possible. Good thing I had kalamansi and a razor blade to keep me from dozing off as other vehicles zoomed past me. At that speed, the Commander covered a decent 10.7 km of road for every liter of fuel. A five-speed manumatic (automatic with manual override) is standard.

Jeep engineers did a remarkable job tweaking the engine for the ’08 Commander, increasing power to 305 hp (up 30 percent from the ’07-spec engine) and torque to 453 Nm (a 10 percent jump). This most likely hurts fuel consumption further, though. 

Build quality and fit and finish proved to be the Commander’s Achilles heel. I was bothered by the the way the powertrain sometimes made a mechanical and audible jolt when I taped the gas pedal slightly at low rpm. Inside the cabin, cheap plastics abounded. On some of these plastic panels’ edges, you could see burrs resulting from cuts that weren’t made very cleanly.

Pleasant Surprises
While driving on a two-way highway at night, I discovered that the Commander automatically dims its headlights when sensors behind the rear view mirror detect an oncoming vehicle’s headlight beam. The headlights then revert to high beam after the oncoming vehicle has passed. To my mind, all vehicles should have this as standard to put an end to those high-beam jousting. 

Speaking of highway driving, the Commander’s relatively low ground clearance, wide stance, and low roof give it poise and confidence when cornering at high speeds. The suspension settings allow for a comfortable enough ride. 

If you’re the type who hates getting into a vehicle that has been frying under the sun, you could start the Commander with a button on the keyless entry remote so that the air con could cool the cabin’s temperature a bit before you hop in. 

As you would expect from a vehicle that retails for P 2.85 million, the list of standard safety and convenience features is long. Front and side airbags, power adjustable pedals, a six-speaker Boston Acoustics sound system, tire pressure monitor, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers…the list goes on.

If you are in the market for a true blue American SUV that puts off-roading prowess before looks and think nothing of perpetually rising fuel prices, then the Commander just might be for you.
Originally published in Manual magazine September 2008 issue.