2008 Jeep Commander Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 1, 2008

The 2008 Jeep Commander is good Jeep (a trail-capable vehicle), but it's not a great people mover.

TheCarConnection.com's off-road experts and SUV experts researched the 2008 Jeep Commander to bring you this conclusive review. TheCarConnection.com's editors also drove the Jeep Commander, including a well-equipped HEMI-powered Overland model, to bring you firsthand knowledge about this SUV where it helps you make a better purchasing decision.

The 2008 Jeep Commander may have seemed like a good idea when the leadership at DaimlerChrysler approved the new SUV somewhere around 2002 or 2003. The group that signed off on the Jeep Commander must have thought it would be good for Jeep to have a vehicle that could advertise seating for seven. But when Jeep introduced the Jeep Commander in late 2005 as a 2006 model, SUV buyers didn't seem to care one bit.

Perhaps the market really wanted a minivan with SUV styling or a large crossover, as the Jeep Commander hasn't sold very well. Currently, it is the least popular Jeep model, trailing even the relatively unloved Jeep Compass by 25 percent.

While sales might not be on fire, the 2008 Jeep Commander is considered by several editors from TheCarConnection.com to be a handsome SUV. It certainly looks big and strong, two fundamental cues sought out by SUV shoppers. It also has an instantly recognizable Jeep face--unless you mistake it for a HUMMER, which also sports a seven-slot grille.

Review continues below

Inside, the Jeep Commander's styling is straightforward. Round gauges are nestled into a squared-off dash that brings the angularity of the exterior inside. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, but the rear seats are cramped in terms of legroom. The optional third-row seat suffers a similar lack of legroom made worse by having precious little headroom. Younger kids will find it comfortable, provided they haven't hit their grown spurt. If anybody is sitting in the way back, get used to your exterior mirrors, as rearward visibility is virtually nil.

Performance for the 2008 Jeep Commander is completely dependent on your engine choice. The base 3.7-liter V-6 (also used in the Liberty) produces just 210 horsepower. That's not enough for this big Jeep even with its standard five-speed automatic. The larger 4.7-liter V-8 with 305 horsepower is much better, but the king HEMI that displaces 5.7 liters produces the best acceleration with its 330 horsepower. Three four-wheel-drive systems are available, including part- and full-time units. If you're up for off-road adventures, a range of powertrain and underbody/chassis components can make the Commander nearly unstoppable on trails.

One could make an argument to go with smaller engines because of their vastly better fuel economy, but the truth is that the 2008 Jeep Commander gets lousy mileage regardless of which engine you choose. The range is 13 mpg city/17 mpg highway for the HEMI and just 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway for the 3.7-liter V-6. Trust TheCarConnection.com when we tell you to go with the larger engines.

Safety features are plentiful, and they include anti-lock brakes, stability control, and side curtain airbags. These features add peace of mind to the Jeep's excellent performance in frontal crash tests: five stars in government trials. The Commander, though, has a three-star rollover rating and hasn't been tested for side impacts by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Options include a DVD video system, Boston Acoustics stereo, dual "Command View" skylights over the second row of seats, plus a MyGIG hard drive media system, Sirius Backseat TV, and a rearview camera (standard on Overland and Limited models).

However, some of these competitors offer varying degrees of extra room and/or comfort for rear-seat passengers. The Ford Explorer is one of the roomiest in the class, with ample space even way in back. The Nissan Pathfinder's second row is comfortable, but its third row is similar to the Commander's. The new Honda Pilot offers seating for eight, outdoing the Commander by one.

The Commander crushes the Toyota 4Runner in available power (330 max horsepower compared to 260), and they both suffer from the same rear-seat smallness.

8

2008 Jeep Commander

Styling

The 2008 Jeep Commander evokes the best of the brand’s classic design cues, inside and out.

The 2008 Jeep Commander is Jeep's largest, most luxurious SUV, and it sports new configurations for the 2008 model year, ranging from the base Sport model to the loaded Overland, with the Limited filling the gap between the two.

While sales might not be on fire, the 2008 Jeep Commander is considered by several editors from TheCarConnection.com to be a handsome SUV. It certainly looks big and strong, two fundamental cues sought out by SUV shoppers. It also has an instantly recognizable Jeep face--unless you mistake it for a HUMMER, which also sports a seven-slot grille.

Jeep lovers have long lamented the loss of the original Cherokee, but the Jeep Commander "bears a striking resemblance to the former's beloved and boxy design," says Kelley Blue Book. Cars.com writes, "The Commander's shape made it instantly recognizable as a Jeep when it arrived in early 2005, and it remains fresh today," citing its "slab-sided body and boxlike hood." Car and Driver also praises what it calls "classic Jeep styling," and Edmunds deems "classic good looks." In many ways, the Jeep Commander, 2008 edition, does look like a larger version of the old Cherokee. With its squared-off styling and tall stance, it maintains Jeep's rugged, simple design aesthetic.

Inside, the Jeep Commander's styling is straightforward. Round gauges are nestled into a squared-off dash that brings the angularity of the exterior inside. ConsumerGuide reports that the "Sport's cabin is more rugged than rich, appropriate for a vehicle with off-road pretensions," adding that the Limited's "extra trim and leather upholstery creates a more upscale ambiance." Edmunds echoes this sentiment, saying of the Jeep Commander, "An upscale two-tone decor makes for an attractive interior." Kelley Blue Book agrees in this department, describing the Jeep Commander, 2008 model as offering "far better interior accommodations" than the old Cherokee. Cars.com focuses on the more rugged elements inside the Jeep Commander, noting that the "dashboard's upper sections have exposed Allen-head screws, there's no shortage of A/C vents, and most surfaces are hard to the touch."

7

2008 Jeep Commander

Performance

While the 2008 Jeep Commander mostly distinguishes itself from the competition off-road, it is also competent as a suburban daily driver.

The 2008 Jeep Commander offers different engine options as well as other drivetrain options that control which wheels transfer power to the ground. TheCarConnection.com finds its on-road performance to be decent, but off-road is where it really shines.

For Jeep, 2008 sees three different engines offered in the Jeep Commander. The smallest of the three is a 3.7-liter V-6, which produces 210 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. A step up from that is a 4.7-liter V-8, which makes 305 horsepower at 5,650 rpm. Also offered is Chrysler's popular 5.7-liter HEMI V-8, which cranks out 330 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. All engine specs come courtesy of Kelley Blue Book.

Opinions of the V-6 are mixed; Edmunds writes, "The base Jeep Commander Sport gets its pep from a standard 3.7-liter V-6; while this engine is a decent source of motivation in smaller Jeeps, it's barely adequate in the 4,800-pound Commander." ConsumerGuide takes a more positive view, reporting, "Helped by an alert automatic transmission, the V6 has surprising spirit, with adequate power off the line and around town," but also acknowledging that it "labors in highway passing and merging." The Jeep Commander, 2008 edition, is available with a significantly improved version of last year's 4.7-liter V-8, which boasts 70 more horsepower than its predecessor, according to Edmunds, who describe it as "accelerating easily to highway speeds, with smooth, linear power and a burly exhaust sound well into the upper revs." However, ConsumerGuide calls this powerplant "notably less refined than the V-6 or 5.7-liter V-8." The Jeep Commander can also be had with the aforementioned 5.7-liter HEMI V-8, which adds 25 horsepower and 41 pound-feet of torque.

ConsumerGuide notes that all engines "team with a 5-speed automatic transmission." Cars.com writes, "It shifts quite early in most situations, and around town there's a discernable lag as it moves from gear to gear," but finds its highway behavior "much more agreeable, with hassle-free kickdown for easy passing." ConsumerGuide lists the Commander as being able to tow 7,400 pounds.

Three four-wheel-drive systems are available, including part- and full-time units. If you're up for off-road adventures, a range of powertrain and underbody/chassis components can make the Commander nearly unstoppable on trails. Pointing to its real strong point, Edmunds writes, "Although not quite as capable off-road as the smaller Jeeps, among SUVs in its size class the Commander is a superb trail-buster, able to tackle rock-strewn paths and steep mountain tracks without breaking a sweat." Cars.com states, "Three four-wheel-drive systems are available, and all three earn Jeep's 'Trail Rated' designation." ConsumerGuide notes "a low-range gear for off-roading is standard on Limited and Overland, optional on Sport."

The EPA lists city/highway fuel economy for the V-6 at 14/18 mpg, the 4.7-liter V-8 at 13/18 mpg, and the 5.7-liter HEMI at 13/17 mpg. Cars.com notes that the HEMI loses only 1 mpg to the smaller V-8 due to its ability to run on just four cylinders when not under heavy load. And ConsumerGuide points out that the 4.7-liter V-8 can also take E85 ethanol fuel.

The 2008 Jeep Commander "has good straightline stability, but its tall build results in body lean that prompts lots of slowing down for tight turns," according to ConsumerGuide. Cars.com reports, "Prolonged curves induce plenty of body roll, and the SUV feels especially top-heavy if it's loaded with people and cargo." Cars.com describes the brakes as having "linear response, but never feeling particularly strong," while Kelley Blue Book argues that they're "strong and fade-free," and judges the steering "nicely weighted and fairly precise," adding that "the on-road ride is surprisingly quiet and smooth."

7

2008 Jeep Commander

Comfort & Quality

Its first two rows of seating are quite comfortable, but the 2008 Jeep Commander’s third row is strictly for kids.

For Jeep, 2008 finds the marque producing a much larger and more luxurious SUV than the old Cherokee ever was. But the 2008 Jeep Commander never really lets its driver forget that it's still a Jeep, not an Escalade.

Of the Jeep Commander's front seats, ConsumerGuide writes that there's "ample headroom, legroom, and shoulder space for even large adults, but flat seat bottoms lack support for longer trips"; however, Edmunds calls the front seats "comfortable" and Cars.com deems them "well-cushioned and durable," adding that "the standard eight-way power driver's seat has lots of travel."

Regarding the second row, ConsumerGuide says, "Headroom is adequate, but legroom is very tight...three-abreast travel is best left to brief rides"; and of the third row, "The cramped 3rd row suits only grade-schoolers, and is overly complicated to access." The third row has just 28.9 inches of legroom and 35.7 inches of headroom, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Storage space is a strong suit of the Commander, but only when the third-row seat is lowered. ConsumerGuide writes, "Generous space is made more useful by a wide, flat floor and large hatch opening," but notes that, with the third row bench in the "up" position, "available cargo space shrinks to negligible." Inside the Jeep Commander, "A pocketed shelf sits above the glove compartment, and there are several nooks around the gearshift to stash cell phones or parking stubs," Cars.com reports, but adds, "There's just 7.5 cubic feet of luggage space behind the [rear] seats, which is less than half what you'll get in a Nissan Pathfinder."

The 2008 Jeep Commander boasts significant improvements over the luxury level of the old Cherokee, but opinions are mixed. Cars.com writes, "The silver plastic surrounding the center controls and window switches is respectable in quality." But Edmunds calls the interior materials "lackluster" and cites "too much hard plastic for an SUV in this price range." Kelley Blue Book is impressed with the Jeep Commander's leather and woodgrain-trimmed interior as found in the Limited version. ConsumerGuide describes the Jeep Commander, 2008 model as being "among the quietest traditional truck-type SUVs." Cars.com adds, "Road and wind noise stay in check on the highway, but the Commander's poor aerodynamics mean crosswinds can catch drivers off-guard."

8

2008 Jeep Commander

Safety

The 2008 Jeep Commander gets good crash-test scores, but you’ll need the rearview camera to overcome visibility issues.

The 2008 Jeep Commander performs well in crash tests, but rollover resistance is lower.

In tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Commander received the best rating of five stars for frontal impact crash tests; it has not been tested by the NHTSA for side impact resistance. However, it scored three stars in the NHTSA's rollover test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not tested the vehicle.

Every Jeep Commander comes with side curtain airbags for all three rows, with tip sensors so that they'll deploy during a rollover, reports Cars.com. Every Jeep Commander also includes an electronic stability system, traction control, and four-wheel-disc anti-lock brakes. Cars.com writes that the "stability system uses Chrysler's Electronic Roll Mitigation, which attempts to intuit an imminent rollover and trigger preventative braking measures." Kelley Blue Book notes that child door locks and engine immobilizer are also standard on the 2008 Jeep Commander.

Rear visibility is an issue with the Commander. ConsumerGuide states, "Thick roof pillars and theater-style seating combine to block rear visibility almost entirely," and Cars.com adds that when the headrest-equipped third-row bench is upright, "visibility out the rear window all but disappears." A rearview camera is available on the Commander.

10

2008 Jeep Commander

Features

The 2008 Jeep Commander’s exceptional list of options means most families will be able to outfit theirs perfectly.

The 2008 Jeep Commander comes with a bevy of standard features both inside and out, with more included on each ascending trim level. And the optional equipment includes even more gadgetry.

The Jeep Commander, 2008 edition, comes in Sport, Limited, and Overland trim levels, with rear- or all-wheel drive available on each. A two-wheel-drive Jeep Commander Sport starts at $27,415, and comes with the V-6 engine, a power driver's seat, 17-inch wheels, and ultrasonic rear parking sensors. The Limited starts at $36,305 and includes the 4.7-liter V-8, a power passenger seat, and heated leather seats. Finally, the Overland model costs $39,485 and comes with the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8, a backup camera, and a navigation system, according to Cars.com.

Every Jeep Commander is outfitted with power windows and door locks, a power driver seat, air conditioning, and a CD player. Edmunds reports that moving up to the Limited adds "automatic dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable pedals, rain-sensing automatic wipers, satellite radio and a power sunroof with twin skylights for those ensconced in the second row," also noting that the Overland is similarly equipped but features special interior and exterior trim.

Parents buying a Jeep Commander, 2008 model "will appreciate a few new kid-friendly options this year. Among them are Sirius Satellite TV, which debuted in Chrysler's redesigned minivans not long ago; it streams mobile content from Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel and Cartoon Network to the Commander's rear flip-down screen," reports Cars.com, adding, "Chrysler's MyGIG infotainment system incorporates a hard drive that can store some 1,600 songs -- enough that you can leave your iPod at home. A navigation system can be coupled with it, and the system includes real-time traffic monitoring, provided you subscribe to Sirius Satellite Radio, which streams the data in."

Other 2008 Jeep Commander options listed by Kelley Blue Book include chrome wheels, an engine block heater, power rear liftgate, and UConnect hands-free communication.

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