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Click to view picture galleryWith its go anywhere,
  do anything capability,
  the Jeep Commander
  ‘monsters’ the 4x4

UK SALES OF 4x4s and SUVs
fell in the UK last year after
ten years of growth. Some
of this can be attributed
to high running costs, fears
of further punitive taxes, congestion charging, the
anti-4x4 lobby and a general decrease in the country
's new car sales.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders put the 6.2 per cent decline in 4x4 sales mainly down to the fact that many manufacturers of the most popular ranges changed their models in 2006 and the
run-down and run-up of old and new vehicles caused this blip in sales. Despite this two of the major 'players' in the 4x4 market claimed increased sales — Jeep up by 22.6 per cent overall; Range Rover Sport up by 52 per cent and Range Rover up by 12.5 per cent.

Some families in urban areas will have adopted a more socially accept-able form of family transport and this is supported by the increase
in multi-purpose vehicle sales, which increased by 7.4 per cent. The 'Yummy Mummies' on the school run in urban areas perhaps now feel more comfortable being seen driving a fashionable MPV rather than
an anti-social — as they are seen by some — 4x4.

The 13 per cent increase in luxury car sales would suggest that high profile business executives have perhaps decided to move away from big top-of-the-range 4x4s to something a little more acceptable.

Still the rise and fall of 4x4 sales has not, and will not, stop manufact-urers tempting buyers with small, medium and large off-roaders and also 'softer' crossover SUVs. The 2007 diary is pretty busy with dates for new model launches in these categories.

In practical terms, the big 4x4s are much more at home in the country — farming communities, in particular, want and genuinely need such vehicles.

They do not come much larger or more imposing than the relatively new Jeep Commander, a real monster of a 4x4 that lives up to its name — literally, it commands attention. It is Jeep's first model to offer three rows of seating for up to seven passengers as standard. The in-your-face styling with glitzy chrome detailing may not be to everybody's choice, but size alone gives this vehicle huge on road — as well as off-road — presence. In typical Jeep fashion, this vehicle has a very high level of equipment fitted as standard. And it is a hugely impressive performer off-road.

If you think the American styling an acquired taste, you'll also find its on-road handling equally daunting. It is a big barge of a vehicle and handles in the same manner, even though it has electronic stability control fitted as standard. As for parking in town streets, don't bother with bays. Look for a small car park — you'll need the space. Although the overall length of the vehicle is the same as the Grand Cherokee,
it looks and feels much larger. The overall length is a significant 4,750mm, width a daunting 2,149mm and height a garage-prohibiting 1,740mm. On the positive side, it can tow 3,360kg with ease.

Again in true Jeep tradition, you get a lot of vehicle for your money. Although launched last year with a HEMI V8 petrol and a 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine, the V8 engine has now been dropped from the range as customers who drive big 4x4s only want diesel models. This large executive 4x4 costs from 27,490 up to 31,490. All versions have a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual tiptronic mode. In addition, there is a permanent variable torque split four-wheel drive system, Quadra-Drive high and low ratio transfer gearbox and electronic limited slip differentials front and rear.

Basically the drive is delivered to which wheels, or wheel, have the most grip. There are two levels or specification: Predator and Limited. Predator is well specified but Limited, which 80 per cent of customers opt for, has even more 'goodies'. These include extra brightwork trim inside and out, rain sensitive wipers, leather trimmed seats, an uprated speaker system, additional rear air conditioning with heater, heated seats, much-needed front and rear park assist and tyre pressure monitoring. Other standard equipment includes cruise control, dual-zone air conditioning, electric windows (one-touch driver and passen-ger), leather wrapped tilt-adjustable steering wheel, driver's memory package for seat and mirror settings, power adjustable seats —
8-way driver and 4-way passenger — auto-dimming rear view mirror, trip computer with compass, steering wheel mounted audio controls, 17-inch alloys and roof rails.

Safety is well covered, too, with ABS, Brake Assist, an Electronic Stability Programme and Electronic Roll Mitigation. In addition there
are multi-stage front airbags and full-length side curtain airbags
for all three rows.

The most popular and sensible model is the Jeep Commander Limited. Powered by the Mercedes-sourced 3.0-litre, V6 CRD direct injection high-pressure turbodiesel engine and priced at 31,490, it is good value when you compare it to a Range Rover diesel at 54,000 or the new BMW X5 that goes on sale in April. The current top diesel X5 model sells at over 37,000 plus the cost of extras, so the new model will be considerably more.

Over 90 per cent of customers buying big 4x4s specify a diesel engine because it makes for better overall driving performance and signific-antly better fuel economy. The diesel engine produces 212bhp and
a massive 376lb ft of torque from 1,600 to 4,000rpm. Top speed is 118mph with a 0-62mph time of 9.0 seconds. The combined cycle average fuel economy is quoted at 26.2mpg and I can't argue about that because my test vehicle returned just about 26mpg. Touring
and urban figures are, respectively, 30.7 and 20.9mpg.

I drove this model on its media launch last year in the wilds of Scot-land, both on and off road. Off-road it was fantastic. I'm not just talking about covering gravel roads and muddy tracks; I'm talking serious rock faces, fording deep rivers, up and down very steep hills. Despite its size, driving the Commander off road is easy and worry-free. It is neat and nimble and, above all, predictable. It is certainly one of the best, if not the best off-road. In fact, 4x4 magazine recently voted the Jeep Commander the winner of its coveted '4x4 Of The Year Award' 2007. Putting its off-road abilities clearly in perspective is that second place went to the Range Rover.

On the road it is a different issue. It floats and rolls along with side-
to-side roll and front-to-rear pitch. On fast undulating roads it can wallow quite significantly and over poor surfaces at lower speeds the ride is jittery. You are very aware that you are driving a high, wide vehicle and it requires concentration. It is nowhere near as sharp for on-road performance as most of the European 4x4s — which is a shame because in most other respects it is excellent.

Also worthy of mention is the vast interior that again has both good and bad features. The facia is very dated because it is very high level with flat surfaces. Instrumentation, controls and so forth are compre-hensive and generally come to hand well. The three rows of seats are 'theatre' style with each row slightly higher than the row in front. The spilt/folding facility for each row (2nd row seats split 40/20/40 and 3rd row seats split 50/50) allows good seating and load carrying combin-ations. The second and third rows can be folded completely flat to
give a huge load carrying area with cargo capacity ranging from 212
to 1,940 litres. Passenger room in the rear row of seats is limited, with difficult access via the rear side doors.

So there you have it. The Jeep Commander — big, brash, really well equipped and great off-road but with limitations for on-road handling. As with everything people drive, style acceptability will be a matter
of personal taste. For some it will be too glitzy. Others may not take
to its on-road handling or be put off by the tight space for third row passengers. Customers writing out cheques will, on the other hand, value its huge road presence, very high equipment levels, very competitive in-class pricing, good engine/transmission and its tough and excellent off-road capabilities. — David Miles

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Jeep Commander 3.0 CRD Limited | 31,490
Maximum speed: 118mph | 0-62mph: 9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 26mpg | Power: 212bhp | Torque: 376lb ft

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