Vacations mean many things to different people. Most people are excited to experience new places and meet new people or catch up with old people and old places. For my 12-year-old self, I wasn’t really concerned about either of those. For me, my vacation experience was directly proportional to my satisfaction with my family’s rental car. For our annual trip to Colorado, as much as I loved skiing, it could be ruined if we, heaven forbid, had a minivan for a rental. Luckily, we always rented 4x4s and a Suburban or Grand Cherokee or Durango was always our (read: my) preferred choice.
March of 2009. As a diehard Mopar fan, (owned a Liberty and Durango at this point, still have the Liberty!), I was interested in renting either a Durango (like ours at home) or Grand Cherokee or Commander. In my wildest dreams I knew that I’d die and go to Heaven if the rental was a Red Rock on tan interior Commander. Maybe a weird fantasy for a 12-year-old, but if you know Red Rock, it is a stunning red – most definitely the stuff of dreams! After arriving at the Denver airport, I could feel the hives of nervousness and excitement sprouting on my back. Judgement Day Rental Car Pickup Time had arrived. As we arrived at the Pearly Gates rental counter, I quickly surveyed the lot. They had mostly Jeeps for SUVs. Great. Splendid. Grand. Grand Cherokees. Already starting to feel a bit more relaxed, we approached the counter (with me wearing a long sleeve Jeep shirt) and they gave us a few spots to choose from. Little did I know what I was in for.
There she sat in her stunning Red Rock Metallic paint. I quickly grabbed any piece of luggage to throw in it to lay claim to it, since marking it with my pee would’ve been slightly illegal. Effective? Probably. Maybe next time. Anyway, we began our trek into the mountains with a vehicle me and my parents were ecstatic to have. They’ve been Jeep people for awhile and always loved Commanders. Just could never get the timing right for buying one. That is another story though. Anyway, we arrived at the condo and I mostly stayed out in the parking lot with it. Checking all its fluids, getting under it, reading the manual – it was my adopted baby. If I cared as much for people I’d probably have a lot more friends now.
Just look at that beauty. Commanders to this day, to me at least, are one of my top five favorite vehicles of all time. Looking back at these pictures reminds me of the sheer joy I experienced then – damn. As the trip went on, I just basked in the glory of it all. Even though I couldn’t drive it legally, I still got to drive around in the snow a bit on the back roads around the condo complex. Coming from Florida, snow was quite the novelty. Still is, even after moving to Wisconsin.
We also went to the local sledding hill. I wasn’t that interested in the sledding, but more the parking lot entrance, being a steep and snow-covered hill. No surprise the Jeep clamored to the top with nary a hiccup. I also learned that week about vehicle painting and laid down a beautiful coat of Brilliant Black paint on it. You know, just for fun. Our condo happened to have a paint booth with all the right tools to make it happen. It wasn’t much harder than checking out a movie from the main office. While one pair of underwear might be enough to last a week, it’d just be awful to go a week without repainting your rental. I will admit, one pair of underwear isn’t enough for a week (2 is usually ok) – and that isn’t the Commander we left the airport with!
One day, we set out to Leadville, CO – I’m not exactly sure why, but you could have offered to take me to the hospital for a lobotomy and I would’ve obliged since I’d be riding shotgun in the Commander. Just as we got into Leadville, my dad looks in the rear-view mirror and asks me if it snowed last night. I replied “No, why?” He said, “Well there’s something smoking or something back there.” We didn’t think much of it. About 30 seconds later, the dash was more lit up than a 70’s Eric Clapton and we coasted into a Shell Gas station. I flung the door open in shock and looked under it – we struck oil!!! We’re gonna be rich! Actually no, some engine part decided it would like to escape and decided to create a hole in the oil pan for its exit. The engine was making some awful sounds – my dad quickly moved it to the outskirts of their parking lot. We went inside and explained the situation and that we might be here awhile. We figured maybe a couple hours. The rental agency was contacted, and they said they have another Commander on the way. A couple hours turned to eight, as we got intimate with every aisle in that Shell station.
Finally, a tow truck driving angel named Eddy appeared on the horizon with a black Commander riding on the flatbed. Black on black. It’s not Red Rock on tan, but all indications were that its 5 quarts of 5W20 (should be 5W30, darn CAFE standards) were in the oil pan and not on the ground. We set off back to home base.
Upon walking around, I didn’t see a 4×4 badge. My heart sank. What the hell? I came from 2WD Jeep land and arrive to this? I crawled under it, and luckily the front differential was present and accounted for. (On a Quadra Trac I Jeep, it’s full time 4WD, no buttons or anything, so nothing inside to look at!)
Being very self-conscious, I improvised and rectified the situation. I had to redraw it a few times throughout the trip but left with my pride in check. The flame still burns for a Commander. I met two of my heros, one in Red Rock and one in Brilliant Black. That lucky Jeep shirt is still in service and providing good luck.
As a side note, I’m quite well versed in the Jeep 3.7 world (still have the aforementioned Liberty, now with 170k miles on it and I am an admin on a Jeep Liberty forum) and I have no idea what happened. 02 3.7s had valve seat issues but other than that, they really don’t have issues if they get routine oil changes and never get overheated. Being a rental, anything could have happened. I can’t recall how many miles it had, but given they were both 2008s and this was March of 2009, so they both had probably seen some beatings, sadly.
“About 30 seconds later, the dash was more lit up than a 70’s Eric Clapton”
My commute to work, then and now, takes me down “auto row” and I seem to remember these arrived for sale the very week in late 2007 that gas prices took their biggest single spike in years (with much more to come as it turned out).
The Commander was a flop, and I wonder if it would’ve been without that factor. Sometimes in the car business timing is everything.
I’m not a Jeep person unlike my brother in law who has had several, .but the first one I drove was (oddly enough) a rental at the Philadelphia Airport two years ago which I took my family to my Father’s funeral (he was buried in Northeast PA, and we live 1750 miles away).
Though a Jeep is not the first vehicle I’d have in mind to take to a funeral (well, at least it was black)…it turned out OK as there was a terrible snowstorm the day after and we were stranded for several days as the airport was snowed in and all flights were delayed…the motel we stayed at was at the top of a big hill (probably an old disposal site for the waste product when coal was extracted from the ground) and the road to it was a bit narrow and winding, so it was a treat to have the AWD instead of my normal FWD to drive with…also gave us some more confidence driving several hours back to Philadelphia after the snowstorm abetted a little.
Funny thing happened while we had the Jeep, we had stopped at a diner and were walking out to the Jeep afterwards and …I lost my mother….turns out she found another Jeep about the same as our rental (dark color) unlocked and proceeded to get into the back seat…she said something like “it seemed to be a bit taller and harder to get into” than our rental (my Mother at 4’11” is very petite and was suffering from back problems due to the understandable tension after losing her husband of almost 60 years).
The next month my Father’s youngest brother died, and we were back up (this time renting a dark Fusion, but with the “sporty” black alloy wheels, it didn’t look much like a vehicle you’d drive to a funeral either). We lost his middle brother in 6 more months, wiping out a whole generation of his family all in 2016 (rented a black Ford Explorer for that one..but didn’t need that kind of vehicle in August).
I haven’t rented any vehicle since then.
I’m glad you like the Commander. The CEO of FCA, Sergio Marchionne said this about it: “it’s not fit for human consumption”. Seriously.
Really Paul, Oddly enough my daughters aunt and uncle got a free rental upgrade in LA a few years ago to a Jeep, it was described to me as the worst vehicle either had ever driven, they are not car people and drive a Corolla 03 and a Sentra 98 in regular life without issue, Glad the poster enjoyed most of his Jeep time it seems not everyone does.
But was he really referring to the Commander? Or did he mean the Chrysler 200?
Yes. He inherited that wonderful device from Cerberus. The 200 was developed under his watch. It wasn’t a bad car, just not competitive in a brutal shrinking sedan market.
I seem to remember the Commander being pretty widely panned when it came out. And it was a dud on the market. They did it on the cheap and it really showed.
I think the 200 was a bad car, but there’s no need for us to quarrel over whether Pit Bull poop is yuckier than Golden Retriever poop.
One of the amazing things about the Commander is that despite having done it on the cynically-cheap, they still found ways to pull money out of it over its production life, making it even cheaper and nastier.
I think CR killed it w/ black dots – it was among the worst in their book and on their list of vehicles to avoid at all costs.
The Commander was really a bigger flop than the Chrysler Aspen and considered among the worst Jeeps every produced judging by the reviews.
“CR killed it w/black dots” for the win.
“Tell it to me straight, Doc; how do I look?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Commander, but you’ve got CR Pox. A much worse than average case, unfortunately.”
To Sergio’s credit he did actually climb all the way into the 3rd row of the Commander before declaring how terrible it was.
I guess that means we can expect the reborn “Grand Wagoneer” to have a decent 3rd row in terms of legroom.
Didn’t think about this, but you’re so right. It may pain auto enthusiasts to no end, but CR is consulted far more than all the car magazines regarding vehicle purchases. I like to read both, taking their biases into account when formulating an opinion. However, many tend to be wary of opinions from publications that take advertising money from manufacturers. All those CR black dots took their toll.
But yet it was literally a reskinned Grand Cherokee…alrighty then! We had an 09 Grand Cherokee…it was fine, not a high point though. I’d at least say it was “moderately fit for human consumption”.
In a way I’m sort of happy they don’t get real high praise…keeps prices low for when I want to build an armada of them. 🙂
The Commander was a sales flop and what few sales it did have probably came from potential Grand Cherokee customers. Never could figure out the market for these. Really wasn’t differentiated enough from the GC, which was a well known model with a long history. And, larger and more thirsty has its limits. Similar to the Ford Excursion, another bigger is better attempt that couldn’t move out of the shadow of the Expedition.
“02 3.7s had valve seat issues but other than that, they really don’t have issues if they get routine oil changes and never get overheated.”
Got that right! My sister had an ’02 Liberty with that engine and it dropped a valve while in the middle of nowhere rural Pennsylvania. The car was six or seven at the time and it would have cost more to fix/replace the engine than the car was worth.
Jeep Cherokee XJ and Grand Cherokee ZJ: Peak Jeep here in Europe. Especially the XJ, that thing was really everywhere in its days, both in urban and rural areas.
Later on the Commander was also sold here, through the official Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealerships we still had back then. Alongside the contemporary Wrangler, Cherokee (Liberty) and Grand Cherokee.
These were never thick on the ground, to put it mildly. I you ever came across one, it almost certainly had the 218 hp 3.0 V6 Benz diesel (marketed as the Jeep Commander 3.0 CRD).
After a van conversion, example below, you had a powerful alternative to a Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol or Mitsubishi Pajero, as the Commander had the same 3,500 kg tow rating.
I’ve never driven or even been inside of one, but I always thought they were looked like practical vehicles and attractively styled with the large, boxy, upright greenhouse.
One neat trick they did with this vehicle to make it even roomier was to have a stepped roof to allow for a taller roof in the back, with the step in the roof cleverly hidden by the roof rack. I didn’t even notice that detail until recently.
I’m kind of surprised they never sold that well. Probably just unfortunate timing on Jeep’s part to have introduced a vehicle like this right before gas prices shot up and the whole great recession.
I think it was confusing to the customer, since the Grand and these were so similar. No one really knew which one was more upmarket. I think Jeep should’ve tried doing it how Land Rover did the LR3/LR4 and the Range Rover Sport. Same vehicle underneath (literally identical, rolled over you couldn’t tell them apart!) but had two completely different missions.
If the Wagnoneer/Grand Wagoneer comes out, it seems like Jeep learned that you can’t have two “big” Jeeps in the same position, so the Wagoneer will be the more luxurious one. Can’t wait!
How to Become a Tribologist With Special Expertise in Internal Combustion Engine Lubrication Without All That Boring and Expensive Schooling:
1. Join an internet forum. Subject doesn’t matter, any forum will do.
2. Congratulations! Now your understanding of engine oil and knowledge of what oil is optimal far exceeds the combined expertise of all the engineers responsible for your vehicle’s existence.
3. Especially once you gain mod or admin privileges on the forum.
4. Any notion to the contrary is just a byproduct of obnoxious, stupid, pointless, completely unnecessary government regulations.
☝︎That☝︎probably comes across as more of a swat at the author of this post than I intended. The quoted remark reminded me of a couple years ago when it was coming time for my first oil change of a car I’d bought (used) In for first oil change. I took a look on BITOG and the various forums, laffed at flying fur and showers of sparks and rivers of molten lava (i.e., gigs of screen garbage) over what’s recommended for this engine in Japan and Europe (becuz obvs anything Japanese or European is superior to what’s done in stupid ol’ smelly ol’ North America), pages of conspiracy blather about how mean ol’ bad ol’ government regulations forced the maker to recommend this oil rather than that oil, sites full of ignorant perpetuation of ancient “wisdom” claiming that a higher-viscosity oil is always and necessarily better, etc.
Then I closed all the browser windows, picked out a readily-available reputable brand of the kind of oil specified for the engine in this car on this continent by the maker, and went bravely ahead and used it. Funnily enough, the engine hasn’t exploded.
It’s all good! The 5w20 vs 5w30 for the 3.7 is that originally they spec’d 5w30 and then in 08 spec’d 5w20 to improve MPG or cut costs. I just keep using 5w30 in my 05 3.7 and then switched the 09 to 5w30. Does it make a difference? Doubt it!
BITOG is a cool place. I can’t keep up…I take your approach. And actually a shocking amount of people there say buy on price if it meets basic specs!
Toyota did a similar thing in 2012-suddenly, every car “required” 0W20 for “optimal fuel economy.” Then, in about 2015, they added that 5W20 “may be used” if 0W20 is not available, but that 0W20 was to be used at the next oil change “if not used at previous oil change,” as if it was needed to was the nasty 5W20 from the oil passages. Keep in mind, Toyota had specced 5W20 since the early 2000s in the same engines.
Now, they just recommend 0W20 for fuel economy, but state that 5W20 may be used, without any of the dire predictions of before. But, they have added that 0W20 should be used in every engine, going back into the 5W20 years, again, for “optimal fuel economy.” The only thing good about 0W20 is that it happens to be too expensive to make in conventional grade-all 0Wxx oils are at least semi-syn. It is so light when cold that many manufacturers – especially the Germans, Subaru, and Toyota – have found that some portion of the capacity burns between changes at an alarming rate (the old GM Northstar baseline of 1 quart of burn every 1000 miles is in spec has been rolled out across many other car manufacturers).
Here’s an example number 3. Numbers 1 and 2 being RJV and KalapanaBlack.
Funny that a 4th generation Ford Taurus when it debuted in 2000 specified 5w-30 oil for the Vulcan and magically a year later (as I’ve had 2001 model, purchased used) the same engine all of the sudden required 5w-20.And a few years later after highway driving, when sitting at the traffic lights at the exit rump, many people (including myself) had a flickering oil pressure light that was cured by running a 5w-30 oil.
Some people just think that they’re smarter than anyone else who has a different point of view.
Several years ago I rented one for a trip from Knoxville to Tampa & Really liked it
I had owned 2 XJ Cherokees & always wanted a bit more Size & Comfort
The Commander fits that Bill Exactly
Currently my Daily Driver is an 06 4.7 4×4 Base Model Commander
The Only thing I Don’t like about it is the Abysmal gas mileage
I would get another without hesitation
Ah, the Commander. Hertz and Avis had scads of these things with the horribly underpowered 3.7 when I was in rental cars. I thought they were handsome cars, with some neat touches (the interiors were nasty cheap, but the gauges looked very nice), but the things I remember most are that the 3.7 simply was too little engine, you could almost watch the fuel gauge move (the 4.7 was more sprightly but just as thirsty), and the rear ends were utterly buoyant, even empty. The idea of a three row Grand Cherokee with styling that retroactively linked with the old Cherokee (and somewhat aped the LR4) probably seemed like a total slam dunk no brainer in 2005. But, alas, these just didn’t sell well, lived a short life, and are mostly hoopties today.
Also loved that myGig infotainment. People who rented would load songs on and then leave them, and I was exposed to some pretty good random songs/artists thanks to filled up myGigs in Chrysler products in that 4-5 year period before uConnect.
I always thought that if Jeep really felt they’d made a whole-hearted effort with this one, they would’ve called it a Grand Wagoneer.
Anyway, given that this was basically a rush job to graft a third row onto a WK Grand Cherokee, a lot of the WK Grand Cherokee’s strong points remained intact. And there were many: that ute was a solid handler, with good steering, a nice ride, and a near- perfect driving position if you really prefer a car (I do).
But a lot was lost in translation. The third row was tight enough to be useless for adults (even in my twenties, I couldn’t fold myself in back there). And if you had the audacity to deploy the third-row headrests, visibility out the back window was nil. But it was taller and heavier, so it didn’t drive as well – the worst of both worlds. It makes one wonder, what was the point?
There were two primary reasons for the Commander: it was supposed to appeal to the same demographic as the Hummer (which was popular during the conception of the Commander) and to jam a half-assed 3rd row seat into a Jeep product.
It didn’t work. Even if it weren’t for Hurricane Katrina running up fuel prices at the precise moment the Commander began hitting dealer lots, it’s still unlikely many more would have gotten sold. As mentioned, the 3.7L V6 was a slug and the fuel mileage was barely better than the 4.7L V8. It wasn’t long before there was big money on the hoods, and they still wouldn’t sell, even at thousands under invoice. In fact, depending on how much Chrysler lost on the whole Commander project during its short, forgettable run, it might even be up for Deadly Sin status.
Chrysler started going SUV crazy around then. The Commander I’ll give a break, as I don’t think there was anything glaring wrong with the vehicle (obviously I’d think that!), but rather just bad timing and competed too much with the Grand.
But some real Chrysler SUV gems:
Dodge Nitro: Take a Liberty and take away it’s biggest advantage (off road abilities) and then make it heavier. Boom, Dodge Nitro. They even delayed the KK Liberty to release it. KK was supposed to come out for 07 to replace the KJ but they decided to release the Nitro first (according to a Jeep insider back then).
Chrysler Aspen: more aptly a Durango Brougham. I don’t think people ran out of their Escalades and Yukon Denalis for that one.
The first time I saw (or noticed) a Jeep Commander was in Zion National Park, there was one parked in a lot that had been modded. Big tires, big roof rack, big snorkel.
During the whole Southwest trip I was on a Jeep kick (who wouldn’t be – we went to Moab!) and I thought “Whoa, is that a NEW Cherokee? Did they start making them again and I didn’t notice?”
Back at the Condo in St George I looked it up, found out what it actually was and felt suitably let down…
I really wanted to like the Commander. Jeep styling and utility with 3 rows should have been a winner. But Chrysler in the late Daimler/early Cerberus era was a complete mess. The vehicle could have survived crap powertrains, crap quality, crap interiors or crap packaging (like a virtually unusable 3rd row) but not all of them at once.
Indeed, the execution of the Commander seemed to be taking a page out of the GM hubris playbook, i.e., the schlubs will buy anything that has a Jeep badge attached to it (and pay big money for it, too).
Besides Hummer, I’m sure Chrysler was aiming at the ultra-premium, off-road oriented SUV market where vehicles with loads of old-school caché like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Range Rover reside. It quickly became all-too-obvious that the Commander was anything but the sort of ‘ultra-premium’ that would appeal to the well-to-do, dignified country gentry to whom those types of vehicles appealed. Even when they severely cut prices to try and unload the heaps, it was a non-starter.
They wanted it to compete with the LR3. The biggest issue that so many of them became rental fodder. If they wanted it to compete with the LR3, it should’ve been V8 only and make it Limited and Overland trim lines only.
Dynamically, it was competitive. We had an 09 WK for a bit and have owned an LR3 since 2010 (actually bought the LR3 since we couldn’t find a 4×4 Commander!) The WK was a bit quieter and rode very closely to the air suspension ride. Handling, the WK felt more “car like” and the LR3 is more truck like. The LR3 has a commanding seating position, the WK felt less special in that way.
The WK didn’t quite have the bank vault door closing as the LR3 does but interior fit and finish was a draw. LR3 has nicer leather, but the WK didn’t have a cracking dash or a headliner starting to sag. They could duke it out all day on interior quality or lack thereof. The WK had a few options the LR3 doesn’t have (heated seats, adjustable peddles, build in power inverter)
If Jeep would’ve made the Commander Limited/Overland V8 4WD only, there is no doubt that’s what we would’ve bought.
That’s a great point; there was no downmarket, 2WD version of the LR3. When you saw Commanders taking root on dealer lots, the majority were invariably 2WD with the 3.7L. The fact that you couldn’t find a top-tier 4×4 Commander when looking for one speaks volumes. On top of everyhing else, Chrysler really bungled the Commander’s marketing, and the unfortunate timing was the final nail.
The other vehicle I’m sure Chrysler management was hoping the Commander would be cross-shopped against was the Mercedes Gelandewagen. The styling of the Commander really seems to come closest to the Benz.
I think the new JL Wrangler Unlimiteds look like a G wagon, especially in Sahara guise with a body colored top. The new JL’s greenhouse is a direct copy almost. I don’t think Jeep saw that when the 4 door came out a decade ago but have since caught on and made the Sahara America’s G wagon. Definitely a smart strategy. I’m not personally a 4 door Wrangler fan but I see the appeal for sure. If I had one I’d probably die of frostbite after endlessly wandering the parking lot at the local ski hill looking for it in the vast sea of them.
As much of a failure was the Commander, the JK Unlimited (released a year later) has been a success. I have little doubt that the latest JL Unlimited will continue that success. If the Commander hadn’t gotten to such a rocky start, I can see the likelihood of the Unlimited ultimately killing it off, anyway.
As pointed out, the idea of the Commander wasn’t particularly bad, but the execution and unfortunate timing left a lot to be desired. Someone called it a mess, and that seems an apt description. And to this day, FCA has been toying with the idea of a new, premium Jeep model above the Grand Cherokee (many purists like the idea of a retro Wagoneer in the tradition of the original 1963 Willys version and later, upmarket AMC Wagoneer Limited) but I’m certain the Commander debacle remains fresh in their minds.
I’ve read the MSRP will start in the mid 60s, so at least there won’t be any confusion as to which is the fanciest Jeep. I think that will help immensely. Plus it seems like the new Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer will be Tahoe/Suburban sized. Based on the Ram if that’s the case. Probably will be pretty neat!
The big, high-end SUV market seems to be hot right now. I think there’s going to be a pricey version of the Navigator out soon (if not already) and, IIRC, it’s going to be priced not that far south of $100k. If true, that new, big, bad ‘ultimate’ Jeep might be a bargain at 60 large. Of course, upper-tier options may be able to get the actual selling price near the Lincoln, too.
Every time I see one of these I think back to 2007 before I was supposed to close on my very first house. We had to postpone the closing due to my realtor calling saying that his Jeep Commander wouldn’t start and was being flatbeded to the dealership. Needless to say I haven’t thought highly of Commanders since then.
Boy, am I glad I didn’t read all this before buying our ’07 Commander Limited a couple of years ago. Needed something to pull my wife’s inherited pontoon boat & equipped with the Hemi & factory tow package, our Commander seemed like a good fit. Surprisingly, compared to most of what this post describes, we kind of like it. I do agree that it does not like to go past a gas station without stopping, though.