Full 2008 Jeep Commander Review
What's New for 2008
Engine and feature upgrades are in store for the 2008 Jeep Commander. The 4.7-liter V8 is considerably more powerful this year as well as being slightly more fuel efficient. Off-road technology and versatility are bolstered with the Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist electronic driving aids as part of the Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system. Inside, the Commander has five-passenger seating available for the first time. To entertain the troops, this year's Commander can now be had with the hard-drive-based "MyGIG" infotainment system and Sirius Backseat TV.
Jeep's big people mover is back for its third year of production. It's the only seven-passenger SUV in Jeep's lineup, and it carries the burden of providing rugged off-road abilities with luxury and convenience features for the whole family.
Though its blocky exterior styling is obviously influenced by the beloved Cherokee of the 1980s and '90s, the Commander is actually related to the current Grand Cherokee. It rides on the same wheelbase but is a little longer and notably taller. The height gain, in particular, allows the addition of stadium-style rear seating and a 50/50-split fold-flat third-row seat.
For 2008, the Jeep Commander receives a few significant changes. Under the hood you'll find a revised version of the optional 4.7-liter V8 engine. It now makes 305 horsepower, a whopping 70-hp increase over last year's 4.7-liter V8. Jeep even says that the new engine is slightly more fuel efficient (although gas mileage is still pretty abysmal). The base V6 and top-shelf 5.7-liter V8 remain, but we think that the vast majority of buyers will be quite satisfied with the new 4.7-liter V8.
Inside, the tranquil and straightforward design benefits from new technology updates. Chrysler's increasingly common MyGIG entertainment system, a hard-drive-based navigation system that can also store and play digital music files, has replaced the old DVD-based navigation system. There's also Sirius Backseat TV, which provides three channels of kid-friendly entertainment for the optional rear-seat entertainment system. Sadly, there's no NFL Network for Dad.
While these changes are welcome, the 2008 Jeep Commander still suffers from problems it had from the outset. Most significantly, its cargo capacity is meager for this segment of vehicle and the third-row seat -- the whole reason for the Commander in the first place -- is cramped and suitable for small children only. Meanwhile, the tall height and rugged suspension don't do the vehicle any favors in terms of on-road manners. Though still a decent choice for a shopper wanting real off-road ability plus seven-passenger capacity, we think most shoppers will be better off with more well-rounded midsize SUV choices like the Ford Explorer and Toyota 4Runner. And if seven-passenger capacity is a priority, crossovers like GMC's Acadia or Mazda's CX-9 are also excellent choices.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Jeep Commander is a midsize SUV. The three basic trim levels are Sport, Limited and Overland. The entry-level Sport can now be had in five- or seven-passenger configurations. They both come standard with 17-inch wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a rear park assist system, heated side mirrors and a CD player.
Stepping up to the Commander Limited gets you seven-passenger capacity, a rear back-up camera, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors, power-adjustable pedals, power front seats with driver memory settings, heated front seats, leather upholstery and dual-zone automatic climate control. Separate rear air-conditioning and heating for the rear seats, a sunroof with second-row skylights and an upgraded audio system with a hard drive, iPod connection and satellite radio are also standard. Almost all of these features are optional on the Sport through optional packages.
Topping the Commander range is the Overland trim with 18-inch wheels, a power liftgate, wood interior trim, two-tone seats, Bluetooth and the MyGIG navigation and music system. A rear-seat entertainment system is optional on all trims, and Sirius Backseat TV is offered on the Limited and Overland.
Powertrains and Performance
The Sport comes equipped with a 3.7-liter V6 that delivers 210 hp and 235 pound-feet of torque. This year's revised 4.7-liter V8 delivers 305 hp and 334 lb-ft of torque. It's standard on the Limited and optional on the Sport model. Optional on the Limited and standard on the Overland is a 5.7-liter V8 rated at 330 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque. All engines are connected to a five-speed automatic transmission.
In terms of drivetrain, each trim level is offered as rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. Sport models have the basic Quadra Trac 4WD system and can be upgraded to the electronically shifting Quadra Trac II 4WD system. The Limited has the latter as standard. Optional on the Sport and Limited and standard on the Overland is the more advanced Quadra Drive II 4WD system.
No matter what Commander you choose, fuel economy will be disappointing. A 4WD Commander with the V6 has a 2008 EPA estimate of 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. The mainstream 4.7-liter V8 has a 13/18-mpg rating while the big 5.7-liter, thanks to cylinder-deactivation technology, has a 13/17-mpg rating. Properly equipped, the Commander can tow 7,400 pounds.
All Commanders come standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control with rollover mitigation, and full-length side curtain airbags. In government crash tests, the 2008 Jeep Commander earned a top-five star rating for its protection of front occupants in head-on collisions. A trailer-sway-damping feature comes as part of the towing package.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Commander's interior exhibits clean, functional instrumentation and controls that are right in line with Jeep's user-friendly interior designs. However, the MyGIG navigation system's touchscreen controls are poorly executed, and unless you really want a factory-installed nav system, we'd stick with the standard hard-drive audio system.
The front seats are superbly comfortable and the second-row theater seats provide a good view of the road. Unfortunately, the just average second-row room and miserly third-row legroom make accommodations cramped for larger occupants. Cargo space behind the third-row seat is only 7.5 cubic feet. Maximum cargo capacity with all rear seats folded is 68.5 cubic feet for models with the third-row seat. For comparison, most competitors in this class usually provide 80 cubic feet or more.
The 2008 Jeep Commander has a comfortable, serene ride and decent steering feedback. Some drivers might find the Jeep's body motions excessive when driven over bumps, however. When taken off-road, the ample wheel travel, sophisticated 4WD system and decent ground clearance allow the Commander to conquer some pretty rugged terrain.