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2006 Jeep Commander Limited first take

2006 Jeep Commander Limited first take

The 2006 Jeep Commander Limted is a car for men. And we're not talking girlie-men here, we mean real men: the square-jawed type who do one-armed push-ups and drink beer straight from the can.

Before you even get in it, the Jeep Commander conveys an imperious, military impression; its square lines and rugged-looking grille and wheel arches suggest that it would feel more at home on a battlefield than in a parking lot. This is a new model in the Jeep lineup, and despite its lack of experience, we think that it will quickly be adopted as the commanding officer of Chrysler's SUV offerings. Our test car was equipped with an optional 5.7-liter hemi engine (3.7- and 4.7-liter models are also available), which makes the Commander snap to attention with a depression of the gas pedal and gives it the ability to quick-march from 0 to 60 in less than 7.5 seconds.

As confirmation of the Commander's ruggedness, it comes "trail rated," which, according to Jeep, means that it has been tested "on the toughest trails on the road" and has been found equal to performance challenges in five categories: traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation, and water fording. While the 14mpg (city) V-8 might not get much respect from ecowarriors, the Commander does deserve some recognition for its multidisplacement technology (MDS), which, like the active fuel management system in the 2007 GMC Yukon, allows it to switch to four cylinders when engine load demand is low.

In the cabin, the Commander's interior features are as boxy as its exterior profile. The dashboard has a vertical face into which is set the head unit and the heating ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC, in military speak) controls. Room in the front two rows is adequate though by no means spacious, and the third-row seats will accommodate only the smallest members of the infantry.

Our test model came loaded with tech options, including optional navigation and Sirius Satellite Radio packages. Programming the nav system was a pain. As the Commander's LCD screen is not touch-screen enabled, destinations must be entered letter by letter using a goofy joystick knob to the right of the display. Even more cumbersome is the fact that selection of each letter has to be made by pushing the Enter button beneath the joystick, a procedure that must be performed with both hands if you don't want to spend all day in the parking lot before setting out for your destination. When finally programmed, Jeep's navigation system performs well, giving turn-by-turn directions by voice and presenting maps in a useful split-screen mode, showing an overhead plan of the route in the left window and details of the next turn on the right. On the downside, the system was slow to recalculate a route for us when we willfully got off-track, taking more than a minute to even realize that we had strayed from the suggested route.

The highlight of the Commander's interior features is the sound quality of its Boston Acoustics audio system. As with the navigation system, the LCD interface can be cumbersome to program when selecting MP3 tracks: a Microsoft Windows-esque convention of navigating folders and files is time-consuming to navigate using the single-click joystick, and there is no shortcut enabling users to scroll through options. However, when you finally find the track or album you want, the stereo rocks. Nine-inch speakers in the front doors and four-inchers on the dash provide an immersive audio experience, with clear bass and excellent separation right up to earsplitting volume. While the stereo provides detailed information for MP3 files, it gave our homemade WMA disc short shrift: after chewing it over for 20 seconds or so, it spat the disc out with the message "no audio files."

Other tech high points on the Commander include trizone climate control, heated front seats, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Chrysler's Bluetooth UConnect hands-free calling interface is available as a $275 option, but our car did not come so equipped. Armed with all its tech options, our test Commander reported for duty at just less than $43,000.