Jeep Commander The name Commander calls to mind images of daring swashbucklers on fearless adventures at the far corners of the earth. As such, Jeep's latest SUV is aptly named; it possesses every inch of the go-anywhere bravado implicit in it moniker. With three rows of seating and room for up to seven passengers, the Commander is the most spacious SUV Jeep has ever produced. 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.
Less thrilling, however, are the Jeep Commander's lackluster interior materials, cramped third row, so-so cargo capacity, poor fuel mileage with the larger engines and a state of suspension tune that some buyers might find to be overly soft on the highway.
Current Jeep Commander
The Jeep Commander debuted in the 2006 model year. Buyers have a choice of three trims. The Commander Sport is decently equipped; amenities include power windows and door locks, a power driver seat, air-conditioning and a sound system equipped with a CD player. The pricier Limited trim honeys the mix significantly with features like heated leather seats, 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. The Commander Overland is similarly equipped but features special interior and exterior trim. Buyers can also snag options like a navigation system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
The base Jeep Commander Sport gets its pep from a standard 3.7-liter V6 capable of 210 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque; while this engine is a decent source of motivation in smaller Jeeps, it's barely adequate in the 4,800-pound Commander. The Limited model packs a bit more punch, equipped with a 4.7-liter V8 that generates 235 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque. For 2008, the 4.7-liter V8 got a major boost in power and was rated at 305 hp and 334 lb-ft. Those seeking even more oomph can opt for the 5.7-liter V8. Optional on the Limited and standard on the Overland, it's capable of 330 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque. Those who choose the base model may equip it with a full-time all-wheel-drive system. Jeep also offers two sophisticated four-wheel-drive systems for those planning to take their Commanders on off-road trails, including Quadra-Drive II that, for 2008, features Hill Start and Descent Assist technology. All models come with a five-speed automatic transmission.
Slide inside the Commander's cabin and you'll find yourself enveloped in comfortable seats. An upscale two-tone decor makes for an attractive interior, but there's too much hard plastic for an SUV in this price range. There aren't any midsize SUVs that offer truly spacious third-row seating; still, even by these low standards, legroom in the Commander's third row falls short and it's suitable only for children. Cargo capacity is unspectacular as well, largely because of the packaging issues created by the Jeep's solid-axle rear suspension and generous ground clearance. The SUV offers 7.5 cubic feet with all three rows in use, 36.4 with the third row stowed and 68.9 cubic feet with all rear seats folded. These numbers would be OK for a compact SUV, but they're miniscule for a midsize sport-ute.
In editorial reviews, the Jeep Commander has earned praise for its off-road capabilities and powerful engine choices. Opinions about ride quality are mixed; some have found the Jeep to provide a tranquil ride but others, expecting a more secure feel, deem it wallowy. Handling on pavement is competent for a nearly 5,000-pound vehicle, but not the least bit sporting. Speed demons will no doubt crave the muscular 5.7-liter V8, but the smaller 4.7-liter V8 still does a fine job of hustling the Commander with authority.
Consumer ratings praise the sport-ute's classic good looks, roominess and effortless power. However, the Commander does take some hits for its less-than-stellar gas mileage and lack of legroom for third-row passengers.
Reliability was spotty on early-build 2006 models, so consumers looking for used Jeep Commanders would be wise to seek out later-build models or else hold off on a purchase until there's a bit more to choose from on the used market.
Jeep Compass Most people think of Jeeps as tough off-road vehicles that love to get muddy, but the Jeep Compass isn't like other Jeeps. It doesn't look rugged, it's not trail-rated, and as far as we know, it doesn't even like dirt. Instead, it's a car-based design built for the majority of small-SUV buyers, who want a fuel-efficient runabout that's easy to drive around suburbia and loaded with conveniences. Four-wheel drive is available, of course, but it's a single-speed system -- enough to get you through a snowstorm and that's about it.
As you can imagine, Jeep purists don't much care for the Compass, which they regard as the antithesis to all things Jeep. But the reality is that the Compass comes much closer to matching the tastes and priorities of the typical SUV buyer than traditional Jeeps do. However, the Jeep Compass faces stiff competition among today's compact, car-based SUVs. Its low price, unusual styling and interesting features are compelling at a glance, but for those who dig deeper, its weak engine and cut-rate interior materials pose a significant liability.
Current Jeep Compass
Introduced for the 2007 model year, the Jeep Compass is in its first generation. This compact SUV shares a platform with the Dodge Caliber small wagon, which means that it's primarily a front-wheel-drive vehicle. Even if you order the optional four-wheel-drive system, known as Freedom Drive I, power goes only to the front wheels until slippage is detected, although the driver can lock the center differential in a 50/50 front/rear power split for extra traction when driving through wintertime gunk.
Every Jeep Compass is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated for 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional. A CVT offers the convenience of a regular automatic transmission, but doesn't have fixed gear ratios -- instead of shifting, it just selects whatever ratio is most appropriate to the situation. Unfortunately, the CVT in the Compass is not one of the better applications of this technology: It frequently holds the engine at high rpm, at which point the four-cylinder's power band has already begun to taper off. The result is sluggish highway acceleration and lots of noise. For buyers who can manage it, the manual gearbox is recommended.
Although hardly quick, the Compass can be pleasant to drive in town, as its fully independent suspension provides a smooth ride and stable handling around corners. Seating is comfortable in both the front and rear, and important safety features like stability control and full-length side curtain airbags are standard.
Desirable amenities like leather upholstery and seat heaters are also included on the high-line Compass Limited model. Other than alloy wheels and an MP3 player input jack, the entry-level Jeep Compass Sport doesn't come with much -- you'll need to visit the options list if you want air-conditioning (until '08, when it became standard) or power windows. Bluetooth and upgraded Boston Acoustics speakers are optional on both versions of the Compass, and a navigation system is available on the Limited.
Our editors' main complaint about the Jeep's interior centers on its excessive amount of hard plastic, which makes the Compass feel less inviting than top Japanese and Korean competitors. We've also noted build quality issues in the Compass test vehicles we've examined. In addition, young families may find this SUV's low cargo capacity problematic when loading up a stroller and a dog. The Compass offers just 22.7 cubic feet of space behind the backseat and just 53.6 cubic feet with the seats folded. Both figures are some of the smallest in the car-based SUV segment.
Past Jeep Compass Models
The Jeep Compass is still too new for there to be much of a used car market. Buyers shopping for a used small SUV with a Jeep badge might want to take a look at the Liberty.
Jeep Grand Cherokee The Jeep Grand Cherokee was one of the pioneering SUVs that ushered in the modern midsize SUV segment in the early 1990s. When it debuted, the Grand Cherokee represented a bigger and better version of Jeep's smaller but still popular Cherokee. The company's designers wanted it to be maneuverable enough for urban duty, roomy enough for family duty, stylish enough to take out on the town and capable enough to get to the more remote campsites.
It would seem that they certainly succeeded. The JGC, as it's commonly referred to, has become one of America's top sellers in the SUV segment. Unlike most other traditional SUVs from domestic automakers, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has always been built using a carlike unibody chassis rather than a body-on-frame design. In general, a unibody chassis provides advantages in terms of on-road handling, easier entry and exit, and safety. Maintaining Jeep's strong reputation for off-road prowess is retained thanks in large part to the Grand Cherokee's advanced four-wheel-drive systems.
Current Jeep Grand Cherokee
The current Jeep Grand Cherokee, which debuted for 2005 and represents the model's third generation, is the most refined and arguably the most desirable. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a five-passenger midsize SUV that comes in three main trim levels: the base Laredo, the midlevel Limited and the luxurious Overland. There's also the somewhat rare Grand Cherokee SRT8. With a 420-horsepower V8 and a lowered sport suspension, it's been designed for maximum on-street performance and is the quickest and most powerful Jeep ever produced.
The standard engine for the Grand Cherokee is a 210-hp 3.7-liter V6. For those who desire more power than the V6 can muster, two different V8 engines are available, including a 235-hp 4.7-liter V8 (305 hp for '08) and a 330-hp 5.7-liter V8. The SRT8 comes with a 6.1-liter V8 that cranks out 420 hp. All Grand Cherokees come with a five-speed automatic transmission, and all but the SRT8 are available as either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive – the SRT8 comes with all-wheel drive. There is some variation in terms of the mechanicals used for 4WD models, as Jeep equips the higher-level trims with the more advanced Quadra-Trac II or Quadra-Drive II systems, with the latter adopting Hill Start and Hill Descent technology for '08.
Past Jeep Grand Cherokee Models
There are two previous generations of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Late-model used-SUV shoppers will mostly encounter the second generation, which was built from 1999-2004. This Grand Cherokee is a little bit smaller and generally less sophisticated than the current one. It had a solid axle in front compared to the current independent setup, and recirculating-ball steering instead of rack-and-pinion.
However, this model was well regarded during most of its production period. In editorial reviews, it received high marks for its manageable size and, for 4WD models, off-road prowess. There were two trims originally (Laredo and Limited) and two engines -- a 195-hp 4.0-liter inline-6 or a 235-hp 4.7-liter V8. The V8 engine was considered the better choice as it provided more power without much sacrifice in fuel economy compared to the six-cylinder.
As Jeep made continual improvements to this model, used-vehicle shoppers should try to get as new of a Grand Cherokee as possible. Beginning in 2001, the V8 was matched to a five-speed automatic. In 2002, Jeep introduced three additional trim levels (Special Edition, Sport and Overland), a high-output 265-hp V8 and more available features. Further refinements were made in 2003.
The first-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee, the one that started it all, was offered for the 1993-'98 model years. Like the second generation, this model rode on two live axles, had the familiar choice of either an inline-6 or V8 for power, and was noted for its superb off-road abilities with adequate on-road handling. This model's 220-hp 5.2-liter V8 was larger in displacement than later V8s but not as refined.
For most years of this generation, shoppers will encounter the familiar Laredo and Limited trims. There was also a base-trim SE (offered through 1995), the Limited-based Orvis ('95-'97), the TSi ('97 and '98) and the '98-only 5.9 Limited. The 5.9 Limited had an exclusive 245-hp 5.9-liter V8. The best models to consider are 1996 and newer as these benefited from safety, power and feature improvements.
Jeep Liberty The Jeep Liberty is the successor to one of America's original compact SUVs, the Cherokee. An evolutionary departure from that earlier, more traditional sport-utility design, the Liberty features a large greenhouse, a high roof line and aggressive, flared wheel arches.
True to its tough, capable Jeep off-road lineage, the Jeep Liberty was designed to actually venture off-road -- a trait not shared by many of its lighter-weight, car-based sport-utility competitors. It does so confidently thanks to steep approach and departure angles and exceptional suspension travel and articulation. Combined with an independent front and solid axle rear suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, a new or used Liberty works best for those who want a versatile, go-anywhere utility vehicle and plan to take advantage of its all-terrain prowess on occasion.
Demerits for the Liberty include (diesel version excepted) a "worst of both worlds" combination of lackluster performance and dismal fuel economy. Also, compared to the well-finished cabins of its competition, the interior ambiance of the Liberty is best described as Fisher Price, as it's a design exercise in hard plastic.
Current Jeep Liberty
The current Jeep Liberty was introduced for 2008 and, addressing the chief concerns of the first generation, rides and handles better on the road, has more passenger room and offers more convenience features. The cute styling of the first Liberty has been replaced with a more traditional, square-jawed Jeep look, and the cabin boasts more available luxury features such as rain-sensing wipers, remote starting, driver memory settings and a power-sliding sunroof made of canvas that allows a huge opening. There's also more room for backseat passengers, thanks to a 2-inch wheelbase stretch.
Underneath, the newest Liberty has a revised suspension (independent front, multilink rear) that provides a smoother ride and more confident handling on road, while off-road ability is still a strong point thanks to traditional Jeep features such as generous ground clearance, plenty of suspension travel and aggressive approach and departure angles.
As before, trim levels consist of the base Sport and luxury-themed Limited, and the sole engine choice is a 3.7-liter, 210-horsepower V6. Sport models offer a choice of either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic, while the Limited is automatic only. Buyers can choose either two- or four-wheel drive for either trim.
Still, even with all the improvements, the latest Liberty falls short of chief rivals such as the Nissan Xterra and Toyota FJ Cruiser in terms of overall performance. Furthermore, for those who don't require such serious off-road ability, models such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 offer much better fuel efficiency and more agile on-road handling along with plenty of room for passengers and cargo.
Past Jeep Liberty Models
The first-generation Jeep Liberty debuted for the 2002 model year. The original Liberty's styling recalled the original off-road Jeep Willys via its trademark vertical Jeep grille and round headlamps. Available with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, this Jeep Liberty is a small SUV that was offered in base Sport and upscale Limited trims. The Limited offered features such as leather trim, a sunroof, heated and powered seats, an Infinity sound system, a navigation system and hands-free cell phone connectivity. Antilock brakes and stability control were standard on all models, while side curtain airbags were optional.
Under the hood of most of these Jeeps you'll find a 210-hp, 3.7-liter V6 gasoline engine, backed by either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. A 150-hp, 2.4-liter gasoline four-cylinder was also available from the vehicle's launch through 2005. Weedy and underpowered, this engine is best avoided on the used-car market. Buyers had a choice of either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and the 4WD system came equipped with low-range gearing to improve off-roading ability.
In 2003 and '04, the Liberty was refined through trickle-down improvements. A Grand Cherokee-inspired overhead console and an available six-disc in-dash CD sound system was introduced, as was a special-value Columbia Edition that featured graphite-painted 16-inch wheels and exterior trim, a sunroof and foglamps. Stability control and side curtain airbags became available on the Jeep Liberty for 2006.
Of special note is that Jeep offered a diesel engine option for 2005 and '06. This 2.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel provided 160 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque. Although it was noisier than the gas-powered V6, Edmunds editors found that the diesel-powered Liberty CRD provided most of the performance of the V6 while delivering vastly improved fuel economy -- up to 50 percent better. The diesel Jeep Liberty was also popular with buyers; it was discontinued only because of tightening U.S. emissions standards.
In reviews and road tests, our editors have found the Jeep Liberty to be well suited for compact-SUV buyers who actually plan to venture off pavement or use their vehicle primarily in the wilderness. Otherwise, more urban-oriented buyers will find most of the Liberty's car-based competition to be better at day-to-day drivability, usability and refinement.
Jeep Patriot The list of compact car-based SUVs with credible off-road capability is short. And there's a reason for that -- very few people want their urban runabouts to have the design trade-offs necessary to enable feverish rock-hopping. But there are certain expectations for vehicles offered by the Jeep brand, and indeed the new Jeep Patriot pins much of its distinctiveness to its class-leading off-road ability.
At first glance, the Jeep Patriot's exterior will probably remind many people of the upright, boxy Jeep Cherokee of old. And that's the way Jeep wants it. But underneath, the Patriot utilizes the same platform as the Jeep Compass and the Dodge Caliber, two vehicles that get wobbly-kneed at the first sight of a dirt road. Setting the Patriot apart are steeper approach and departure angles, a low-range gear, slightly higher ground clearance and the availability of an optional package that adds protective skid plates.
The heritage styling and extra smidge of off-pavement ability combine with a low price to make the Jeep Patriot a potentially attractive package for some buyers. However, there's not a whole lot else to the Patriot to make it a stand-out choice for the majority. Other vehicles in this segment offer roomier interiors, more cargo space, better fuel economy, available V6 engines and superior fit and finish. Overall, we think most shoppers will be best served by looking at other choices.
Current Jeep Patriot
The Jeep Patriot SUV is available in two trim levels: a base Sport and a Limited model with more standard features. Both trims come with a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque) and a five-speed manual transmission. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) and all-wheel drive are available as options. Buyers interested in front-wheel-drive Sport trims equipped with a CVT can opt for a less-expensive engine: a 158-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
Billed as the rugged entry-level Jeep, the Patriot is offered with several off-road features. The Patriot's AWD system can be enhanced with "hill-descent control," an electronic system that automatically modulates the brakes to maintain a low speed on steep declines, and an extra-low "off road" gear, which is only offered in models equipped with the CVT. There's also the Freedom Drive II Off-Road Group package that adds skid plates, front and rear tow hooks and a full-size spare tire.
Due to a slim profile and high load floor, there isn't a whole lot of space inside the Patriot. The rear seats are on the tight side and storage space is limited. The rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split to increase rear storage up to 54.2 cubic feet, which is still far less than the other vehicles in the class.
In reviews, we found the Jeep Patriot to offer a comfortable and quiet ride. Driven moderately, the vehicle feels well-balanced, even over bumps, and corners capably, with limited body roll. The Patriot's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is rated near the top of the class in terms of power, but the optional CVT snuffs much of the life out of this vehicle and makes it feel like one of the slowest in its class. Another major complaint about the Patriot involves the very disappointing quality of its interior materials.
Jeep Wrangler

Perhaps the quintessential niche vehicle, the Jeep Wrangler has held the crown of ultimate off-roader ever since it was offered to the general public. This SUV's lineage goes back more than 60 years to the original military "Jeep," the now-legendary 4x4 that transported World War II soldiers and supplies over very rough terrain. The name Jeep was derived from the original military moniker of "GP," which stood for general-purpose vehicle.
Following the war, the Jeep CJ-2A ("CJ" stood for "Civilian Jeep") debuted and sported such "luxuries" as a tailgate, fuel cap and side-mounted spare tire. Back then, most Jeeps were bought by farmers and construction workers who needed to get to places where there were no roads. The 1950s saw the introduction of the iconic CJ-5 nameplate, a model that lasted into the '80s with minimal changes.
The Wrangler moniker came about in the mid-1980s as the singular replacement for the earlier CJs. Although the Jeep Wrangler did its forebears proud in terms of off-road prowess, a combination of that still-short wheelbase, loud and drafty cabin and tepid performance meant it was annoying at best as a daily commuter and road trip vehicle.
For the most recent version of the Wrangler, Jeep has attempted to make it more civilized via a new four-door body style and new safety and convenience features. But die-hard Jeep enthusiasts shouldn't be too worried about this softening: The latest Wrangler stays true to its original purpose of providing rugged off-road capability and distinctive style.
Current Jeep Wrangler
Revamped for the 2007 model year, today's Wrangler is larger and more refined than its precursor. Key changes include a stiffer structure and more insulation for a quieter ride, a more powerful engine, more modern transmissions and the first-time availability of a four-door variant (known as the Wrangler Unlimited). Styling is familiar, and although the standard Wrangler retains roughly the same short length as before, its increased width helps to improve passenger comfort.
All current Jeep Wranglers come with a 3.8-liter V6 engine capable of 202 horsepower and 237 pound-feet of torque. The V6 is connected to a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. Most models are four-wheel-drive, though a rear-drive version of the Unlimited is available.
Three trim levels are offered: bare-bones X, midlevel Sahara and serious off-road-oriented Rubicon. The latter trim adds heavy-duty axles, extra-low gearing and electronically locking front and rear differentials. Each trim level is available in two body styles: a short-wheelbase two-door or the long-wheelbase four-door Unlimited.
Age old and desirable attributes such as compact dimensions (provided you choose the two-door version), high ground clearance, steep approach and departure angles and a no-nonsense four-wheel-drive system with an aggressive low-range function still apply to today's Wrangler, and it remains a popular choice among hard-core off-roaders.
Make no mistake, the ride is still stiff, and on the road the Wrangler's modest handling and acceleration abilities can actually be bested by most minivans. But unlike past Wranglers, the new model is actually tolerable on longer highway trips, thanks to a much quieter cabin, more comfortable seats and the availability of luxuries such as a CD changer, a navigation system and full power accessories.
Past Jeep Wranglers
The previous generation of the Wrangler bowed in 1997 after a one-year hiatus, and marked a return to the classic Jeep face with its round headlights. It was sold through the 2006 model year. A new dash modernized the cabin upon its debut, while a coil-spring suspension improved on-road comfort. Dual front airbags and the option of antilock brakes made it safer, too. Of course, all the ingredients (such as generous ground clearance, skid plates and a crawl gear for the transfer case) that made the original CJ so capable off-road remained.
Base SE (2.5-liter, 120-hp inline-4), Sport (4.0-liter, 190-hp inline-6, fancy wheels and graphics) and Sahara (4.0-liter six, air-conditioning, upgraded upholstery, CD player) trims were offered initially. By 2003, the Wrangler "X" (slotted above the SE and featuring the inline-6) and "Rubicon" (featuring hard-core off-road equipment such as a super-low range in the transfer case, 31-inch tires and locking Dana axles front and rear) trims debuted. Transmission choices included a five-speed manual and three-speed automatic, the latter upgraded to a four-speed unit for 2003.
In 2004, Jeep introduced the Wrangler Unlimited model; it still had only two doors, but a 10-inch wheelbase stretch provided a significant increase in rear legroom and cargo capacity. A Rubicon version of the Unlimited arrived the following year, and a six-speed manual gearbox replaced the five-speed.
In reviews, we praised this Jeep Wrangler for its off-road agility and personality but scorned the plastic side windows and fussy soft top. We deemed it fair at best for commuter duty, considering the vehicle's loud and busy ride at freeway speeds. After logging some miles in a Rubicon version, we decided its immense off-road capacity was beyond compare, but braking distances (even with ABS) were long, gas mileage was mediocre and as a daily driver it was simply too harsh and bouncy on the blacktop. The standard, non-Rubicon version of the Wrangler Unlimited had slightly better road manners, thanks to its longer wheelbase and revised suspension tuning.
Consumer feedback is generally favorable, with most folks enjoying the fun factor and echoing our sentiments about the annoying soft top and fuel mileage. Reliability is a mixed bag, with a few respondents citing many troubles where others had none.
The first Jeep Wrangler (1986-'95) had square headlights and, on some trims, monochromatic fender flares and rocker panel extensions, the latter an odd "of the times" styling touch on such a retro vehicle. Initially, a choice of a 2.5-liter four or a 4.2-liter six-cylinder engine was offered, and buyers could get a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic. One of the biggest improvements during this generation came for 1991, when a new, 4.0-liter inline-6 with 180 hp replaced the ancient 4.2-liter unit that had just 112 hp. Trim levels during this time ranged from base S through Islander, Sahara and top-of-the-line Laredo and, after 1990, Renegade.
Generally, consumer reviews on used Wranglers are upbeat, with most complaints centering on poor fuel economy and a lack of performance (especially pre-'91).

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