When you draw up a list of the most iconic nameplates in automobile history, the Jeep is sure to rank right up there as one of the most eminent of them all. Its ruggedness and extraordinary capabilities off-road widened the horizons for humans and helped us explore terrain that were previously inaccessible. While the Wrangler in its latest JL guise still carries the mantle with aplomb, the same cannot be said about a handful of other models the celebrated brand introduced in order to diversify its line-up.
In the late Nineties, when most of the big automakers were scrambling to jump on the newly-in-demand family SUV bandwagon, Chrysler didn’t want its Jeep brand to lose out either.
Since it already had the successful Grand Cherokee, the idea was to capitalise on that platform and build a three-row SUV around it. Thus was born the Jeep Commander. But it didn’t take the company long to realise that this wasn’t a good idea. While the whole point of a three-row SUV was to get increased utility and practicality over a two-row one, the Commander failed to provide this as it crammed those extra seats into a car that was barely two inches longer than the two-row Grand Cherokee.
Its ungainly, angular lines didn’t help either. It was essentially an uglier, heavier Grand Cherokee with a third row that was practically unusable. No wonder soon after its launch, the Commander came to be known as ‘the box the Grand Cherokee came in’. Sales dwindled sharply from the second year onwards and the Commander had to be discontinued in 2010, although it’s back now as a China-only model.
While it remains to be seen if it will find success in its new avatar, the original Commander was an unequivocal failure that prompted the late Sergio Marchionne himself to say, “That car was unfit for human consumption. We sold some. But I don’t know why people bought them.”
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