The brand Jeep has become a synonym for anything that is a rough'n'ready off-roader. The new Grand Cherokee flagship brings that heritage with it, but boasts improved refinement and better cabin space, something its forebears lacked.
The updated Grand Cherokee range was a long time coming but the payoff was in the price - the pricetags shed thousands and the four-million-plus global sales tally for the model will no doubt be boosted by the leaner pricetag demand.
Explore the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Range
The Limited V8 model has dropped more than $10,000 to $60,000, which corresponds to a features list by no means the worst in the segment.
That asking price gets the Quadra-Trac II active full-time variable 4WD system, hill start assist and descent control, although the test vehicle had been upgraded with the off-road pack.
Ticking that box upgrades the drivetrain to Quadra-Drive II active 4WD system, which has an electronic rear limited slip diff, 18in alloy wheels with all-terrain tyres and underbody protection.
The test car also had the optional Quadra-Lift air suspension system and a sunroof.
Standard fare on the Limited does include automatic bi-xenon headlights with auto-dipping and auto-levelling, power-adjustable and folding exterior mirrors with heating function, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth (phone and music link), satnav, a 30gig hard-drive equipped sound system, dual zone climate control, heated leather-trimmed seats front and rear, power adjustable front seats, a reach-and-rake adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio (on the back of the wheel) and cruise controls.
The upgraded 5.7-litre V8 now offers 259kW and 520Nm, which is enough to get the big off-roader moving away in a hurry, with an appropriately tuneful soundtrack. The Hemi V8's cylinder dropout system - which cuts the running cylinders from eight to four - seems to be a more pro-active and aggressive fuel-saving system than the one dropping half the cylinders on Holden's V8.
At least, that's if you believe the "Eco" light on the dash - the test figure near 18 litres per 100km is not the worst I've achieved in a 2.5-tonne V8 SUV, so it must be doing something right.
The Grand Cherokee's features list also has Jeep's take on Land Rover's terrain Response system - called Selec-Terrain.
Teamed with the Quadra-Lift adjustable air-sprung independent front and rear suspension, the 4WD system allows the driver to set the car up for the terrain being encountered. Settings for snow, sand and mud, rock crawling (which lifts to the 271mm maximum clearance) - as well as an auto and sport setting - is 4WDing for dummies.
Auto allows the car to lower itself at highway speeds while the sport mode winds back the stability control threshold and tightens up the suspension, although the order around the dial is odd, slipping Snow between the Auto and Sport modes.
The design leaves little doubt about the brand you're viewing, but the shape has been smoothed over to gather every bit of aerodynamic improvement, without a major image change.
Lighter, yet larger and boasting improved body strength (Jeep says there's a 146 per cent improvement in torsional rigidity), the Grand Cherokee's cabin has lost some of the reverse-Tardis effect that afflicted its ancestors - the big wagon actually offers decent interior space and comfortable pews.
The nuclear family has enough space for a roadtrip, although its not a cavernous cabin, but the ability to recline the rear seat's backrest was helpful for tired offspring.
The Grand Cherokee feels solid and strong, as well as packing a safety features list that wants for little. There's dual front and front-side airbags, a driver's knee airbag and full-length curtain airbags; the front occupants also get active head restraints.
The active safety systems include stability control, which has brake assist, traction and roll-over control systems, as well as functions to dry discs and a trailer sway control system. The Limited also has a reversing camera and parking sensors front and rear and a tyre pressure monitor.
The bumpy unsealed carpark was as close to off-roading as we got during our time in the Limited V8. Damp and slippery grass failed to distract the Grand Cherokee from darting quickly away from standstill - no panic attacks from electronic aids, just rapid forward progress and the melodic tone of the Hemi V8.
But our time in the car was spent doing what these vehicles do most of the time - carting kids and associated paraphernalia around, negotiating traffic and performing general duties.
It completes the tasks set in a more subdued and comfortable manner than the previous incarnations, although the ride in Auto mode could be a little more supple, given there's a Sport mode as well, but the big Jeep turns in with surprising enthusiasm - bring on the SRT8 hotrod.
Parking radar and a rear camera are welcome features but one that isn't is the horrific foot-operated park brake. The US seems to be enamoured with this type of system and it's not too bad when properly positioned and teamed with a left-foot footrest, but the Grand Cherokee's set-up is far from perfect.
The five-speed auto generally performed smoothly and with some intelligence, but the change from first to second (regardless of throttle in use) in the test vehicle was well short of the quality from the remaining ratios.
The new Grand Cherokee is a big - but required - step forward for the burly American off-roader, which has rarely been doubted for off-road ability but lacked finesse on the sealed stuff. That has changed with the new model and it deserves serious consideration if you're looking for a family wagon that can go bush with vigour.