When it comes to the company's image and profitability, the new Grand Cherokee is the most important vehicle Jeep has launched in the past few years. In some ways, it's also one of the trickiest: it has to walk the line between off-road capability and luxury. The unibody construction helps with the vehicle's on-road refinement, keeping it afloat in a crowded and highly competitive market segment; however, that same feature may not appeal to some off-road purists. But the Grand Cherokee is highly capable off-road. As tough as it may be to stand out from the rest of the midsize SUV crowd, Jeep seems to have succeeded.

Big changes came to the Grand Cherokee for the 2011 model year. As you can see, this new Jeep is sleeker on the outside than the previous generation, and certainly looks more elegant. That same elegance is also present inside, where materials are a nicer quality, the design is cleaner, and there are more features.

While the all-new model's exterior styling looks like a higher-end, modernized interpretation of the Grand Cherokees that preceded it, things are distinctly different underneath. This is a new platform, shared with Mercedes-Benz's ML and Dodge's now-unibody Durango (its version accommodates three rows of passengers), and yes, that agreement happened back when DaimlerChrysler was one big (un)happy family. The new Jeep's wheelbase is 5.3 inches longer (114.8 inches versus 109.5). Vehicle length has grown by 1.8 inches, and it's 3.2 inches wider and 0.4 inch taller.

Not only that, but a big change happened on a functional level: The Grand Cherokee no longer has a live rear axle. Instead, it uses a multilink independent rear suspension with coil springs, plus the new option of air suspension. There's a new feature available with the four-wheel-drive models as well: the Selec-Terrain system, which works with Grand Cherokees with a two-speed transfer case. With the turn of a knob, the suspension is optimized for the type of off-road surfaces you expect to traverse.