THERE IS NOTHING BUT SKY filling the windscreen as the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, with consummate ease, hauls itself up the steep slope and over the crest of the rise.
Just what you would expect from a vehicle named after the famed, and feared, Rubicon Trail in the US.
Our effort on a much less fearful slope, but still a challenging one in the bush north of Melbourne, is applauded by the assembled motoring media from Australia and New Zealand.
We?re getting a taste of the latest versions of some of Jeep?s iconic products, if for no other reason than to proclaim that Chrysler is back in action in Australia.
It?s been a lean time this year for the Australian operation. While its parent in the US grappled with a short-lived bankruptcy that saw it emerge a new organisation in the hands of Italian car maker Fiat, the Australia arm has slowly been running out of vehicles to sell.
But, with production now getting back into the swing of things in the US, that?s all changing, and Jeep was keen to show off the updated versions of its Wrangler range.
This involves a spread of cars from the iconic short-wheel-base Wrangler Sport through to the substantial four-door long-wheel-base Unlimited.
The refreshed models are mid-year updates, 2009-and-a-half versions of the well-recognised Wrangler range.
So after a couple of days swapping between the various models, we had a good opportunity to get re-acquainted with the brand. We covered a reasonable 350 kilometres at the wheel - over everything from bitumen and gravel tracks, to a couple of 'off-road playgrounds' that Jeep threw in just for the fun.
It all went to prove that if you want something with military looks, built tough, and, in most versions, can climb a cliff (well almost), then there?s a Jeep for you.
In keeping with its heritage, the updated Wrangler retains the body-on-frame chassis, solid front and rear axles, removable doors and fold-down windscreen that established it as one of the world's most recognisable cars, and, historically, a trail-blazer for the SUV segment.
Mechanical specifications for the new models are little changed, but the diesel 2.8 litre CRD with automatic transmission now has an ample 460Nm of torque on tap; while the diesel with manual transmission remains unchanged at 410Nm.
The off-road capability for either a Wrangler Sport or Rubicon, is, as we discovered, and as Jeep claims, among the best-in-class. What each also offers though is a true open-air SUV experience.
For sheer enjoyment at the wheel, running top-down along a bush track takes some beating.
When driving a Jeep Wrangler, you can't help but feel a sense of adventure. It is something missing in most SUVs. Those core Jeep values of "freedom, adventure, mastery and authenticity" do - arguably - define the Jeep difference and its 65 years of off-road experience.
With the new range though, it's not all about rugged looks and construction. Jeep claims that the 2010 Jeep Wrangler doesn?t sacrifice anything inside the cabin.
We're not inclined to disagree. On offer is 'Uconnect' navigation, 16.5 cm touch-screen display, CD and DVD player that's MP3 and WMA compatible, a 30GB hard disk drive, USB and audio jack, voice command and iPod control available.
The range also features multi-stage front air bags, ABS, traction control and ESP, electronic roll mitigation (ERM), brake assist, seat-belt pretensioners, energy-absorbing steering column, remote keyless entry and optional side air-bags, among a host of features.
In each, even the smaller Sport, there is useful interior space (the four-door Unlimited offers a much larger area of course), cargo-carrying versatility and reasonable comfort - provided you don't mind the tough no-nonsense interior styling.
Externally, things are little changed: that's what makes it a Jeep. According to Jeep Australia, Wrangler devotees demand adherence to the brand?s traditional styling.
The signature features all remain including round headlamps, a seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel flares, exposed hinges, a fold-down windshield, sport bar, and removable tops and doors. Fit and finish has been improved in the updated models.
After our heroics in the larger Unlimited Rubicon over some challenging inclines, we then hopped into the smaller Wrangler Sport for a spot of gravel and bitumen.
On these surfaces, the Sport is just modestly confidence-inspiring. With a short wheelbase, tall ride height and substantial tyres riding on 17-inch alloys (new across the range), things can be a little twitchy.
That said, when it came time to plunge the Wrangler Sport over a blind crest and down a steep muddy slope of a couple of hundred metres, it was just a case of selecting four-wheel-drive low, slotting into first gear, then taking the feet off everything.
In these situations, you look after the steering while Jeep's hill-descent system takes care of traction and control.
The Sport too offers remarkable off-road performance.
However, despite these capabilities, both my driving companion and I agreed that a Jeep Wrangler, no matter how many doors nor how versatile the removable roof systems are, is not for us, especially in the city.
The Wrangler is great in the bush, and great fun, but not really suited for an urban life.
It is however one very tough customer and, for some people, that's enough. So, if you want the tough look for the cafe crowd, or want to climb over impossibly steep parts of our landscape, then this is the machine for the task.
The 2009 updated Jeep Wranglers are just as rugged as their legendary predecessors. Now however, they offer some creature comforts as well.
They hold a niche in the market that?s all-but ignored by most among the competition. You get a sense that the iconic raw-boned Jeep - arguably the car responsible for the SUV revolution - will be around for a long time to come.
Jeep Wrangler prices (on-road costs and charges additional):
Jeep Wrangler Sport 3.8L V6 Petrol 6M: $31,590
Jeep Wrangler Sport 3.8L V6 Petrol 4A: $33,590
Jeep Wrangler Sport 2.8L I4 Diesel 6M: $35,590
Jeep Wrangler Sport 2.8L I4 Diesel 5A: $37,590
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 3.8L V6 Petrol 6M: $40,590
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 3.8L V6 Petrol 4A: $42,590
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 3.8L V6 Petrol 6M: $35,990
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 3.8L V6 Petrol 4A: $37,990
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 2.8L I4 Diesel 6M: $39,990
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 2.8L I4 Diesel 5A: $41,990
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 3.8L V6 Petrol 6M: $44,990
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 3.8L V6 Petrol 4A: $46,990