There's a new visitor on Rodeo Drive, outside Morton's, on the northbound 405, and in other areas of urban wilderness where four-wheel-drive vehicles are more popular than cowboy boots and about as appropriate.

It's the 1995 GMC Jimmy, a vastly improved brush-crusher with sufficient style and pugnacity to cause nervous twitches among the reigning monopolists: Jeep's Grand Cherokee and the Ford Explorer.

When introduced in 1983, Jimmy was a pioneer of off-roading in town and could easily have been a contender.

It spit squarely in the eye of station wagons and performed splendidly; wallowing through country muck and chugging through suburbs beneath large loads of lumber and big families with Labradors.

But it didn't grow with the decade. Or defend itself against minivans. It remained a sport-utility more utilitarian than sporty. Even the 1994 model was a square tower with relatively small windows, a drunken gait and small, mispositioned, unlighted power-window controls that disappeared into the door once the sun went down.

And while customers asked for more conveniences in friendlier vehicles, Jimmy and its Chevy Blazer clone continued to roar and roll, drink gas like it was Gatorade, plod wherever they went and deemed air bags were for sissies.

Grand Cherokee and Explorer took the smoother road, leaving GMC to blink in the dust behind a battalion of nicely sculpted Troopers, Trackers, Rodeos and 4-Runners with picture windows. Even haughty Land Rover, with sales no larger than any other fashion of Brentwood and the Hamptons, got close enough to sniff Jimmy's spoor.

To its credit, GMC has seen the flaws, sorted through the whining and attacked the known.

So for 1995, Jimmy's engineering has been improved by borrowing from GMC's better selling, more refined Sonoma compact pickups. Occupants have been given priority equal to purpose, which means an expanded interior, better insulationto dampen mechanical gnashing, larger windows and a stiffer frame for more educated handling.

Handling. It's the bane of all sport utilities as manufacturers attempt to offer some middle ground for suspension setups. They typically fail.

For a soft, long-traveling, large-leaved suspension works well over hummocks and gumbo, but in town requires map pockets with barf bags. Tamer tires and taut shocks are great for interstates, but will whack frames and crack crowns when the going gets rural.

So GMC lets owners do the choosing. Whether buying a two- or four-door Jimmy, two- or four-wheel-drive, buyers can pick from four suspension packages--base, off-road, Euro-ride or luxury.

There is only one engine. But it's last year's optional power plant--a hard-pulling 200-horsepower V-6 that is larger than engines in Explorer or Grand Cherokee and only 20 ponies shy of Cherokee's optional V-8.

Prices also wrestle favorably with the competition; the stic ker stretch is from $18,274 for the 2WD, two-door Jimmy SL to $22,205 for the 4WD, four-door Jimmy SLT with a seven-inch-longer wheelbase.

And our snooty SLT tester--a glossy candy apple with a steel gray skirt and smoked glass adding mystery to whatever might be going on inside during rainy commutes--barely topped $27,000.

That cleanly undercuts the Limited editions of Ford Explorer and Grand Cherokee. And the SLT arrives with a similar load of primary luxuries, including leather bucket seats that fit better than dentist chairs but with less pain, overhead console for garage-door remote and goggles, a compass for anyone venturing past Ventura, two additional 12-volt power outlets for your Champion blender and baby-bottle warmer, push-button 4WD shifting on the fly--everything, in fact, but winches and a complimentary Winchester.

Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard. So is a driver's-side air bag. The spare wheel is now tucked under the vehicle inst ad of being wedged inside the cargo bay or bolted to the rear door. This Jimmy is longer, wider, and thankfully lower for entrances and exits that don't require stopping alongside a big rock.

It also comes with a brand-new measurement of cargo capacity. Sheets of plywood are out. So are nursing elephants. The roomy Jimmy with 36.8 cubic feet of interior space, GMC says, is large enough to swallow a Sears Kenmore washing machine. Still in the box.

We have no idea how much Sears paid for being plugged in at least 3.6 million press releases.

The Jimmy has the square, purposeful looks of all sport utilities but with the flush, curved glass and smooth, rounded contours essential for snaring today's suburban buyers. Bumpers are integrated, headlights are wraparound, and these cast alloy wheels were made for stomping. With absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, GMC's bold, bright, distinctly oversized lettering remains dead center on the grille.

The interior easily fits five adults with no crushed shoulder pads. There's room to stretch, space to look around, enough cubbies for a month's motoring litter, and cup holders to grab everything from a single cappuccino decaf to a half-liter of Evian.

What it all represents is a full court press by GMC to scrape out a berth in a popular, expanding market involving those who like security and muscle with their motoring. Finesse is where the vehicle falls a little short.

The soft, luxury suspension still gives the fractionally top-heavy Jimmy an opportunity to wander in freeway lanes. Steering has been tightened considerably from earlier models, but its bias is still toward the floppy.

Push buttons for shifting into 4WD on the fly have little discernible movement and feel almost non-functioning. Press hard to make sure something is happening and their surrounding dashboard plastic flexes inward.

But all things considered, as a satisfying meld ofprice, performance, comfort and purpose, the Jimmy is back among the contenders

Jimmy? Maybe this second generation is sophisticated enough to be renamed the GMC James.

1995 GMC Jimmy SLT

Price: $22,205 (as tested.)

The Good: Priced right, built right, aimed right at Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Engine power eclipses most of competition.

The Bad: Steering still a little floppy. Small touches need attention.

The Ugly: Still Looking.

Cost As tested, $27,130 (includes optional leather seats, heavy-duty trailer package and underbody shield. Also standard anti-lock brakes, driver's-side air bag, shift-on-the fly, four-speed automatic, power steering and brakes, underbody mounted spare and air conditioning).

Engine 4.3-liter V-6 developing 200 horsepower.

Type Front-engine, four-wheel-drive, four-door sport utility.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 11.1 seconds. Top speed , estimated, 110 m.p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA city and highway, 16 and 21 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 4,030 pounds.