To be honest, I wasn't too excited about test driving the Chevy Tracker. I thought it might be a fun ride, but not much else. But once I got behind the wheel, I realized the Tracker has a lot to offer.

Chevy made some improvements for 2001, starting with two new models. I tested the four-door hardtop ZR2, a sporty version that comes with standard power windows, locks, and mirrors, along with rugged-looking wheels, tires, and wheel flares. The LT model adds more luxury features, such as chrome exterior accents.

The most welcome enhancement is the 2.5-liter V6. The engine offers a smooth ride and good pick-up, but putting out only 155 peak hp at 6,500 rpm and 160 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm leaves it lacking when compared with competitors offering a 200-hp V6. But unlike most of its competition, the Tracker has a true truck frame. The full-length ladder-type frame, similar to the one on larger Chevy SUVs, comes in handy on bumpy roads, where it absorbs punishment so drivers and riders don't.

Even in a sudden downpour the Tracker is easy to control, thanks in part to power rack-and-pinion steering. A solid axle, five-link rear suspension has greater tread width for stable cornering. Off-roaders will enjoy the shift-on-the-fly 4WD with automatic locking hubs.

The sturdy truck frame is complemented by a comfortable carlike interior. The front seats give the driver and passenger extra height, but there's still plenty of headroom. And the high seats, along with narrow roof pillars, offer great visibility. Unfortunately, the good visibility doesn't extend to the rear window. The tire on the back doesn't cause any trouble, but the rear headrests intrude on a clear view. The little buttons for the radio were a source of annoyance as well, especially compared to the rest of the quality interior. Our test vehicle had optional gray leather seating and a CD player. When coupled with the silver metallic exterior, the Tracker looked impressive enough to prompt oohs and ahhs when I stopped at a local gas station.

Pack rats should have no complaints with the Tracker, as there's plenty of storage compartments in the instrument panel, seat backs, door pockets, and center console. But I'd be happy to give up some of that for a few more inches of cargo space.

At the end of the week, I came to the conclusion that the Tracker is an affordable combination of fun and function. Its size makes it suitable for everyday street driving, and the 4WD helps when you want to head onto more rugged terrain.

During the week, several people seemed surprised to find out the mini SUV was a Tracker. I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed driving it. Base price is $20,750. Adding option and destination charges brings the final price tag to $22,616.

Kathleen Franzinger