I have to admit that at first I was a bit intimidated driving this 181/4-ft-long, 61/2-ft-high behemoth out of the parking garage. My rational mind couldn't quite accept the fact that the top of the truck wouldn't scrape the roof of the garage. It took me back to my high-school days when my friends and I would tool around town in a buddy's Suburban with a four-barrel carburetor.

But this is no ancient carbureted dinosaur. New for 2001 is the Vortec 8100, 8.1-liter big-block V8. For the metrically challenged, 8.1-liter or 8,128 cc is 496 cu in. With 340 hp at 4,200 rpm and 455 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm, no one will complain about a lack of power. It has so much power, in fact, that it can trailer loads up to 12,000 lb.

The bigger displacement is largely a result of increasing the stroke by 0.37 in. Other engine improvements include Teflon-coated pistons to reduce friction and a change in firing order to reduce crank and bearing stresses. An elastomeric material called Vamac replaces rubber in the crankshaft's torsional damper support, and is said to increase damping capability and durability.

When it comes to comfort, the interior doesn't compromise one bit. The test vehicle I drove had leather seats with power adjustments and heat.

If you're going for comfort, then heated seats are only the beginning. Separate driver and passenger climate controls should put an end to futile "I'm too hot/too cold" arguments. Second and third-row passengers can also control their own climatic destinies, although the controls are one row in front of them.

As for how the XL drives, it's really difficult to say anything negative. Once you get over how big it is, you're overwhelmed by how smoothly it drives. No doubt the 130-in. wheelbase contributes to a smooth and stable ride, as does a stiffer body and chassis

Now for the bad news. While the inside was extremely comfortable, there were nevertheless a few things that left me scratching my head. For one, I wasn't quite sure why I needed a transmission-fluid temperature gage. The stereo system was top notch, although the black cassette player in an ocean of pewter plastic, inserted below the main stereo close to the ashtray, looked like an afterthought.

I also had two people comment that the running boards were a tad bit narrow, making it difficult to get in. My girlfriend, for one, and a friend who drives a Ford F-250. Wider running boards might be a good idea to eliminate this problem.

But the most alarming part was the gas mileage. I should have known something was up when the window sticker failed to show either city or highway mpg figures. Even by my most conservative calculation, based on an equal mix of city and highway driving, I only managed to eke out an abysmal 9.2 mpg.

Base price for an XL is $39,639. But leather seats and a few other amenities cost an extra $3,068. The 8.1-liter Vortec is $1,350, bringing the total cost for this monster to $45,318. If you like luxury and playing king of the road, then this is definitely the vehicle for you.