About the only such vehicles available nowadays are pickup trucks, and I have been wondering what it would be like to drive one. Lo and behold, a Chevy Silverado manual V8 with 4WD was made available for us to test.

If a truck could regularly pump iron at a health club, it would end up with the build of this Silverado. Just sitting at the curb it weighs 5,421 lb. The payload is 3,779 lb, so fully loaded you are dealing with almost 5 tons of vehicle.

However, this isn't the kind of pickup I had in mind for my own purchase. I was considering a small-displacement V8 with extended cab, short bed, and the tallest gearing available. The test vehicle had a short cab, long bed, a humongous 494-cu-in. engine, a six-speed transmission, and a short 4.1 axle. The engine, called the Vortec 8100, uses the same bore but a longer stroke than last year's Vortec 7400. Both block and heads are cast iron, which is something to appreciate in view of the frequent head gasket problems motorists have experienced in the last decade.

At any rate, driving the big Silverado brought me to my senses. The beefy Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshaven transmission is designed for pulling power and not for whipping through the gears in sporty fashion. It's obviously intended for hauling loads or towing heavy trailers and is overkill for the home handyman or casual commuting.

After initially stirring through all six gears after each stop, I found that the way to drive the truck unloaded was merely to use gears two, four, and six. The engine puts out more torque than the Ford or Dodge V10 engines, and I couldn't resist testing the powertrain's limits. It will happily accelerate from 20 mph in fifth gear and from 30 mph in sixth. Slow right turns can be made dropping no lower than fourth. The standard axle ratio is 3.73, and unless you plan to do stump pulling, the smaller number would probably be better for most purposes. The optional 4.1 axle gives you 60 mph at 1,900 rpm, but I'm thinking that with all those cubic inches in the engine, a tach lower in the teens would be better at 60. There is always fifth gear if you are carrying a load.

That much being said, the surprising thing is that the truck actually feels agile to drive. The suspension is pleasingly tight, and the powertrain is smooth and quiet. The Silverado also stands tall, a feature I really like. And hallelujah, the floor mats are actually made of rubber. I have had my fill of luxury interiors in trucks. I'm ready for an interior I can clean with a garden hose.

One thing I disliked is the goofy automatic headlight feature that is spreading like a virus through General Motors products. Please! There are some things best left to drivers, and a decision to use headlights is one of them.

The fuel consumption of the Vortec has yet to be determined, but the gas tank has a 34-gallon capacity, which means you could probably go on the order of 400 to 500 miles between fuel stops. Not bad if you are driving through the night in an area where there are no service stations open. The sticker price is $29,609.

Ronald Kholr