THE 1988 Chevrolet Silverado Maxi-Cab is supposed to be a truck. But it's more like a flatbed limousine, a limousine with tailgate, a ranch limo or something. It's no ordinary truck.

If there were a boulevard on the prairie, the Silverado's the pickup I'd drive. I'd kick back in one of those big 'ol front seats, tilt my Stetson a little to the left, hang an elbow out the driver's window, and cruise.

I'd be so cool, it'd be painful. I mean, hey, this is one hip truck. Darn thing seats six in luxo comfort. And if you're not carrying backseaters, the optional rear bench folds down to create beaucoup space for other purposes.

Is this a pickup or a van? Hard to tell. What we have here is a serendipitous case of automotive schizophrenia. The Silverado Maxi-Cab does an excellent job of playing all of its personalities: pickup, van, sedan, limousine, urban sophisticate and country bumpkin.

General Motors says it invested $1.3 billion in development of this "all-new" machine. That's a lot. But if the results are represented by the quality and overall competence of this test truck, the money's well spent.

Complaint: I hate the dash. Some overly clever soul at GM decided that it might be cute to use white shading on black background -- graph-style -- to indicate speed, fuel consumption and other vehicle functions. For example, the speedometer turns whiter as vehicle speed increases. The fuel gauge turns blacker as fuel decreases. Totally dumb. Please switch to needle indicators or digital readouts, GM.

Praise: The overall excellence of this machine. Built on a superlong, 155.5-inch wheelbase, it rides like a sedan. It handles like one, too, on the highway. (The thing's a tight squeeze in the city.) Fit and finish will match or beat that of any competitive truck. No rattles or ill-mated seams in this one. Look out, Ford! The General's trying to swipe your lunch.

Acceleration: Excellent. It oughtta be. The test model was equipped with an optional monster 5.7-liter, fuel-injected V-8 engine. The truck, at about 4,250 pounds, is relatively lightweight. That combination of body and power is a speed-demon's delight. Luckily, the Silverado has a rear-wheel, anti-lock braking system to help out in panic stops.

Head-turning quotient: People really looked this one over. Nearly all were impressed with the Silverado's smooth, clean, attractive lines. Gets top honors in full-size pickup truck design.

Truck stuff: The test model is fitted with an 8-foot cargo box, capable of handling a 1,926-pound payload. The truck can pull a three-ton trailer. Higher payloads and trailering capacities are possible, depending on choice of equipment.

Sound system: GM/Delco AM/FM stereo radio. Good.

Mileage: About 17 to the gallon (34-gallon tank, 575-mile range), mostly highway, running with one to five occupants and with occasional use of air conditioner.

Price: $16,650 as tested, including $5,403 in options and $525 destination charge. Dealer's invoice price on the tested model is $13,717.98. (Base Silverado Maxi-Cab is $10,722. Dealer's invoice price on the base model is $8,792.04.)

Mea Culpa: Wrong verb. I said in a recent column that Lincoln/Mercury's Merkur XR4Ti is "made" in the United States. I meant "sold." It's made in Germany.

Warren Brown covers the auto industry for The Washington Post.