YOU DIDN'T have to ask Mr. Dave what he did for a living. All you had to do was look at his pickup truck. It was a big thing, green, the bed of which always was filled with lumber and masonry and stuff.

Yeah, Mr. Dave was in construction. But I don't think he was a manager since he'd drive off to a job dressed in clean overalls and come back wearing 'em dirty.

And the truck? I can't remember if it was a Ford or a Chevrolet. But I do recall that if you saw a fellow running around in a truck in New Orleans, you figured he was a worker.

Teachers and preachers drove Chevrolets, Buicks and Oldsmobiles back then. But if you were a really good preacher, you drove something special, like maybe a Lincoln or a Cadillac. You definitely didn't drive a truck.

That was then. Today, everybody everywhere seems to be jumping into trucks, which are beginning to sell as well as cars. That means more trucks -- including vans and sports utility vehicles -- will appear in this column. For example, there is this week's test vehicle, the 1988 Mitsubishi SPX Macrocab, a four-wheel-drive pickup.

I don't think Mr. Dave would understand the SPX Macrocab. In concept, it's a vehicle more confusing than its name. The thing has cut pile carpeting, a stereo that'll blast you to another world, power steering and power- assisted disc brakes. Good golly! It has 15-inch alloy sports wheels, bucket seats and a tilt steering wheel, and it has all kinds of little pockets and cubby holes to put things in. Some kind of truck.

Oh, it's a good truck. I mean, it even has a cargo box, a short bed stretching 72 inches.

But the SPX Macrocab costs more than some of the houses Mr. Dave used to build. Nope. Mr. Dave wouldn't understand that, not at all.

Complaints: Something's wacky here. Included in the test model's $16,000-plus price is $1,583.50 for a dealer's "environmental protection package." The package includes undercoating, "finish sealant" and something else called "interior preserver." What utter nonsense!

Here's a rugged four-wheel-drive vehicle, designed to be used off-road -- a machine that comes with a terrific manufacturer's five-year, unlimited-mileage, anti-corrosion perforation warranty. For this, you need "undercoating"? And what's the difference between "interior preserver" and a can of ScotchGuard, available in any auto parts store? And what, pray tell, is "finish sealant?" Wouldn't a good wax job do as well?

Praise: The SPX Macrocab is a well-made compact pickup. It's incredibly stable at highway speeds and, in four-wheel-drive mode, it mushes through the snow and nasty stuff with aplomb. The interior is aces -- seats two in perfect comfort. And there's ample room behind the seats for crushable-type luggage and several bags of groceries.

Head-turning-quotient: A self-consciously macho styling.

Ride, acceleration, handling: Acceleration is okay. The engine is a carburated 2.6-liter, four-cylinder model rated at 109 hp at 5,000 rpm. The ride is trucky -- the SPX Macrocab does the jig on bad roads at speeds above 15 mph. Still, the ride is decent. Handling at highway speeds on good roads is tops.

Sound system: Electronic AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with graphic equalizer and four speakers, by Mitsubishi. First class.

Mileage: About 21 per gallon (15.7-gallon tank, estimated 320-mile range on usable volume), combined city-highway, running mostly driver only without trailer or cargo.

Price: Gag! $16,170.50, including the dealer's $1,583.50 "environmental protection package," $2,483 in options, and a $225 transportation charge. Base price is $11,879, and the dealer's invoice price without the options and "protection package" $10,159.

Purse-strings warning: Shop around. Many competitive models at lower prices. The SPX Macrocab is good, but not that good.

Warren Brown covers the auto industry for The Washington Post.