WE JOURNALISTS trashed it, said that it was a dumb idea, another giant misstep by General Motors Corp. And after rendering our collective judgment, we marched off in pin-striped self-righteousness to our various hotels in preparation for a night on the town.

That was in January 1990 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The object of our derision was a prototype of the 1991 Oldsmobile Bravada sport-utility vehicle. The Bravada just didn't sit right with our group. We knew too much. And what we knew was that no one was going to buy a hip, off-road sport-utility vehicle from GM's stuffy Oldsmobile passenger-car division. We knew that the Bravada was duplicitous, a not-so-cunning rework of the Chevrolet Blazer, the GMC S10 and the S15 Jimmy. We shook our heads. This was coming from the company that told everybody it was getting out of the business of sharing identical vehicle bodies and platforms among its various car divisions.

We were victims of our own intelligence. Or was it arrogance? In either case, we were wrong. At least, that's my judgment after two weeks in the Bravada.

But, hey, you can forget what I think. Your neighbors loved this machine. They asked for rides. They took it for drives. They offered some criticisms, but mostly they went crazy over it.

Hmph. Every now and then, something happens to remind me that the soul of journalism is listening and research. My Bravada experience marks one of those occasions. I am humbled -- and grateful.

Background: J. Michael Losh, Oldsmobile's general manager, had a dream. He dreamed that one day Oldsmobile would become more than a passenger-car outfit by offering "affordable luxury" editions of minivans and sport-utility vehicles, generically known as "trucks." Oldsmobile rolled out the Silhouette minivan in 1990 and is following that with the Bravada introduction for 1991. Target buyers for both vehicles are college-educated, affluent, professional couples with children -- the same kind of people who were asking to look at the Bravada. I don't know how smart Losh is. But based on his apparently accurate assessment of the market for his new machine, he certainly is nobody's journalist.

Complaints: I could do with a little less flash on the Bravada's dash. Equipped with an optional electronic instrument cluster, the thing is reminiscent of a laser-light show.

Also, Losh's people need to do a better job of differentiating the hood-release lever from the emergency-brake release lever. Three different drivers on three separate occasions inadvertently opened the hood of the Bravada when they meant to release the brakes.

Praise: Most of the people who looked at the test Bravada gave it top marks for interior and exterior styling. All gave it A's for comfort (it seats five), smoothness of acceleration, visibility and overall highway manners. Nobody gave a hoot that the Bravada is deeply rooted in the Chevrolet Blazer and related GM vehicles. They simply said that they liked the Bravada, often stating: "It feels different from the Blazer" or "It doesn't feel like a truck at all."

Head-turning quotient: Perfect hit.

Cargo and towing capacities: With rear seats up, the Bravada carries 35.2 cubic feet of stuff. It carries 74.3 cubic feet with the seats down. Towing capacity is 5,500 pounds.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Triple bingo of smoothness. Four-wheel anti-lock braking also gets kudos. Acceleration is excellent. The Bravada is equipped with a 4.3-liter, 160-horsepower V-6.

Sound system: AM/FM electronic stereo radio and cassette by GM/Delco. Excellent.

Mileage: About 20 to the gallon (20-gallon tank, estimated 380-mile range on usable volume of 87-octane unleaded), combined-city highway, running with one to five occupants and light cargo.

Price: Base price is $23,795. Dealer's invoice price is $21,249. Price as tested is $24,728, including $478 in options and a $455 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Dump the electronic dash ($296). Unless you have a thing for leather, forget the leather-covered seats ($650, not included in the test Bravada). Bargain. The Bravada is excellent, but it's surrounded by worthy, competitively priced rivals. No need to pay top dollar for this one.

Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.