The 1999 Chevrolet S-10 Xtreme was so disappointing, it reminded me of Gloria.

She went to St. Mary's Academy, a black all-girls Catholic high school in New Orleans. I went to St. Augustine, the counterpart for boys.

I had a crush on Gloria. She was pretty, hot and tempting, and she liked me, too. We had a date--a school dance, one of those events where nuns and priests walk around keeping male and female bodies apart. Didn't matter. Gloria winked, smiled, nodded and squeezed my hand in a way that only a teenage boy could love.

I left the dance with her thinking, "This is it. Yippee!"

But Gloria said that would be a sin. She just wanted to talk--about becoming a nun.

"Shock" doesn't begin to describe my dismay. There was a pervasive feeling of stupidity, of being so wrong about something, it was embarrassing. That is how I felt in the Xtreme.

Such a silly truck.

It looked like a hot-rod pickup with its lowered body--two inches lower in ride height than the Chevrolet S-10, on which it is based. It had ground-effects body cladding, wheel flares, flared rear fenders, body-color front grille and bumpers, and other rod-looking stuff. Appearances said it could run. It couldn't--at least not very well.

The Xtreme's lowered body bumped all over less-than-smooth roads, which means I was shaken up in the District of Columbia, a city in which smooth streets are few and bumpy, potholed streets are legion. Handling was sloppy, which was understandable. No vehicle can bump and wiggle in the manner of the Xtreme and stay on a straight path or stick nicely in the curves.

Acceleration was blah, which was surprising. In the test truck, General Motors Corp. used its generally excellent 4.3-liter, 180-horsepower V-6, an engine that works exceptionally well in regular S-10s. But the Xtreme was loaded with so much gimcrackery, the V-6, mated to an optional four-speed automatic transmission, was a slug.

There is a standard engine, a 120-horsepower, in-line four-cylinder job. But considering the lackluster performance of the V-6 in the Xtreme package, I could not recommend it. The standard transmission for base and upscale Xtremes is a five-speed manual.

Unlike Ford Motor Co.'s F-150 Lightning performance pickup, which is a full-size truck, the compact Xtreme is neither engineered nor equipped for towing. Judging from personal use, the way its rear end bounced around it doesn't do such a good job of carrying loads in its cargo bay either.

All of this is very curious, because the regular S-10 models are excellent compact pickup trucks. They are stable and sturdy, can safely carry payloads of up to 1,481 pounds and can be equipped to tow trailers of up to 5,500 pounds.

More curious is that the S-10 actually can be engineered into something close to a performance truck. The proof is in the aftermarket work being done by SLP Engineering Inc. in Troy, Mich. SLP took the S-10 and turned it into the Seeker, a compact pickup with resonant dual-exhaust pipes, lowered body and a V-6 engine with 15 more horsepower than the Xtreme, thanks to the installation of a cold-air induction system to help boost performance.

I can't figure out why GM did what it did with the Xtreme any more than I can understand why a good-looking girl like Gloria dumped me for the Sisters of the Holy Family. It's a mystery.

Nuts & Bolts

1999 Chevrolet S-10 Xtreme

Complaint: One more. The front lower-body cladding is easy prey for lumpy, bumpy roads. It gets scraped and banged about. With enough such abuse, it quickly will become the shabbiest part of the Xtreme appearance package.

Praise: The regular S-10 is a darn good pickup. The Xtreme clearly is not a regular S-10.

Capacities: The test truck was an extended cab with comfortable seating for two. Fuel capacity: 19 gallons of regular unleaded.

Engines: A 2.2-liter, in-line four-cylinder engine is standard. It produces 120 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 140 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. The optional engine is 4.3-liter V-6 that produces 180 horsepower (190 horsepower in four-wheel-drive models) at 4,400 rpm and 245 pound-feet of torque (250 pound-feet in 4x4s) at 2,800 rpm.

Mileage: In the test truck, about 16 miles per gallon in mostly city driving. Estimated 292-mile range.

Safety: Dual front depowered air bags with on-off switch for front passenger. Leave "on." Wear seat belts. Transport children in the rear seats of something more sensible.

Price: The tested Xtreme was based on the Chevrolet S-10 LS Extended Cab Fleetside, which carries a 1999 base price of $15,486 and a dealer invoice of $14,015. Price as tested is $23,422, including $7,416 for the Xtreme appearance package and other options and a $520 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Save money. Buy smart. Be happy. Get the regular S-10.