2000 GMC Sierra 1500 SL

"This is what happens when you marry the city to the country," said Frank, referring to GMC's 2000 Sierra 1500 SL pickup. It was a work truck, or so I thought.

Frank, my editor, thought differently.

He's an old dude from the old days when trucks were trucks and men were men.

"Does it have carpeting?" Frank asked.

"Of course it has carpeting," I said.

"That's no work truck," said Frank. "Work trucks have rubber flooring and mats, so you can hose 'em out."

"But it's got industrial-grade carpeting," I said.

"You can't clean carpeting with a hose," he said. "Does it have a stereo, air conditioner, nicely upholstered seats?"

"Yes," I said, becoming defensive. "But it has roll-up windows, too!"

"It's a truck. It's supposed to have roll-up windows," said Frank.

Thus went the conversation between the grump and the wimp. To Frank, a truck's not a truck if it's all gussied up. To me, slumming is riding in a regular-cab pickup with standard-issue carpeting and roll-up windows. It's the difference between a guy who grew up working with his hands and one who was reared on keyboards, and therein lies the problem with today's trucks.

Trucks have moved from farm to city, and from construction work sites to suburban driveways and shopping-center parking lots. The change has been physical, mental, spiritual and aesthetic.

Some automakers have responded by turning pickup trucks into plush El Caminos, luxury cars with cargo beds. Others have taken the extreme-sports route, transforming their trucks into mountain-climbing Olympians, capable of going anywhere, including places most folks don't want to go.

General Motors Corp., through its GMC and Chevrolet divisions, chose a more conservative path, hewing closely to traditional pickup virtues while accessorizing to satisfy the whims of buyers who believe cars and trucks should be as comfortable as their homes.

GM did something else, as evidenced by the highway performance of the Sierra 1500 SL. It added power, a 270-horsepower, 4.8-liter V-8 in the case of the test truck. That is one of four engines, including a 300-horsepower V-8, available in the Sierra 1500 line.

GM said it "improved" the Sierra 1500's suspension. But the "improvement" is likely to spark more real-truck/wimp-truck controversy. The ride is smoother, softer. I like that. But pickup traditionalists might loathe it, which is why GM offers a choice of several Sierra suspension systems, including the RPO ZX3 (Adjustable Electronic Ride Control).

The RPO ZX3 allows drivers to change suspension settings at the flip of a switch on the instrument panel. The setting can be for a smooth city ride or for heavy trailering and hauling. That strikes me as being democratic. But Frank probably would object to that, too. The very idea! Suspension a la carte. What will they do next? Add a fax machine, telephone, television?

Actually, all of that can be done, along with adding two more doors and comfortable rear seating for three.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The tested Sierra 1500 SL was as close as I could get to a base, full-size GMC pickup. It had neither power windows nor power seats. It was two-wheel-drive, as opposed to the available Sierra four-wheel-drive system. And it had manually operated side-view mirrors and a regular cab that could seat two people comfortably.

As for the other stuff, well, yeah; along with carpeting came optional air conditioning, cruise control, four-speed automatic transmission, AM-FM stereo with cassette, rear fender flares, black body-side moldings, and, um, chrome right rear step bumpers, chrome-plated steel wheels and a deluxe front appearance package.

"That's base?" Frank asked.

I think so. "Base" is relative. I mean, one person's basement is another person's den, right?

Nuts & Bolts

2000 GMC Sierra 1500 SL

Complaints: One of these days, an automaker is going to design a pickup-truck instrument panel that eliminates distracting gauge glare on the interior surfaces of windows during night driving. That day hasn't come yet at the GMC division. Lots of glare on that Sierra 1500 windshield.

Praise: A very comfortable pickup with lots of get-up and go. As much fun as driving an, um, ah . . . you know . . . sports sedan or something.

Head-turning quotient: Traditional truck styling, square body softened by rounded edges. Pretty face with big headlamps, kind of a Wisconsin smile.

Ride, acceleration and handling: All quite enjoyable for people who think trucks should be as benign as sedans. Traditional pickup lovers might want to select a more rugged Sierra suspension package.

Capacities: Seats two people comfortably. Tested two-wheel-drive version can be equipped to carry a payload of 2,145 pounds and pull a trailer weighing 7,800 pounds. Fuel capacity in the tested short-cargo-bed (6.5 feet) version is 26 gallons of recommended regular unleaded.

Price: Base price is $16,000. Dealer's invoice on base model is $14,752. Price as tested is $22,207, including $5,567 in options and a $640 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Even at $22,207, it's still a good bargain. Compare with Ford F150, Toyota Tundra, Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier.