I've always been irritated by pickup truck commercials on TV. All those macho men, built like NFL linebackers, blasting through the woods and desert like so many environmental Cossacks.

After the rampage is over, our heroes stand around, beers in hand, bragging about how their truck is meaner/stronger/tougher than the other guy's.I still don't like truck commercials, but now I'm not so sure about trucks. I've been driving a factory press truck, a Chevrolet S-10 compact pickup with extended cab and 4WD, for the past nine days and today they came to get it back. I didn't want to let them have it.

That's a terrible confession for a card-carrying "car guy," but it's true. Forget about "image," the bottom line is this: Trucks are so darn useful!

I mean when you're renovating your basement room, how are you going to get the 2X4's and paneling home, in the trunk of your Mazda Miata?

And when all those dead branches from your back yard have to go to the dump, who ya gonna call, your Buick Regal?

And what about when you can save a pile of dough by schlepping your new washer and dryer home yourself? You think you'll slide them into the back seat of your Acura Legend?

See what I mean? Trucks are useful. There wasn't a day that I was driving that red and white S-10 that I wasn't plotting some task for that big empty box riding along behind me. An empty pickup bed is a vessel itching to be filled and can there possibly be a suburbanite among us who can't fill it on a weekly basis? Especially in spring, summer and fall? I think not.

I've spent too much of my allotted space here raving about trucks in general. We will now talk about the S-10 in particular. This is Chevy's answer to Ford's Ranger - the smaller than full-size but bigger than the imports - domestic trucks. It's a niche that has done quite well for itself.

The S-10 I drove had the Tahoe options package that added a long list of goodies not the least of which was extra insulation and sound-deadening materials that made riding in it a very carlike experience.

I haven't evaluated a truck before and I haven't ridden in enough of them to really say where the S-10 falls in the great pickup pantheon so I'll just have to wing it based on a car guy's perspective.

At first, I was put off by the 5-speed manual transmission; the clutch seemed stiff and placed too high and the shifter throws seemed long and inaccurate. In short, shifting this baby seemed like a lot of work.

Surprisingly, I got used to all that very quickly and even learned to drive it fairly smoothly, with a minimum of lurching, not as easy as it sounds considering how low first gear is (you can start out in second gear with minimal clutch slipping.)

I was also surprised by the tiny, inward facing jump seats in the "maxi" end of the cab. I wouldn't want to take the kids to Disneyland in them, but Lagoon wouldn't be out of the question. They are much more comfortable than they look.

Also, just having that space behind the seats to stow packages and what not seems to me almost mandatory. Without it, anything but your briefcase (do real truckers carry briefcases?) has to ride unprotected in the bed.

I am in uncharted waters here and I don't want to compare the ride, handling, ergonomics, etc., of this truck with, say, a Lexus LS400 - there's no point and it wouldn't be fair. But I will say that the S-10 ride is much easier on the kidneys than many of the small Japanese sport utility vehicles I've tested.

I was disappointed, however, to find that the S-10's gas gauge didn't work. Detroit keeps telling us that they have won the quality wars, but would you expect the gas gauge in a brand new Toyota or Honda to fail? Unthinkable. Chevrolet has been installing gas gauges in their vehicles for at least 70 years so there's no excuse for one that wanders up and down the dial, from full to near empty to half full, where it stays until the tank runs dry.

The S-10 I evaluated had morethan a dozen options; the only missing items were a sun roof and automatic transmission. The base vehicle with 4WD is priced at $13,830, but options pushed my truck to $16,747, including destination charges, a sum that puts it up against some pretty highly rated cars: the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus sedans come to mind.

But, hey, would you dump a load of top soil in the trunk of your Accord? Could you move your mother-in-law into her new condo in your Taurus?

Who knows, maybe this car guy will become a truck guy. Or perhaps half a truck guy. That's the joy of being a two-vehicle family.