Oldsmobile sell a truck?

Sure, and Cadillac should market tractors.

When Olds sought corporate approval to sell a luxury version of the new Chevrolet S-10 Blazer four-wheel-drive utilityvehicle for 1991, it left itself open for criticism.

Why does Olds need a truck when it`s having a hard time selling cars?

Why would someone who owns an Olds 98 sedan want to put the family into a utility vehicle?

Who`d pay more than $20,000 for a four-wheel-drive machine when a Chevy or Ford is available for $5,000 less?

Well, Olds got its wish and dolled up a Blazerfour-door inside and out and hung a Bravada nameplate on it. A twin-port grille and ribbed plastic bumper covers and rocker panel trim helps keep the Bravada from looking like a Blazer.

Slow coming to market, the Bravada is now starting to arrive in showrooms, and critics` questions are being answered.

Why an Olds truck? Because more and more consumers have found the four- wheel-drive utility vehicle an insurance policy for Snow Belt driving and because utility vehicles have become fashionable.

Why a truck when you own a luxury sedan? Because when people travel as a family, they want the added room and safety of a utility vehicle-and the dog fits a lot better behind the second seat in a Bravada than it does in the trunk of a 98.

Why a $20,000 utility when you can get a Chevy or Ford much cheaper? Why is Range Rover selling $40,000 four-wheelers to those who own Jaguars? The buyer who wanted the prestige of an Olds when buying a car is looking for some of that same snob appeal in his or her workhorse utility vehicle-and saves about $20,000 on a Bravada versus a Range Rover.

And don`t forget, the person driving a $30,000 Cadillac or $40,000 Lexus probably isn`t going to boast to those at the club, ``My other vehicle is a Chevy.``

Those critics who questioned Olds` sanity and wisdom in bringing out Bravada should ask, ``Why is Ford actively engaged in preparing to bring out a dolled-up Explorer utility vehicle to compete against Bravada in the very near future?``

The Bravada is built on a 107-inch wheelbase and is 178.9 inches long. It seats five in two buckets up front and a bench in the rear. Entry to the cargo hold behind the rear seat is through the rear hatchback lid.

When test driving the Bravada, the annoyances were minimal.

The peppy 4.3-liter, 160-horsepower V-6 is more than adequate to move the load, but carries a 17 mile-per-gallon city/22 m.p.g. highway rating with the standard automatic transmission. Bravada is full-time four-wheel drive. The price you pay for never having to get out and lock hubs or fiddle with a transfer case to switch from two- to four-wheel drive is having to become bosom buddies with your local petrol dealer.

We suspect there may be a wealthy lady or gentleman out there who`d settle for part-time four-wheel-drive and be willing to press a button on the dash to engage four-wheel drive when needed. A couple more miles per gallon would be worth the effort of having to press digit to button to engage four- wheel drive. The Ford Explorer has such a system.

Another gripe is that the driver`s seat is manually adjusted. The lever to move the seat fore and aft is buried too far underneath to reach without assuming the prone position. Power seats or a longer adjustment handle would solve that.

Finally, a minor point for those who travel with pets. The leather door trim and console covering might look good, but don`t stand up well to pet paws or claws. A tough cloth on the doors and a rippled hard vinyl on the console would stand up to scratches better than soft leather.

On the plus side, the Bravada features four-wheel antilock brakes, which means you can rely on four-wheel drive to get you going in the snow and on antilock brakes to ensure you stop in it.

Sta dard equipment includes air conditioning; power brake s and steering; AM-FM stereo with cassette and digital clock; power door locks, mirrors and windows; rear-window defroster; cruise control; center console equipped with two auxiliary electrical outlets and slide-out dual cupholders; fog lamps; floor mats; luggage rack; folding rear bench seat; leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel; gas shocks front and rear; 15-inch cast aluminum wheels; tinted windows; and intermittent wipers.

There`s no air bag.

The Bravada starts at $23,795. The only option our vehicle added was leather seats for $650. Cloth is cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter and costs considerably less to repair if damaged.

Olds buyers also get a guaranteed satisfaction warranty, which means if you don`t like the vehicle for any reason within the first 30 days or 1,500 miles you can return it for another Olds vehicle. That same offer is made on all Olds vehicles for 1991. Bravada also comes with a 24-hour roadside assistance program, meaning help will be sent in the event of a breakdown.

>> 1991 Olds Bravada Wheelbase: 107 inches Length: 178.9 inches Engine: 4.3 liter, 160 h.p. V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g highway Base price: $23,795 Strong point: Poor man`s Range Rover. Stylish, well equipped four wheeler with ABS. Weak point: No air bag, full time 4WD affects fuel economy, manual seat lever hard to reach and use. >>