Psst. Keep a secret?

Folks are standing in line to buy $50,000 sport-utility vehicles to have 4WD roadability in the winter and enough room inside to hold a family and their packages any time of the year.

But for far less money, you can get a vehicle that does everything an SUV does--and more because it comes with a truck bed. It's the Ford F-250 Super Duty Lariat Crew Cab pickup.

Crew Cab means this is an extended-cab model, but rather than tiny rear access doors without handles like on an F-150, this machine sports full-size, swing-out doors in back with handles. First time those swing-out doors are standard on this machine.

And the rear seat will easily hold three adults who can stretch arms and legs without bumping into each other.

The Super Duty Crew Cab offers the room consumers thought they'd get with four-door extended cab pickups but don't because the rear seat in those models is abbreviated. In the Crew Cab, it's a full-size seat. And the large, power side windows motor all the way into the door.

Best description of the Crew Cab is a roomier and more spacious Lincoln Continental with a truck bed. We'd prefer to hop in the Crew Cab than the Continental for a cross-country jaunt.

If you think SUVs have gotten big, they look like Munchkins compared with an F-250. Standing alongside with arm fully raised, the fingers barely reached the roof. With a 27-inch step-in height you'll praise the running boards.

Cabin room puts the Hummer to shame. Of course, seating capacity and trim levels also put the Hummer to shame, as does the rather quiet V-10 engine that powers the pickup. Hummer makes so much commotion you can't hear a passenger. In the crew cab, you can hold a conversation even with the windows open. People who bought a Hummer to be fashionable missed out on the Crew Cab that's oh, so functional.

There are a few problems, however, one being that the tailgate is very heavy. And there's a step in the bumper to get to the tailgate, but you may need a footstool to reach the step.

The transmission allows you to press a button on the gear shift to disengage overdrive, but a light on the lever flashes "OD Off." We'd prefer a light in the panel.

And why a vehicle that holds six adults, but an ashtray that holds one cigarette and a glove box that holds one glove?

The test truck was powered by Ford's 6.8-liter, 275-h.p., V-10 engine. No hesitation when you press the pedal. Of course, whenever the gas pedal moves, the gas gauge does, too--rapidly. Automakers don't have to list fuel economy averages on trucks more than 8,500-pound gross vehicle weight so the crew cab offers no hint at m.p.g. A guess is that 10 m.p.g. is about what to expect. The tank holds 38 gallons. Use them wisely because you'll use a lot of them.

A 7.3-liter, 235-h.p., diesel V-8 is a $4,600 option and the choice for the fuel conscious--and those who tow a lot. Ford says 80 percent of the trucks will be sold with the diesel. Those two engines also will be offered in the massive Excursion sport-ute coming this fall, but Ford expects the diesel take rate there to be much lower.

Ride and handling is very similar to a Continental. You get a civilized suspension that keeps the roughness out of the cabin.

Noteworthy features include huge, foldaway outside mirrors, a center console big enough to store a small suitcase, automatic 4WD so you can turn the dial to 4WD but stay in 2WD until the system detects wheel slippage and engages all four wheels, a power plug in the center of the instrument panel and a plastic clip on the console top to hold a notepad.

The F-250 super-duty pickup is the platform for the Excursion. If Excursion offers the room and comfort, ride and handling and performance of this truck, the question won't be why people buy such huge vehicles, but rather, why more people don't buy them.

The 4x4 Crew Cab starts at $28,330. The test vehicle added the $2,810 L ariat decor pa ckage with such items as lighted running boards; $335 for the V-10; $970 for 4-speed automatic; $390 for 16- inch, all-terrain tires; $190 for trailer-towing package; $310 for a limited slip rear axle; $150 for automatic 4WD; $125 for sliding rear window; $365 for all-terrain spare and wheel; $190 for premium cassette/CD; $500 for four-wheel ABS; $150 for chrome rear-step bumper; $150 for trailer hitch receiver; $100 for privacy glass; and $190 for two-tone paint. Add $640 for freight, but subtract $1,405 for Lariat package discounts and the sticker read $34,490.

Tom Cavanaugh, F-Series marketing plans manager for Ford, says the automaker will sell about 120,000 crew cabs this year, with 70 to 75 percent for personal, rather than commercial, use.

"It's become a vehicle for people who want to tow bigger toys--horse trailers, campers, boats--and for people who want the biggest vehicle on the road," he said.

Obviously a few folks realize this vehicle is a low-cost alternative to an SUV and is such a bargain that Cavanaugh says expect a three- to four-month wait.