Twelve model years ago the GMC Truck Division of General Motors Corp. entered the compact sport-utility vehicle market with a new product, a catchy name, and aspirations to strike a blow in the truck field.

All three of those goals were realized when GMC launched its first compact sport-utility in 1983. It was called a Jimmy, and the vehicle has become an integral part of the growing sport-utility market.

Twelve years with the same fundamental product, however, virtually is an eternity in the automotive industry. So for the 1995 Jimmy, it was back to the drawing boards to redefine what a compact sport-utility vehicle should be.

What it should be is a car wearing the clothing of a truck, a vehicle in tune with the design wants of women drivers as well as men.

GMC is providing all this with a 1995 vehicle that adopts the three sacred elements of design -- longer, lower, and wider.

Considering that GMC's stylists and engineers accomplished this trick on the same 100.5-inch wheelbase for the two-door version, and same 107-inch wheelbase for the four-door, the new Jimmys represent a quantum leap over their predecessors.

The increase in length and width translates into more interior space for all manner of uses. The addition of more space is accompanied by such accouterments as comfortable seating, a plethora of utilitarian storage bins, a new overhead console with four adjustable reading lamps, standard accessory equipment, rear heating ducts, carpeting and a touch of luxury at a moderate price range.

"It drives like a car," said Ken Eckstein, truck manager for Ed Martin Acura- Pontiac-GMC Trucks. "It's smooth. It's quiet. It has a great ride.

"We're getting a wide variety of customers that are getting out of luxury automobiles and into one of these."

No matter how you approach it, a truck is a truck. But in Jimmy form, it's a pretty slick looking one.

Just because it's a utility vehicle doesn't mean it has to look like a box on wheels, and this new '95 Jimmy doesn't. Aerodynamic form complements function, with rounded frontal lines flowing into a sloping windshield, rounded side paneling, and a contoured rear end.

And just because it's a highly styled vehicle doesn't mean the utility features are lost. It's still possible to load a washing machine in its shipping box through the rear cargo entrance and close the hatch.

GMC's marketing philosophy may be that the two-door crowd possesses a little more of the sporting interest, but the four- door sells better.

"I've been unable to keep a four-door on the lot for more than a week," Eckstein said. "They're (GMC) nowhere near keeping up with the demand."

The four-door, which is available in two- or four- wheel drive, has an overall length of 181.6 inches, about the size of a midsized automobile. However, you can do things with it that you can't do with a car.

For starters, you can tow up to 5,500 pounds with the vehicle. And when equipped with four-wheel-drive, off-road ventur es are opened up that would be impossible with a passenger car.

Power is by GM's enhanced 4.3-liter (262 cubic inch) V-6, an engine designed to offer more horsepower and torque than the standard GMC 4.3 motor. Horsepower for this enhanced version is 195 vs. 160 horses for the standard unit. Torque is 260 foot-pounds vs. 235 for the standard V-6.

This increase in horsepower and torque, plus being coupled to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic (which is standard equipment for the four-door Jimmy) gives the vehicle some strong performance characteristics. The two-wheel drive version of the four-door weighs but 3,666 pounds, and that translates into guaranteed lively acceleration for urban and suburban motoring.

Engineering boxed the frame on the new Jimmys so as to increase torsional rigidity by 28 percent and bending stiffness by 50 percent. The robust frame provides a firm basis for optimizing four suspension packages.

qBy juggling tires, shock absorber valving, bu shings, spring rates and the size of stabilizer bars, owners have the option of a smooth ride, off-road handling, sporty touring, or a luxury ride.

With more and more men and women driving Jimmys, GMC is putting more and more emphasis on a quiet interior, an easy, car-like ride and good fuel economy.

There are also some child-safety features on the four-doors, such as safety locks on the rear doors and a rear window lock-out switch when power windows are used.

It is pretty obvious that GMC is of the intent to keep on truckin' with its '95 Jimmy, just as it has for the past 12 years with its predecessors. The world has seen a lot of changes since 1983, and in the truck business the new Jimmy is a major one.

1995 GMC Jimmy Model year: 1995Base price: $22,025Type: Front-engine, rear-drive, five-or-six- passenger, four-door, compact sport-utility vehicle.Engine: 4.3-liter, OHV V-6, 12 valves, fuel-injected, 195 horsepower, 260 foot-pounds of torque.Transmission: Four-speed automatic.Mileage: 17 city/22 mpg highway.Dimensions: wheelbase 107 inches, length 181.6 inches, width 67.8 inches and height 65.9 inches.NPayload: 1,184 poundsTowing: 5,500 poundsOptions: Deluxe stereo, bench front seat, suspension package, power windows and locks, cruise control, aluminum wheels, luggage carrier, fog lamps.