Driving in freezing rain is no fun and I normally wouldn't choose it, but I had to get to the airport. This task was made tolerable by the four-wheel-drive GMC Jimmy that was the test car for the week.

I did not have one iota of trouble, even though other traffic did not fare as well. Once at the airport I discovered my journey had been for naught because all flights were canceled. At least getting back home was easy.

Times like these bring the appeal of sport-utility vehicles into crisp focus. While many folks may buy them for style and utility, they truly shine in nasty weather and bring peace of mind like few other vehicles can.

The compact Jimmy shares its body and powertrain with the Chevy Blazer and Oldsmobile Bravada. It is smaller than some of the behemoths on the road, which can be both good and bad. Good because it is easy to drive, will fit into your garage and drinks less gas than full-size SUVS. Bad because the interior is smaller, and it can feel crowded with four aboard. A hump in the floor in front of the passenger seat amplifies the feeling of tight space.

Outside, there are subtle differences for 1998, most notably new headlights, grille and lower front fascia. Side-body cladding has been changed and the wheels are new, but otherwise it looks very similar to past models.

Anti-lock, four-wheel-disc brakes are standard on all models this year. The brakes have been upgraded, too, for improved stopping.

The biggest differences can be found inside. Adding a second airbag forced the redesign of the instrument panel, and a whole new gauge cluster sits under a large hood behind the steering wheel. The gauges look so much classier than the old ones, plus they are easier to read. A grab handle for the passenger has been molded into the dash.

The center section, which houses the radio and heating controls, has been canted toward the driver so it is closer to the driver. GM has finally turned its attention to the heater controls, which now have a more appealing texture. Best of all, they roll smoothly and have a quality feel.

Our test vehicle was equipped with leather bucket seats that were wide and smooth. The seat adjuster has a more intuitive design.

The console is new, there are two separate power outlets in addition to the cigar lighter, and the cupholders now handle mugs of varying sizes.

In the back, the cover for concealing cargo pulls out from the side instead of being a separate window-shade affair that has to be taken out when the seat is folded down. A simple idea, true, but a significant improvement.

The tailgate pivots from the top for easy access to the cargo space, and the window opens separately.

Power comes from the 4.3-liter, Vortec V6 engine. This workhorse felt a bit short of breath merging into traffic unless you gave it the full-throttle kickdown, but then it weighs about 4,000 pounds.

Shifting into four-wheel drive was done by punching a button on the dash. Effortless.

GMC offers three different suspension options--smooth, luxury or Euro--so buyers can select the ride they prefer. The test vehicle had the luxury ride option, and it was quite civilized. The around-town ride was firm but not rough, and on the highway it rode like a family sedan.


The base price of our test truck was $25,855. Options included the SLT touring package, fog lamps, luxury ride suspension, AM/FM stereo with CD player, power sunroof and trip computer.

The sticker price was $30,772.


The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.

Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.

Point:The Jimmy's new dash and seats make the interior better visually and functionally. New heater controls feel like those from a luxury car.

Counterpoint: Compact SUVs are not overly spacious inside, and that applies to th Jimmy.


ENGINE: 4.3-liter, V6


WHEELBASE: 107 inches

GVWR: 5,300 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $25,855


MPG RATING: 16 city, 20 hwy.