I still have a hard time getting my head around the concept of a Cadillac pickup truck. The Escalade EXT is nominally a pickup truck, but functionally it is more like an SUV with a covered cargo box.

The EXT is Cadillac's derivative of the Chevrolet Avalanche. It has a full-size back seat, four doors and a 5-foot-3-inch covered bed on a 130-inch wheelbase. That makes it as long as an Escalade ESV or Suburban.

For 2006, an optional power sliding tonneau cover can be specified in place of the three-piece rigid tonneau. Another option is a load floor that slides out over the tailgate to facilitate loading.

A removable midgate is the key to the EXT's hauling versatility. The wall between the cab and bed folds into the cab, turning the small bed into one that is 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. The three-piece removable tonneau cover not only keeps items out of the weather, but it is strong enough to stand on. It comes off in sections to accommodate tall items.

The rear seat not only has adequate room for adults, but it can be folded flat to create an inside cargo space that is separate from the pickup bed. The EXT, as well as the Avalanche, has almost as many combinations as a Swiss Army knife.

After driving an EXT for a week, I concluded that it is designed to appeal to folks who want Cadillac comfort in a vehicle that is capable of towing 7,300 pounds or hauling half a ton. The in-your-face styling of the pearl white test truck was not exactly my cup of tea, but I appreciated the vehicle's versatility when I was able to throw a snowblower in the back and not get the cabin wet.

And it was nice to have all-wheel drive, deep cushioned seats, navigation system, satellite radio, automatic climate control and heated seats. Heat can be applied solely to the backrests, and that's handy to relieve back fatigue on long trips even when the weather isn't bitter cold.

Cadillac uses very soft leather, lots of wood trim and gauges that are inspired by Bulgari, a jewelry maker. Power adjustable pedals, 14-way driver's seat and premium audio are standard as well.

The 6.0-liter V-8 puts out 345 horsepower and is mated to an all-wheel-drive system. All-wheel drive gives better snow traction than rear-wheel drive, but stopping, even with ABS, was still tricky on snow. As good as all-wheel drive and electronic traction aids can be, a good set of winter tires makes a big difference in drivability on snow and ice.

This engine never feels stressed and is quiet. An electronic throttle control contributes to the crisp throttle response. The EXT weighs nearly three tons and is rated at 13 mpg in the city and 17 on the highway.

The EXT's ride was extremely smooth, thanks to the road-sensing suspension that makes constant adjustments to the shock absorbers. The steering was light, sometimes almost too much so. Load-leveling shocks keep the rear end from sagging under a heavy load.

Price

The test car's base price was $53,335. Options included the Select Edition package (sunroof, chrome wheels and radio with integrated navigation system), rear-seat entertainment center, second-row bench seat and special paint. The sticker price was $59,990.

Warranty

Four years or 50,000 miles.

Engine: 6.0-liter, 345-hp V-8

Transmission: Automatic

Wheelbase: 130 inches

Curb weight: 5,814 lbs.

Base price: $53,335

As driven: $59,990

Mpg: 13 city, 17 hwy. At A Glance

Point: Cadillac's Escalade EXT is a multifunctional vehicle that can do just about anything. With V-8 power, all-wheel drive and a flexible bed configuration, it can tow, haul or be comfortable in formal situations.

Counterpoint: The EXT is expensive and thirsty. The pearl white test car looked overwrought.

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Tom Strongman's e-mail address is tstrongman@kc.rr.com.