There's a war raging.

The two combatants are Ford and Chevy, and both are battling for a larger slice of turf in the truck market - the one bright spot in the recession-battered auto industry.

It's as if someone at General Motors told Chevrolet's truck engineers to do whatever it takes to make sure Chevy trucks win.

They came darn close.

Generally, I think Ford engineers have done a slightly better job with the interiors of their trucks.

But that's the only area where Ford may be able to claim any advantage over Chevy, which this year redesigned its entire fleet of full-size trucks.

Versatile is the best way to describe the test truck's 190-horsepower 350-cubic inch (5.7-liter) fuel injected V-8 and four-speed automatic transmission.

A rear axle ratio of 3.42 coupled with the four-speed automatic gives the test truck plenty of low-speed power, yet the truck cruises comfortably at 65 mph. The drivetrain is as smooth and quiet as in any family sedan.

Chevy's Extended Cab pickup is EPA-rated at 14 mpg city and 18 mpg on the highway.

For some reason, the test truck clobbered those figures. Driven sensibly and with the air conditioner, I got 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 21 on the road.

The 25-gallon fuel tank means you'll likely drive more than 400 miles between fill-ups.

The test truck had one minor bug: It was difficult to start in the morning. The engine started immediately, but stalled unless I kept it revved up. This would happen three or four times before I could get going.

This is the second Chevrolet truck I have tested this year with the 5.7-liter engine with the same problem. Perhaps Chevy's fuel injection system needs a little fine tuning.

HANDLING

I have never driven a truck that handled as nicely as this one did.

The C1500 Extended Cab, a six-passenger truck, rides on a long 141.5-inch wheelbase. The wheelbase, by the way, is the distance between the center of the front wheels and the center of the rear wheels. Standard models have a 117.5-inch wheelbase.

The extra length gives the big truck an unusually sturdy, stable and neutral ride. This truck is easy to handle at virtually any sane speed.

Chevy has refined the C1500's suspension system to take into account the way trucks are being used.

Increasingly, trucks are being used as second cars. So, Chevy engineers have tuned the C1500'ssuspension to give a carlike ride. But it's still a workhorse, able to haul 2,250 pounds of cargo or tow 7,500 pounds.

At first the C1500 seems rather softly sprung as you glide over dips and bumps. But take it off the road and the suspension seems to tighten up. The truck never shakes or bounces.

The suspension system is standard-issue hardware: coil springs, and shock absorbers in the front and a two-stage leaf spring assembly and shocks in the rear.

The steering is light, but the turning radius of 40 feet means that it wi ll take some extra maneuvering for tight U-turns.

All Chevy C1500s this year have front disc and rear anti-lock drum brakes.

FIT AND FINISH

Chevy's interior seems a bit more utilitarian than the one in the Ford F150, which is downright stylish.

Theradio in the Chevy is rather plain.

The air-conditioner fan has three settings. Low is quiet, but at medium the fan makes a loud hissing noise as it shoves air through the vents. At high speed, the noise is a major distraction.

There are no power mirrors on the truck. They are available for another $53.

For the cost of the truck - more than $20,000 - they should be standard as they are on other competitive trucks.

Yet, the interior is comfortable. The cloth-covered bucket seats were well-padded. There's room in the rear for four passengers. And this is one truck where passengers can ride in reasonable comfort. They won't have to sit sideways.

I like the driving position of this truck. Th driver looks down over the hood for a nearly unobstructed view of the road.

Switches for the air conditioner are laid out in a manner that makes them easy to use.

If the C1500's interior comes up short compared to the Ford, it's exterior more than makes up for it.

This year the big Chevy truck sports a rounded, aerodynamic nose with headlights neatly integrated into the grille's natural shape.

The test truck, a sportside model, featured steps in front and behind the rear fender flares. That makes it easy to load and unload and climb in and out of the bed.

Another nice touch was the ''swing out'' quarter windows for rear passengers.

If you need a truck that looks good and can work hard, Chevy's C1500 is just the ticket.

Truett's tip: This great-looking truck combines utility and comfort in a stylish package that delivers excellent value for the dollar.