Ford and Harley-Davidson struck a deal in 2000 for Ford to build a limited-edition model of the F-150 pickup truck that would have Harley ornamentation on the body and Harley insignias stitched into the leather upholstery.

A good excuse, the companies figured, to create an instant "collector's item," and charge plenty for it. Fine. People bought it.

For 2000, that truck was an F-150 extended cab, with the two small rear doors that open only when the main doors open. For 2001, the Harley pickup became a crew cab, with four full doors. Not much else changed.

So when initial word arrived that for 2002, the big news would be that the Harley F-150 would still be a crew cab, but would now be available not only in black - the color of all Harley F-150s in 2000 and 2001 - but in "Shadow Gray Clearcoat," it was a nonstory.

But there's more. The 260-horsepower, 5.4-liter V-8 has been replaced with a supercharged version of that engine, now pumping out 340 horsepower. This is essentially the same engine found in the Special Vehicle Team's Lightning F-150, but that engine has 380 horsepower. It's a pretty safe bet that the Harley F-150's engine output is much closer than that to the SVT Lightning, but it makes political sense to claim a 40-horse difference to avoid annoying loyal Lightning owners.

In either model, this is a superb engine. Punch the accelerator, and the supercharger - essentially a belt-driven fan that pumps air and fuel into the engine under pressure - starts to wail, and the truck just squirts. Coupled with the responsive four-speed automatic transmission, this is a wonderful powertrain.

What's more, though, is that when no one was looking, it seems like some SVT engineers sneaked some high-performance suspension pieces into the Harley-Davidson F-150. You would think this rock-hard suspension, with the enormous P275/45R-20 Goodyear Eagle VR-rated radials on aluminum wheels, seems like a recipe for a log-wagon ride. Wrong. This F-150 crew cab, while nearly 20 inches longer than the short-bed Lightning, corners incredibly well, and does so while delivering a surprisingly smooth ride.

This performance comes as nothing short of a revelation. The 2000 and '01 Harley F-150s were nice, but you felt as though you weren't getting much of substance for the extra money - close to $6,000. For 2002, you'll pay a little more, but you get a lot more.

You can get a nice F-150 SuperCrew, which is what Ford calls its four-door crew cab, for a list price of less than $28,000. Base price on the Harley edition is $35,780, and after you add on the test truck's power moonroof ($810), aluminum tubular bed extender ($195), a six-disc CD changer ($295) and $740 in transportation charges, the bottom line is $37,820.

A Lightning, which comes only as a two-door, regular-cab model, lists for about $32,000. So the extra money for the four-door Harley model is not out of line.

If you can afford the Harley mod el, you won't be needing much in the way of extra equipment. The black leather interior, Harley logos and all, is very well done, and has a genuine custom feel to it. Most everything comes as standard equipment, such as air conditioning, cruise control, a limited-slip differential, anti-lock disc brakes, front tow hooks, mirror-mounted turn signals, and power everything. Even so, the Harley F-150, given the limitations of the shortened bed that comes with the crew cab, can be used as an actual pickup truck.

The two previous Harley trucks, while nice, were of little interest to any of us not impressed, or even slightly embarrassed, by all the Harley hardware hung on them. The 2002 model is a different story. This may be the most fun, most practical hot rod on the road today, and until you drive one, you may not believe how nimble a 226-inch pickup truck can be.

Base price: $35,780.

Price as tested: $37,820.

EPA-rated fuel mileage: 12 mpg city, 16 mpg highway.

Details: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive crew cab pickup with supercharged 5.4-liter, 340-horsepower V-8 with a four-speed automatic transmission.