We knew our test drive of the 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada would be an emotional experience. After all, the Bravada is Oldsmobile's last new product. General Motors Corp. announced in December that it was killing the 103-year-old division that put 10 million vehicles on American roads. Sadly, the last Oldsmobile - a redesigned SUV - is not the four-star vehicle we'd hoped it would be. In fact, the $35,000 five-passenger sport ute, a companion to the all-new 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy, isn't much better than average in a highly competitive segment populated with overachievers.

He: Before we get into the nuts and bolts, I want to say from the start that I love the looks of the new Bravada. So GM is torpedoing the Oldsmobile brand. You know what? This vehicle would still look great as a Cadillac - if the Cadillac trucks weren't already so ugly. What I'm trying to say is the 2002 Bravada is much more distinctive than its predecessor, and it truly conveys the impression of a luxury sport-ute. In fact, I think the new Bravada probably has more personality, styling-wise, and certainly more power than the Acura MDX, which in most other respects is a superior product in this price class.

She: Think of the e-mails we've received from as far away as Texas and Oregon, from Oldsmobile lovers who are anxious to get their hands on products like the new Bravada. These are people from the heartland who have more than an emotional connection. They like the Oldsmobile brand because, to them, it represents solid middle-class values. It always has. And I think the Bravada delivers in that respect. Sure, you can nitpick a few details. But this is definitely a cut above the old Bravada.

He: Before I even start to tangle with you, Miss Oldsmobile Cheerleader, let me get back to that great new twin-cam engine. It's an inline six-cylinder, and it's a dandy, displacing 4.2 liters and simply kicking the butts of nearly every other six in the segment. It's rated at 270 horsepower and 275 pounds-feet of torque, and believe me, you can feel all that grunt when you step on the throttle. By way of comparison, the optional 4.6-liter V-8 in the new 2002 Ford Explorer only makes 240 horsepower, even though it's larger and has two more cylinders. Having said that, I have two concerns. One is the mediocre gas mileage. We averaged just over 15 miles per gallon on a pre-production prototype with low mileage. Second, no matter how powerful that new six-cylinder is, I'm sure some SUV buyers are simply going to want a V-8 option, and the Bravada doesn't offer that choice.

She: What else it doesn't offer is a third-row seat, which you can get on the MDX, the Explorer and the new Mercury Mountaineer. But my impression is that this is more a vehicle for empty-nesters like us than for younger families. Also, I want you to look again at our clipboard review sheet. The driving dynamics are above average in almost all cases. The steering is res ponsive and has great road feel. Ride quality is surprisingly comfortable for a truck. And it's easy to park. Granted, there were a few quirks - like a cigarette lighter, but no ashtray.

He: On the plus side, the new Bravada comes with antilock brakes and side air bags, although GM hasn't yet installed the newer side air curtains that other competitors like the Explorer are planning to offer. I could tick off a list of seemingly contradictory things that both pleased and annoyed me about the Bravada, but let me mention just one or two. I thought the front seats looked handsome, with the perforated-leather trim, and were quite comfortable. But I couldn't figure out how to make the memory work. And I was surprised to see that the middle seats don't fold flat.

She: And that dumb cupholder in the rear is right at your feet if you're stuck in the middle. It's also difficult to reach over that massive rear bumper to load or unload stuff. From the driver's seat, the instr nt panel seemed too big and bulky. But despite all that, the Bravada reminds me of some of the dolls I covet from the Madame Alexander collection, particularly the Little Women line. You know, they won't offer them after this year. That makes me tempted to run right out and buy them - just like the Bravada. Doesn't the scarcity alone make this SUV desirable?

He: If Pontiac announced they were going to quit making the Aztek, I imagine you'd run right out and buy THAT, too, right? Puh-LEEZE!

Anita's rating: Above average

Paul's rating: Acceptable)

Likes: Side air bags are standard. Distinctive styling. Powerful new six-cylinder engine. Responsive handling. Good ride comfort.

Dislikes: Not as good or as user-friendly as Acura MDX. Massive instrument panel is bulking-looking and offputting (Anita). No third-row seating. No optional V-8 engine. Mediocre fuel economy. Memory seats difficult to decipher. Middle rear seats don't fold flat. Difficult to reach over rear bumper to load and unload cargo.

Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger utility vehicle.

Price: Base, $31,635; as tested, $34,767 (inc. $600 destination charge).

Engine: 4.2-liter I-6; 270-hp; 275 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway (estimated).

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,111 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Moraine, Ohio