When the price of a single option package runs nearly $11,500, you can bet the sticker on the all-new 2000 Chevrolet Suburban will induce paroxysms of panic in some faint-hearted consumers. In fact, the bottom line on our test vehicle - $42,450 - is more than the suggested retail price on a new Corvette. And, just to put things in perspective, that option package (known in GM-speak as the LT Preferred Equipment Group) is roughly equivalent to the entry price on a Ford Focus ZX3.

But maybe we're missing the point. The redesigned Suburban is much better in several respects than its predecessor - better, too, than its principal competitors, the Ford Expedition and Excursion.

He: The big question that looms here is whether the new Suburban is worth 42 grand. The smart-aleck in me wants to say, no, at least not if you're shopping for a Focus or a Corvette. But guess what? The Excursion is priced in the same $40,000-plus territory, and it's not that difficult to nudge an Expedition to that level either. Funny thing is, people don't seem to mind paying these inflated rates for these inflated utility vehicles. Notice I didn't use the word "sport" either.

She: Let's get back to the real world. Namely the butcher shop. Remember when you picked up some chicken for dinner, and Frank the butcher raced out to check out the new Suburban? He's a long-time Suburban owner, of course, and he had three questions. Is the engine as powerful as the old one? Is there as much room? And how much does it cost? Good news, Frank, at least on two counts. Chevy says the new Suburban has more head room and hip room. And the 5.3-liter V-8 makes 285 horsepower, which is 30 more horsepower than last year's 5.7-liter V-8. But remind me to talk about dead deers in a little bit.

He: I didn't want to tell Frank about the price, but I pointed out that LT package is really crammed with extra equipment - pricey stuff like power heated front seats with leather upholstery, front and rear airconditioning, a premium audio system with cassette and CD player, and a premium ride suspension. Amazingly, the standard Suburban 1500 comes fairly well equipped, for under $30,000. It's when you start to load it up with luxury-car accessories that the sticker blasts into orbit. So I wonder what guys like Frank see in what is really not much more than a gussied-up truck at Cadillac prices.

She: They see the cult of the Suburban. Besides, you can't argue with a vehicle that's been around, even in primitive form, for 65 years. I love talking to Suburban owners more than any other vehicle owners. They play this hilarious game of one-upmanship. Our neighbor Mike bragging about hunting up north and bringing home three deer - inside his Suburban. Another christening his vehicle "Manifest Destiny." And there is always the "bigger is better" school of thought. You know, how some people claim the Suburban is so big, it has its own gravitational field. This is a status symbol . And the new Suburban doesn't disappoint in that respect.

He: In terms of sheer size and mass, the new Suburban is smaller than the Excursion, but it's still a pretty formidable piece of metal, at more than 18 feet long, with a curb weight of more than two tons. What impresses me is how civilized the new model feels, which is due in no small measure to the fact that it's based on the latest-generation Silverado pickup. The Suburban is simply a much more pleasant vehicle to drive than either of the big Ford utes. And it's easier to maneuver and park, although you'll still encounter some difficulty in threading your way down a crowded side street.

She: I'm happy that I can reach the pedals in the new Suburban. The driver's seat has increased travel. Very smart, when you consider that the average woman in America is 5',4". And General Motors wisely offers second-row bucket seats for the first time - great for kids who don't want to catch cooties by sitting on a bench seat h their siblings. I love the safety features, too, everything from child-proof rear door locks to standard antilock brakes and side air bags.

He: We should probably mention that both the new Suburban and its short-wheel-base companion, the new Tahoe, appear to have much better assembly quality than their predecessors. Trim pieces fit together well, and the overall quality of material is pretty impressive. On the negative side, we noticed a strange vibration, a kind of humming that seemed to come from the rear end at medium speeds on both the Suburban and the Tahoe. It didn't sound like tire noise, but we never could isolate it or identify it.

She: Despite that gripe, you can add the price, subtract the dead deer, factor in the gravitational field and still come up with a vehicle that merits a top rating.

2000 Chevrolet Suburban 1500

Anita's rating: world class

Paul's rating: world class

Likes: Ride, comfort and assembly quality better than predecessor. Creature comforts you'd find on a Cadillac. Preferable to a minivan for people and cargo hauling. Standard ABS and side air bags.

Dislikes: Heart-stopping price tag. Overly expensive option packages. Tough to maneuver into a garage or through a crowded street. Strange vibration and humming from rear end at medium speeds.

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, eight-passenger utility vehicle.

Price: Base, $28,627; as tested, $42,450 (inc. $710 destination charge).

Engine: 5.3-liter V-8; 285-hp; 325 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city/16 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,058 (*Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Silao, Mexico