You knew it was only a matter of time before the automakers came up with a new recipe. So it is with the emergence of vehicles that straddle the fence between pickup trucks and sport-utes.

We've had the opportunity recently to sample some of the latest sport-utility trucks that are now in showrooms or will be soon.

You can walk into a Ford dealership right now and order the new 2001 F150 SuperCrew, a full-size, four-door pickup that boasts a cabin that's nearly as roomy as that of the big Expedition.

Likewise, your local Dodge dealer is offering, in just a half-size smaller, the 2000 Dakota Quad Cab - essentially a Durango with a downsized bed attached.

How do the two so-called SUTs function as trucks and as sport-utes? And how do they compare with each other? Read on.

F150 SuperCrew

We drove the new F-series truck over some pretty rugged terrain in southern California, and decided there is still no mistaking the SuperCrew for an Expedition.

For one thing, the F150's gargantuan wheelbase (138.5 inches) is a foot and a half longer than the Expedition's, which makes parking a real chore in most situations. The SuperCrew is also nearly two feet longer than the Expedition and only an inch shorter than the Excursion, so it may not fit in everyone's garage.

And there's that tail. The SuperCrew comes with a short 67.2-inch bed. That's just over five and a half feet, so you do the math. Want to haul a sofa or a 4x8 sheet of drywall or plywood? You may have to borrow your neighbor's regular pickup, since the extra-cost tubular bed extender on the SuperCrew only stretches the length to seven feet.

Although it's designed, in the base configuration, to tow 6600 pounds, with a payload capacity of 1765 pounds, the real virtue of the SuperCrew is its cabin. In a word, it's huge. We've sampled lots of full-size pickups, and have rarely encountered one with this much room, especially in the rear seat. And in keeping with recent practice, Ford has trimmed the interior to look more like a passenger car than a truck, with loads of standard and optional features intended to make that transition nearly painless. What other truck in this class offers a power moonroof and an audio-video entertainment system among its options?

Engine choices include a 220-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8 and a 260-hp 5.4-liter V-8. A four-speed automatic is standard with either engine.

Prices start at $26,755 for the XLT 4x2 model and range up to $31,790 for the full-boat Lariat 4x4.

Dakota Quad Cab

Talk about the acid test. We punished Dodge's mid-size four-door truck over 2,000 miles, including extended drives through fierce blizzards in upstate New York and Ontario. We're delighted to say it came through with flying colors.

We sampled a four-wheel-drive Dakota Quad Cab with the optional 4.7-liter V-8, the same engine that powers the Jeep Grand Cherokee. What the 4.7 gives up in t owing and payload capacity - 6100 and 1450 pounds, respectively - it more than compensates for in power and torque.

In squeezing its exterior dimensions to fit the new SUT formula, the Dakota Quad Cab suffers the same basic shortcoming as the F150 SuperCrew. That is, the pickup bed, at just over five feet long, is too short for serious hauling, although it can easily accommodate a lot of the usual family-type gear, from bicycles to camping equipment. We wound up tossing two electric guitars back there, because my college-bound son had the rear seat loaded to the ceiling with clothes, CDs, food and other such necessities.

While our test truck had a fairly subdued black-cloth interior, the uplevel SLT model can be gussied up with lots of goodies, including a CD changer with steering-wheel controls, and an overhead console with compass and outside temp. Like the SuperCrew, the QuadCab can carry up to six occupants with the standard front bench seat.

You can orde one three engines, including a base 3.9-liter V-6 (175 hp), a 4.7-liter V-8 (235 hp) and a 5.9-liter V-8 (245 hp). The 3.9 and 4.7 can be equipped with a five-speed manual transmission; a four-speed automatic is available with all three engines.

Prices range from about $17,000 to $22,000, depending on trim level and driveline configuration.