There are two cases to be made for buying the 1999 AM General Hummer.

First, the civilian edition of the military Humvee is built to last at least 12 years under heavy use and comes with standard parachute hooks - in case you ever need to airlift it. But a cooler reason is that a slew of celebrities have turned the Hummer into the status vehicle of the '90s. Talk show host Montel Williams owns one and basketball bad boy Dennis Rodman has customized the exterior of his Hummer with a mural of a naked lady.

Just like Rodman has figured out, a Hummer will get you noticed - even more than green hair, tattoos and body piercings - and keep other drivers from getting in your way.

The downside: Our loaded test vehicle cost $97,119.

He: I can sum up the Hummer in one word - ludicrous. Or, if you prefer, overpriced.

She: Don't be an old crank. Here's an interesting tidbit - AM General is working on a lease program for the Hummer. Nothing has been formally announced yet, but they're talking about a three-year/36,000-mile program that would likely mean payments of about $1,000 a month. The only question in my mind is whether or not they could build enough Hummers to keep up with the demand.

He: Yeah, especially if the demand in our neighborhood for free rides in the Hummer is any indication of its popularity. We had it for a week and eight people - neighbors and total strangers - pounded on our door for a ride.

She: You know the Hummer is making inroads into civilian life when you hear about things such as AM General starting a Hummer Driving Academy in Indiana, which is limited to owners thus far. I guess the Hummer isn't just for Bosnia or Somalia any more.

He: In terms of sheer cachet, it's also definitely at home at the country club - or the officers' club - despite that clattering turbo-diesel engine. If you're a fan of the Hummer, you'll notice that the 1999 model doesn't look that much different inside or out than previous models. The changes this year include a new traction control system and anti-lock brakes which basically take some of the work out of the process for the driver. There are also some new exterior colors. Our test car was the new "Night Storm," a charcoal shade which hikes the intimidation factor of the Hummer. It looks like something Darth Vader would feel at home in.

She: The Hummer is one of the more adaptable vehicles in the sport-utility pantheon. Its 16-inch ground clearance makes the Hummer harder to climb into, but it's double that of most 4X4s, which is important for off-roading. There's the optional Central Tire Inflation System that allows the driver to change tire pressure on the move and an optional run-flat tire system that allows the Hummer to travel up to 20 miles at 30 mph on flat tires.

He: So you gave it a pounding?

She: It sounds wimpy, but I used the Hummer to haul 10 flats of impatiens from the garden center. I probably had room for 10 more.

He: Maybe they should do a Jerry Baker Special Edition, huh?

She: Still, the Hummer is deceptive. Our test vehicle was big and wide with lots of room for cargo and a colossal curb weight of over 7,000 pounds. Despite all that brawn, the seats were cramped. And it's not a luxury car ride. It's noisy and beastly, with poor visibility. But you're paying for status and invincibility.

He: We drove the massive four-door wagon, but you can get other models that are a little bit cheaper, including two- and four-door hardtops and a four-door open top. And you can join the elite club of Hummer users that ranges from G.I. Joe to George Foreman. Hmmm, I wonder if George ever hauled flowers in his ....

1999 AM General Hummer

Anita's rating: ***(above average)

Paul's rating: *(subpar)

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, four-/six passenger sport-utility vehicle

Price: Base, $82,421; as tested; $97,119 (including $790 destination charge)

Engine: 6.5-liter turbocharged diesel V-8; 195 hp at 3,400 rpm; 430 lb-ft torque at 1,800 rpm

Fuel economy (according to AM General, not EPA, which doesn't rate Class 3 trucks): 13 mpg city/17 mpg highway

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan (*Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower depending on coverage and driving record.): $2,855

Where built: Mishawaka, Ind.

What we liked: Likelihood of lease program; most intimidating vehicle of the new millenium, especially if you've adopted a siege mentality; anti-lock brakes are new; Hummer continues to get more civilized with high-quality seats, sound insulation, lighted vanity mirrors; military only gets one fuel tank, you get two; has fording depth of 30 inches; optional Central Tire Inflation System lets you inflate/deflate tires while in motion - useful in swamps; our test vehicle had $2,466 optional 12,000-pound electric winch.

What we didn't like: With base price ranging from $65,732-$82,421, Hummer will remain a fantasy for most people; seating is surprisingly cramped; visibility limited; diesel is noisy and gas engines were discontinued in 1997; so much mass, you'll rock back and forth when you stop; mileage is dismal; about 13 mpg in city driving, according to AM General, or less than 10 mpg, by our measurements; difficult to park; beware of strangers begging for rides.