At one time a pickup truck was used for work. Well, maybe a couple of good old boys ran the back roads with them and used them for Sunday-go-to-meeting vehicles, but use by anyone else was considered somewhat gauche. This, of course, has all changed over the past couple of years as pickups became more civilized and the general population, perhaps, less civilized.

But no matter what the reason or reasons, more and more people can be seen in pickups. From hoofties to yuppies, pickups have became the vehicle of choice. And apparently every other segment of society, since more than a million light trucks were sold in this country last year. There is no breakdown on how many pickups are bought for work and how many for personal driving, but a high percentage are is used strictly for daily transportation and leisure activities.

In some cases, it is a matter of simple economics and in others it could be reverse snobbery. Also, it could be that many people have discovered that pickups are very rugged and can take a hammering without stammering. With all of this in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise that both the competition among manufacturers and the level of sophistication of pickups are very high.

This week's test vehicle - a Toyota SR5 4X4 pickup, supplied by J.H. Bennett Toyota, 2300 Hanover Ave., Allentown - is a good example of how this line between utilitarian use and creature comfort is being defined. By outwardly appearances it is no-nonsense looking (there is not really much any manufacturer can do about pickup styling) truck sitting rather high on its four-wheel drive mechanics. Aside from some fancy body logo, it looks like it should be on the job site. The interior, though, featured plush seats, thick carpeting and the general ambiance of a higher priced passenger car. No doubt it could be used for work, but probably only by the boss.

The major new feature of the 1986 Toyota 4X4 pickup is a new front suspension system that really points out that manufacturers are building these trucks with the non-work buyer in mind (that is the buyer who won't use it as a work vehicle, not one who is not working). As anyone who has ever ridden in a compact four-by-four pickup truck knows, the ride can be rather stiff. But this should be expected - or should it? These days more and more manufacturers are offering better riding trucks without sacrificing the original purpose of such a vehicle, which is to carry a good size load in that pickup bed. Although this may sound like somewhat of a contradiction, it really isn't. And it is not done up mirrors; merely with more sophisticated suspension, which brings up right back to the test vehicle.

Toyota's 4X4s use a system called High Trac Independent Front Suspension, which provides car-like riding comfort both on the highway and off-road. The system features upper and lower A-frame suspension arms with a high- mount torsion car installed on each upper arm. According to Toyota, the high location of the torsion bars maximizes ground clearance to avoid damage. (And to prevent underbody dam- age, an enlarged front-end skid plate is standard.) The independent front suspension also helps handling but then 4X4 pickups even with solid axles up front have always handled better than most people would expect.

The test vehicle was no more difficult or easier to drive than most small 4X4 pickups. The five-speed manual transmission (only transmission available on this particular model) shifted smoothly as did the dual range four-wheel drive transfer case. The test vehicle had manual locking front hubs, which meant you had to set each front wheel by hand. No big deal but something that can't be neglected.

Although the test vehicle could have probably been driven over a glacier, it was tested during a period when there was a lack of snow, which is always somewhat of a disa pointment when driving a four-wheeler since, essen tially, this is where they - like the Mummers - can really strut their stuff. I did find some snow farther north but the test vehicle got through it all without having to go to four-wheel drive. However, I did do some four-wheeling through heavy rains, the next best thing.

All pickups have decent performance (again, because they were designed to carry heavy loads) but the test vehicle seemed to have a bit above average. Responsible for this was a good-sized 144 cubic inch (2.4 liter), electronically fuel injected, overhead cam,four-cylinder engine, rated at 116 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 140 foot pounds torque at 2,800 rpm. A real smooth engine. Fuel mileage for the test vehicle wasn't bad. City driving averaged 18 miles per gallon while the highway figure came to 23 mpg.

If you are interested in more performance, there is a turbocharged model available that could put some sparkle into your life. This is essentially the same engine but power ratings are increased to 135 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 173 foot pounds torque at 2,800 rpm. This engine comes with a four-speed automatic transmission.

The basic dimensions of the Toyota 4X4 include a wheelbase of 112.2 inches (the long wheelbase also contributes to the ride), overall length of 186.2 inches, width of 66.5 inches,height of 67.1 inches (as you can see, you do ride tall in the saddle) and a bed length of 86.4 inches. The cab offers 38.5 inches head room and a maximum of 43.7 inches leg room. The two individual seats will carry two big men in comfort. Gross vehicle weight is 5,080 pounds and the payload is 1,400 pounds.

Base price for the test vehicle was $10,328 and this figure included such standard equipment items as a P225/75R15 all-weather radials, power brakes, tachometer and oil/volt gauges, SR5 sport stripe, AM-FM MPX radio, power steering, tilt wheel, cloth seats, full carpeting, tinted glass, low fuel lamp, dual mirrors and digital clock. The test vehicle's total price came to $11,440.90, which included a destinationcharge of $310 and options valued at $802.90.