THE GENIUS of the 1987 Isuzu Trooper II is that it looks and feelsbetter than it is.

It looks rugged and tough. Indeed, rare is the Trooper IIadvertisement that doesn't show the four-wheel-drive machine climbingrocks, fording streams or confronting wildlife on some remote plain.

There are also shots of it conquering the dust and heat in its 1986Baja 1000 victory. And it was named 1985 "4X4 of the Year" by "4-Wheeland Off-Road" magazine.

So, what does the Trooper II do on the highway? It wimps out. It getspassed by Jeeps and all kinds of other four-wheel-drive competitors.

Do you know what it's like to be laughed at by some twit dusting youoff in a tiny, tinny, significantly less expensive Suzuki Samurai?

I know that speed isn't the sole measure of a vehicle's value. And,surely, the Trooper II has a number of admirable qualities. But theTrooper's recalcitrance on the highway gives me a queasy feeling, sortof like, maybe, I voted for the wrong guy.

Complaints: The Milquetoast performance of the Trooper II's2.3-liter, single overhead cam, inline, 4-cylinder engine. It produces96 horsepower at 4,600 rpm, not enough to push this vehicle's 3,600pounds with anything approaching pizzaz. Adding four more bodies andluggage and stuff gives you a really bad case of the groans in this one.

Frankly, if you're always hauling things, try the 2.2-liter, turbodiesel Trooper II. It moves out slower but pulls better than the gasversion.

Praise: Excellent overall craftsmanship and exceptional cabincomfort. Look underneath: three separate skid plates -- steel armorprotecting the radiator, transfer case (enclosing the four-wheel-drivegears), and the fuel tank. All skid plates standard equipment on TrooperII. Many comparable vehicles offer only one plate, and that at extracost.

The cabin is comfortable without being plush. It's spacious,well-designed and well-stitched. Seats five.

Head-turning quotient: Box almighty, but rather tidy.

Ride and handling: Feels good and cushy on regular roads, rides likea big sedan on stilts. The off-road ride is bouncy, of course. But theTrooper II plows along slowly, deliberately, sort of like a SupremeCourt on wheels.

Sound system: Isuzu AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with fourspeakers and electronic seek and scan. Good.

Mileage: About 21 to the gallon of unleaded gasoline (21.9-gallontank, 450-mile range), combined city-highway and off-road, runningdriver only and with climate control system operating most of the time.

Price as tested: $14,720, including $1,462 in options and $259destination charge. Base price is $12,999 (standard five-speed manualwithout air conditioner). Dealer's invoice price on base model is$11,569, according to Automobile Invoice Service in San Jose.

Tip: The Trooper II runs in the highly competitive sports utilitysegment. Compare with same-class vehicles from AMC-Jeep, Toyota,Mitsubishi, Nissan, Chrysler, Ford and GM.