MY COLLEAGUE, Frank Swoboda, is an old dude who hates beating around the bush.

He's especially blunt in interpreting the alphabet names given to many of today's cars and trucks, such as the 1996 Acura SLX.

Honda Motor Co. calls the thing its "first-ever luxury sport utility vehicle." Thus, the company says SLX means "Sport Luxury {e}Xtra" or "Sport Luxury {e}Xceptional."

"Baloney," says Swoboda. " SLX' means Suckers Love {e}Xploitation.' "

Both Honda and Swoboda have a point.

The SLX, particularly the SLX Premium tested this week, is loaded with standard equipment such as heated front seats, a leather and wood-grain interior, boardroom carpeting and a power sunroof. That's exceptional luxury in a sport-ute.

But Swoboda's argument is that you'd have to be exceptionally goofy to buy it -- because the Acura SLX is really an Isuzu Trooper LS with a bit more gimcrackery, a lower warranty and a substantially higher price ($38,000 for an Acura SLX; up to $31,000 for a Trooper).

I hate agreeing with Swoboda on almost anything. But on this point, I gotta say he's right.

Background: The auto industry is going nuts. Light trucks -- sport-utes, pickups and minivans -- are hot sellers. That's especially true for sport-utes, which are so hot that almost every major car company wants to have one or two in its product lineup.

This mania has led to a certain strangeness and blurring of definition in the marketplace. "Sport-ute" no longer means rough-and-ready four-wheel-drive. It now means, according to the Acura SLX press release, "an ideal blend of elegance and performance."

Imagine that! If you buy the Isuzu Trooper as an Isuzu Trooper, you get performance. If you buy it as an Acura SLX, you get elegance and performance.

Ditto the Chevrolet Blazer and its upscale, mechanically identical cousin, the Oldsmobile Bravada; ditto the Toyota Land Cruiser and its re-badged luxury namesake, the Lexus LX 450. Lordy! Even the Ford Explorer is about to become a Mercury Mountaineer.

Here's hoping that the buyers of these gilded mudders are really into elegance, because if they think they're getting extra performance, they're getting ripped.

Check out the engine in the Acura SLX and Isuzu Trooper LS. The SLX comes with a 3.2-liter, 24-valve, single overhead-cam V-6 rated 190 horsepower at 5,600 rpm. Torque is set at 188 pound-feet at 4,000 rpm. You get the same engine in the Trooper, along with the same standard four-speed automatic transmission and the same shift-on-the-fly, two-speed transfer case for moving in and out of four-wheel-drive.

Both the SLX and the Trooper have the same dual-front air bags and the same seat-belt and harness systems, as well as the same seating capacity -- five people.

The differences, to the extent there are any, come in how standard equipment is packaged in the Trooper and Acura SLX.

For example, the SLX gets standa rd four-wheel, antilock brakes. Four-wheel antilocks are optional for the Trooper.

Complaints: That 3.2-liter V-6 is a pretty wimpy piece of work in a sport-ute that's as big as the Trooper/SLX. It's adequate, but when you're spending more than $30,000, you want more than adequate.

Praise: All-around good sport utility vehicles. The Acura SLX did exceptionally well in the Blizzard of '96. The Trooper would've done the same thing, except it would've left you with some money to buy a snowplow.

Head-turning quotient: The Acura SLX has an "A" on the grille. The Isuzu Trooper has "Isuzu" on the grille. Some of the folks who stared at my test SLX made me think that they thought the "A" stood for, um, "donkey."

Ride, acceleration and handling: Very competent on- and off-road ride. On-road might seem a little soft to some people. Acceleration was a laugher, 0-to-60 mph in 12 seconds. But not many people buy sport-utes to race. Braking was excellent in the SL .

Mileage: Sucks gasoline rather quickly. About 15 miles per gallon in the tested SLX (22.5-gallon tank, estimated 320-mile range on usable volume of recommended regular unleaded gasoline), running mostly highway with three occupants and light cargo.

Sound system: Six-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, installed by Isuzu. A premium sport-utility vehicle without a standard compact disc? Get outta here!

Price: Base price on the tested Acura SLX Premium is $38,000. Estimated dealer's invoice is $32,500. Price as tested is $38,420, including a $420 destination charge. Everything's standard on the Acura SLX Premium, including the "elegance."

Purse-strings note: If you want a Trooper, buy a Trooper. If you want an SLX, buy a Land Rover, a truly different luxury sport-ute; or, wait for Mercedes-Benz to introduce its All-Activity Vehicle in the 1997 model year.