THE RICH ARE different from you and me. That's why they buy the Oldsmobile Bravada and we buy the mechanically identical Chevrolet Blazer or GMC Jimmy. That's the only thing I can figure after driving all three 1996, four-door, automatic four-wheel-drive models.

I mean, really, there's not the teeniest bit of mechanical difference between them -- not a screw nor a valve. They all use a version of the automatic four-wheel-drive system that Oldsmobile calls SmartTrak. They all use General Motors Corp.'s kick-butt, 4.3-liter V-6. But they all attract different audiences at different prices.

It sort of breaks down like this: Working stiffs go with the Chevy Blazer for a base price of $21,640. Their foremen or mid-level supervisors go with the GMC Jimmy for a base $21,769. But the folks who own the joint grab the Bravada for a base price of $29,505.

It's a class deal. Take the Blazer. With its Ozzie-Harriet-we-just-plain-folks Chevy bow-tie insignia, it looks lunch-box blue collar, especially in base trim. Compare it with the slightly more upscale GMC Jimmy, with its boldly lettered "GMC" on the front grille and its slightly tonier interior.

Now check out the Bravada. What you have here is the sport-utility equivalent of Gucci. Like its GM cousins, it'll get you where you're going. The difference is, the Bravada makes you feel as if you're going somewhere.

Why? The Bravada is loaded with standard luxury touches, such as soft leather seats. Hell, compared with its cousins, it even smells rich.

I gotta confess, I'm a sucker for the Bravada, though I know it makes no fiscal sense to be so smitten. But look, I've been poor, middle-income and upper middle-income. I'd like to try rich. I think rich is better.

Background: Oldsmobile originally brought out the Bravada as a 1994 model. But a year later, the vehicle went blotto with sales of 4,100 models. The problem wasn't the Bravada. The problem was Oldsmobile, which had no earthly idea of how to sell the thing.

Case in point: Back in 1995 I walked into a Virginia Oldsmobile dealership, which was part of a chain that also sold GMC vehicles. A salesman at the Virginia dealership went out of his way to tell me that I could get "a better deal" on a Blazer or a Jimmy. I wound up not buying anything; but you could bet your boopies that I wouldn't have bought a Bravada after getting that pitch.

Now Oldsmobile is training its dealers, showing them how to emphasize the Bravada's finer points: its wealthy, could-be-a-Land-Rover exterior styling; its super-plush, very definitely leather interior; its vast array of standard equipment, including keyless entry with a push-button remote control device, fog lamps, electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, overhead driver-information console, independent front suspension, variable-ratio power steering, four-wheel anti-lock brakes and automatic four-wheel-drive.

In fact, the Bravada offers only five options: a package to tow a trailer weighing up to 5,000 pounds, white-letter tires, an engine block heater, compact disc player and decorative gold trim.

Standard driver's air bag. No passenger air bag (Oldsmobile apparently believes that Bravada's front passengers are truly brave). The Bravada's 4.6-liter V-6 is rated 190 horsepower at 4,400 rpm with max torque set at 250 pound-feet at 2,800 rpm.

Complaints: It's a wuss-mobile, a darned good wuss-mobile, but a wuss-mobile nonetheless. Unlike the Bravada, both the Blazer and the Jimmy can be beefed up to pound the off-road turf. But there's no doubt that the Bravada's primary terrain is pavement, albeit pavement sometimes covered with snow.

Praise: A primo vehicle for people who view sport-utility models as perfect substitutes for station wagons.

Head-turning quotient: The rich smiled. The poor winced. The wretches struggling in the middle shook their heads pit ously in seeming comment upon my profound lack of common sense.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Feels like a big, expensive sedan in all three categories. Baby boomers in search of soft landings in their early fifties will love it. Grizzled off-roaders won't give it a second thought. But they all perhaps might like the braking, which was excellent.

Mileage: Wonder of wonders! I got nearly 19 miles per gallon in the Bravada, pretty good for a sport-ute. With a 19-gallon fuel tank, that works out to about a 350-mile range on the usable volume of regular unleaded, running mostly highway and driver only sans cargo.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette by Delco Electronics. Very good for those of us who lack tuning-fork ears. Audiophiles will yawn.

Price: Base price on the 1996 Bravada is $29,505. Estimated dealer invoice on base model is $27,305. Price as tested is $30,045, including $50 for the gold trim package (body pin stripes and gold-tint wheels) and a $490 transportation charge.

Purse-strings note: Compare with four-door, four-wheel-drive Blazer, Jimmy, Land Rover Discovery, Nissan Pathfinder LE V6, Isuzu Trooper S, Toyota 4Runner SR5 V6, Mitsubishi Montero SR, Ford Explorer (Eddie Bauer package) and Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited.