Quick...what was the best selling vehicle built by General Motors in 1996? The answer? Its full-size C/K pickup. Not surprising when you stop to consider it's been the best selling GM vehicle for the past nine years. In 1996, GM cranked out 526,960 units. In fact, C/K ranked second, only behind Ford's full-size Ranger pickup in total vehicle sales in 1996. What is surprising is that the next best-selling vehicle GM produced last year was Saturn, which placed 13th. General Motors still sells more vehicles in the United States than any other manufacturer, yet C/K is GM's only representative cracking the top 12. Full-size C/K pickups play a critical role at General Motors; an automaker whose lifeblood depends on high sales volume. The C/K is available in dizzying array of shapes, payload capacities, wheelbase lengths, price ranges and engine types. Mix and match to your heart's content. General Motors even introduced a limited supply of natural gasoline-powered C/K this year. More conventional powertrains include the Vortec 4300 V-6 (200 horsepower), Vortec 5000 V-8 (230 Horsepower, Vortec 5700 V-8 (255 horsepower) and a Vortec 7400 V8 (290 horsepower). The two diesels include a 6.5 liter turbo V-8 with 180 horsepower and a 6.5 liter turbo V-8 with 190 horsepower. For those wanting for finer things in life there is the Silverado trim level with leather trim and popular power equipment. Drivers must also decide between two or four-wheel drive. Notable improvements for 1997 include electronic variable power steering, improving steering wheel maneuverability at slower speeds. Our test drive, K1500 extended cab short bed started at $21,401. After adding the Silverado trim level package (air conditioning, power locks/windows, leather seating, power drivers seat), the 6.5 liter turbo diesel engine (a $4,100 option), heavy duty trailering equipment, high-back bucket seats and other assorted items, the bottom line swelled to $32,953 including a $625 destination charge and $750 group savings. Base price of a C1500 regular cab shortbeds checks in at $14,532. A bench front seat is standard. Reclining 60/40 split bench seats or reclining high-back bucket seats are optional. Drivers can choose from vinyl, cloth or custom leather materials. A handy storage bin/memo pad center console useful for storing compact discs was located between our high back seats. Inside, the dashboard and instrument panel incorporate a superb design. Large, easy-to-grab dials control fan speed and temperature settings. Large, Square-shaped radio preset buttons easily locate with a passing glance. Both are within easy reach of both front seat occupants Daytime running lights come standard on all models, as do four-wheel anti-lock brakes. Traction control is not available. Models featuring four-wheel drive have a handy, optional electronic shift transfer case. Shifting from two-wheel to four-wheel high and back is as easy as pushing an instrument panel button. This device also frees up floor space since no floor shift mechanism is used. Last year, C/K pickups introduced an optional passenger-side third door in Silverado editions, handy if the club cab area is used often. When properly equipped, C/K can tow as much as 10,000 lbs. Dual air bags come standard. New for 1997 is a passenger-side air bag cut-off switch. Air bag deployment is a hot topic of late, especially when kids figure into the equation. Small children and toddlers in portable car seats ride safest when buckled and placed in back, away from possible harming effects of rapidly activating passenger-side airbag. Pickups with not rear seating capacity require all passengers to ride up front. The cut-off switch provides an extra measure of safety, when used correctly. The extended cab featured a fold-down bench seat which could hold four people if necessary. Fuel estimates four the diesel engine check in at 15 miles per gallon city and 18 highway. Not spectacular, but better than estimates from V-6 and V-8 engines. The fuel tank door does not lock. Diesel fuel burns cleaner engines provide better low torque towing ability along with a longer-life expectancy than gas powertrains. Still, diesel engines are noisier and tend to be temperamental starters in very cold temperatures. Demand is so strong, General Motors currently utilizes four plants to manufacturer C/K pickups: Ford Wayne, Ind., Pontiac Mich., Flint Mich and Oshawa, Ont. Canada. Pickup enthusiasts tend to be a loyal bunch. Chevrolet C/K loyalists will enjoy all the updates in this finely designed machine. Ford pickup supporters probably will remain with Ford no matter what GM does. More than 90 percent of buyers are male with a median age of 45 years and a median household income of $55,000.