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At about twice a Hummer's weight, the Xtreme is just plain BIG

I've got an air horn overhead, an air brake underfoot, and lots of air between my seat and the roof of the Chevrolet Suburban ahead of me as we roll along the banks of the Wachusett Reservoir. And I'm driving a pickup truck.

But not just any pickup. No puny Dodge Ram 3500, no wimped-out Ford F-350, no skulking Hummer H2 SUT. They are mere bugs. I am at the wheel of the world's largest pickup truck: the 2005 International CXT-Commercial Xtreme Truck.

How big?

As Jay Leno explained in a Popular Mechanics column describing his time behind the wheel: From his perch, Hummers looked like Mini Coopers. At the end of his drive, he took the CXT home, only to discover it would not fit in his driveway. So he went to his mother-in-law's house down the street and, ''as I pulled into her driveway, I said to myself, 'Oh look, there's a ball on the roof of her house.' "

Now that's big. Big as in 9 feet high at the roof (which puts the driver's head about eight feet above pavement), 5 feet high at the pickup bed, and 21.5 feet long.

Big as in a curb weight of 14,500 pounds (about twice as heavy as a Hummer H1) and a gross vehicle weight -- its weight plus all it will carry -- of 25,999 pounds. That last weight was carefully calculated because, beginning at 26,001 GVW, you need a commercial trucker's license. At 25,999, even Aunt Jane can go down to the dealer and order one.

Now, before the protests fly about a truck that will help kill the atmosphere (Leno warns that, heck, it could dent the earth itself), be forewarned that 500 annual sales would be a good year, said William L. Sixsmith, of International's Severe Service Vehicle Center. And keep in mind that this is a truck you view without complaint when you see its hulking shape, in commercial form, plowing your roads.

This civilian model came with leather seats, inlaid woodwork, storage bins, cup holders, magazine and map slots, and a drop-down DVD screen for rear-seat passengers. But what would you expect from a truck costing from $93,000 to upwards of $115,000?

International built its first version in 2003, a truck dubbed Big Red. It prowls under the power of an in-line 6, a cast-iron diesel engine with 220 horsepower, and 540 lb.-ft. of torque (300 horsepower and 860 torque are in the works.) Torque is for tugging and, in trucks, is more important than horsepower. This truck can carry six tons of payload. It can tow nearly nine tons of yacht, motor home, or horse trailer.

It gets between eight and 10 miles per gallon and has a 70-gallon fuel tank.

It is four-wheel-drive on demand and, no, it does not come with air bags. I guess you can rely on the clouds.

Driving it is not difficult. It rides like a truck, with air seats that bounce softly, absorbing the thumping road feel (which, interestingly, is not transmitted through the steering wheel). Bodacious mirrors provide excellent views all around; a backup camera, displayed in the rearview mirror, reveals the little Honda Civic that may have crept up behind you.

You need to leave a little extra room in sharp cornering for the outside rear wheel (there are two on each side). Only the air brake took some getting used to. There is virtually no pedal travel, so jarring stops are common in early going.

Sixsmith said that celebrities are in line to buy the CXT, as are landscaping and construction companies. And a tool company is already showing up at NASCAR races, using the truck's imposing presence to help sell its product.

Potential buyers ask about alternate uses, like whether a camper could be attached instead of the truck bed.

International isn't done. In the works is a smaller version -- mostly as in sitting lower, certainly not in weight -- dubbed the RXT, for Recreational Xtreme Truck.

That might be just the ticket for those who don't want to have to heed Leno's warning that, at the end of a day, ''Occasionally you find a crushed Toyota Prius under the wheel well."


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