IT IS SORT OF GRAY with a red vinyl interior. It is ugly. That's certain.

It is one of the most fuel-efficient cars I've driven.

It is the 1986 Plymouth Colt E, a bit of automotive asceticism made for Chrysler by Japan's Mitsubishi Motors.

This car is loaded with reverse snob appeal.

It has no tinted windows and no rear- window defroster. It has no air conditioner, no radio. It has neither power locks, nor automatically adjustable seats.

It has a little 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine and a four-speed manual transmission. It also has two little windshield wipers that make wisha- washa, wisha-washa noises in drizzly rain. When the water really falls, those wipers almost gurgle and drown.

Still, this humble putt-putt has dignity. It mostly does what it's supposed to do without stalling, without skidding and sliding, and without other kinds of petulant mechanical behavior that mark the performance of some of its comparable cousins.

Outstanding complaints: At highway speeds, this car becomes a kite buffeted by the winds of passing trucks and big sedans. Keep this one in the city, or use it only for short Beltway trips. It is not, nor was it meant to be, a land cruiser.

The Colt E gets blown about so easily because it is lightweight, an estimated 1,852 pounds when its 11.9-gallon gasoline tank is filled with fuel.

Like most small cars, particularly the base models with their characteristic lack of sound- deadening material, the Colt E is noisy.

Outstanding praise: The Colt E is "entry level" without being insulting. It is inexpensive, not cheap. The differences are more than subtle.

It is one thing to be noisy in the sense of allowing the sounds of the engine, the road and the wind to enter the passenger cabin. It is quite another for those sounds to be joined by the rattle of loose parts.

The Colt E does not rattle. What is there is put together well. And it does have certain practical amenities, such as fully reclining front bucket seats, an inside hood release and a locking fuel filler door.

Also, the 4-speed manual in this car shifts about as smoothly as is possible in an economy vehicle.

Acceleration, ride and handling. Excellent in all three categories in the city. But I think that the best way to drive it on the highway is right, smack-dab between two speeding trucks. That way, the opposing wind turbulences can help to keep the Colt E on center.

Mileage: Easily 35 miles to the gallon, combined city-highway, running lightly loaded most of the time.

Price-as-tested: $5,431, plus a $195 destination charge. The front-wheel-drive car comes with a general 12-month/12,000-mile warranty, a 5-year/50,000-mile warranty on rust protection and 2-year/24,000-mile warranty on the drivetrain (th engine and transaxle arrangement).