SABLE LS, from Ford Motor Co. So beautiful. So fine. Some auto critics are calling it the best- looking American car of 1986. One auto critic at a local television station said, "I think it's the best American car ever."

I'm not ready to go that far. But I gotta say: This Sable's something else.

Outstanding complaints: It was another "minor delivery problem" -- a fan-belt pulley that squealed during cold-weather starts. A technoid type stifled the noise with a few sprays of WD-40 oil.

Also, the test car occasionally shot forward when starting from stops, despite mild accelerator pressure. Nothing uncontrollable. But it was a little disconcerting.

Outstanding praise: The styling. That smooth, low hood and beautifully rounded front take aerodynamic design one elegant step further. The theme is carried out with commendable consistency -- up to the roofline and around to the well-shaped rear.

People spent time with this one. They patted it here and there, stepped back and stared at it as if they were observing art, walked around it and nodded approvingly. Repeatedly, they asked: "Is this a Ford?"

The interior is attractive, thanks to a deft blending of the old (a bit of fake woodgrain), the borrowed (the SAAB-like oval instrument panel), and the new (discreetly but conveniently positioned digital displays).

Another thing: The Sable comes equipped with 5-mile-per-hour bumpers, which means the car can withstand a 5-mph hit in the front or rear with little or no damage to its body. Many cars nowadays are rolling into the U.S. market with less-sturdy 21/2-mph bumpers.

Acceleration, ride and handling: Power comes from a 3-liter, V-6, fuel-injected, gasoline engine linked to a four-speed automatic transmission. This is a feisty arrangement. The Sable moves.

The ride is solid, yet very comfortable.

Handling is superb. No other way to put it. The Sable swoops around curves at highway speeds with nary a wiggle. It moves through heavy traffic with stealth and confidence. It is a very stable car.

Sound system: Ford Premium Sound, usually excellent, but fair to middling in the Sable LS test car. FM radio signal retention and tonal quality were erratic -- yes, yes, even with the power antenna raised and the stations properly tuned. What gives here, Ford?

Mileage: About 24 miles to the gallon, combined city-highway, running with five passengers and with winter climate-control system operating most of the time.

Price-as-tested: $15,675. That includes all power options, with the exception of a sun roof. Ford spokesmen say there will be no discounts or special financing on the Sable in the foreseeable future.