THERE IS something stuffy about the 1986 Mitsubishi Galant, something reminiscent of mothballs and cedar chests.

That something is styling.

The Galant's front end slopes in modest tribute to aerodynamics. But its mid-section and rear are severely formal matters -- bereft of anything approaching humor, passion, modernity.

And that's unfortunate.

With its excellent electronically controlled suspension and its computer-controlled 2.4- liter, 4-cylinder gasoline engine, this mid-size sedan is a showcase of some of the latest developments in automotive technology. It's an inspiration to drive.

If only the Mitsubishi people had invested as much imagination in designing the Galant's body . . .

Outstanding complaint: The designers also came close to goofing up the interior, but, happily, they failed.

most notable clunker is a fat-handled, automatic transmission gearshift lever. It looks like the head of a cobra rising from the floor.

There are some other bizarre touches -- orange-glow instrumentation on a black background, for example. But the overall comfort and styling of the Galant's cabin more than make up for these misdirected flights of fancy.

Outstanding praise: The Galant takes top "chameleon car" honors -- and that's no insult. Auto makers are going ga-ga trying to produce cars with multiple personalities -- sports, luxury glider and small truck -- with each persona obtainable at the touch of a button.

The idea is to appeal to as many buyers as possible with one product, thus reducing overall development and manufacturing costs.

Competitors have a lot of catching up to do with the Galant in this area. The test car comes with an electronically controlled suspension that gives distinct normal (soft) and sports (hard) rides on demand. When the car is stopped, the system also can lift the car two inches above its normal-ride height to aid in tire changes, or in removing or installing snow chains.

Acceleration, ride, handling: A triumvirate of excellence. The Galant's braking deserves special credit, too.

Sound sytem: By Mitsubishi with a curious twist. Controls for the Galant's AM/FM stereo radio-cassette are mounted in the steering wheel. That arrangement improves control- accessibility, but does little to enhance the sound system's tonal quality, which is average at best.

Mileage: About 24 to the gallon, combined city-highway, running driver-only and with winter climate-control system operating most of the time. The mileage is decent for a car that weighs 2,844 pounds and drives with automatic transmission.

Price-as-tested: $13,740, including all power options. The price may be $400 or so higher now because of recent changes in the yen-dollar exchange rate. The tested price also excludes dealer add-ons.

Warren Brown writes for the Business section of The Washington Post.