IT IS THE CAR in front of the small-town doctor's house on a Saturday afternoon, the family sedan at the Little League game, the cruiser on a summertime highway heading down to the grandfolks' place.

Bring on the hot dogs and apple pie for this one. Polish it up for the Fourth of July. The 1986 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale is so unabashedly American, you almost feel like saluting when you turn on the ignition.

This car is the essence of the General Motors fleet. It is big, though not as big as its rear-wheel-drive, 1985 predecessor. It is comfortable. It is so smooth on the road, it puts an end to noisy sibling rivalry by putting the siblings to sleep.

Outstanding complaints: GM didn't go all out in designing the Delta 88's front seats. Oh, they're cushy enough. But GM should've thrown in some lateral supports to prevent the driver's body from shifting side-to-side in turns.

C'mon GM, who says that the full-body support seats should be installed only in "Euro- style" cars?

A truly scroungy nitpick, but, good golly, this is one American habit GM oughtta ditch: tackiness. An aluminum appliqu,e was coming unglued from the interior of the driver's-side door. A little thing, but it just shouldn't happen in a car that costs this much.

Outstanding praise: Driveability. GM switched from rear-drive to front-drive in producing the '86 Delta 88. In the process, the company shortened the car's overall length by 22.1 inches and reduced its wheelbase -- the centerline distance from the front wheels to the rear wheels -- by 5.2 inches.

All of this tinkering could have had a deleterious effect on the Delta 88's traditionally smooth and steady ride. But tradition, in this case, has been improved.

This car is a roadmaster.

Acceleration and handling: The optional 3.8-liter, V-6, fuel-injected gasoline engine in the test car is a hummer. It gives quick, sure bursts of speed when needed; and it helps the car cruise with equal authority and confidence.

Handling is excellent, particularly when you consider the weight of the still-heavy Delta 88 -- 3,141 pounds, down from 3,492 pounds in 1985. There is no wobble or other handling sloppiness in legal-speed turns.

Head-turning-quotient: A Mid-America favorite. Sound system: GM's Delco-Bose AM/FM stereo cassette. How many times can you say that superior is superior? Mileage: About 26 to the gallon, combined city-highway, running driver only and with winter climate-control system operating most of the time. This car runs with a four-speed automatic transmission, which tends to use more fuel than manual models.

Price-as-tested: $16,546, including $3,085 worth of options, such as the 3.8-liter V-6. The standard engine is a 3.0-liter V-6.