THE 1986 ACURA INTEGRA sat there with its sloping, bucktoothed hood, a car so plain that ugly would have been an improvement.

To say the least, it was not inviting.

There was something so nerdy about the car, something so goofy that, well, there was no way of knowing it could do what it did.

To wit:

Pass Porsche 944 and Mercedes-Benz 190 E models.

Turn corners with much more precision than the highly praised 1986 Toyota Supra.

It made me think that, maybe, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. isn't so crazy after all.

Honda, which used to "make it simple," suddenly has found virtue in complication. The company is marketing the Integra and another car, the Legend, through its newly created and, some critics say, unnecessary Acura Automobile Division.

I've been one of those criticizing the new division. But I might be wrong in this case. The closest thing to the Integra in the Honda lineup is the Prelude. But the Integra is an all-around better car. If the parent company wants to keep selling Integra and Prelude models, it had better do so separately.

Outstanding complaint: Other than exterior design, a minor fit-and-finish problem represented by a slightly askew glove-compartment door.

Outstanding praise: The car simply is a brilliant job of engineering.

The wraparound interior allows four passengers to sit in perfect comfort. The same interior design, augmented by huge windows and big mirrors, gives the driver an excellent view of the road and surrounding traffic.

The Integra's five-speed manual transmission is tops. You don't have to file an application to get into the right gear. And though the three-door test model is relatively light (2,326 pounds), it doesn't dance all over the highway in high winds. The car is incredibly stable.

Ride, acceleration, handling: More solid evidence of the Integra's integrity. The ride is excellent. Acceleration is stunning. Credit the Integra's 1.6-liter, double-overhead-cam, 4-cylinder, 16-valve, gasoline engine -- all of which would mean nothing if this car didn't move. It moves.

As for handling, I'd be happy to have this front-wheel-drive car on any curve -- in any climate.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with graphic equalizer, by Acura. Competitive with the best factory auto sound systems on the market.

Mileage: About 28 to the gallon, combined city-highway, running with mixed loads (driver-only on some occasions, four passengers on others). Air conditioner was in use on all runs.

Price-as-tested: $12,261, includes $653 air conditioner as the only option. Note: Price for air conditioner is for parts only. Installation is extra. Also, dealers most likely will go for maximum markups on this one. What can I tell you? Ugly ain't cheap.