OH, WOUNDED passion! Oh, injured hope! They said you were a Maserati, and I had dreams.

My heart pounded when I saw you sitting in the importer's lot, your deep maroon body glistening in the summer sun. You seemed to sense my excitement.

I was a fool.

Squeeeaaakkk, squeeeaaakkk, every time you started rolling. Screeeechhh, screeeechhh, every time you stopped. How could you treat me this way?

Oh, and people laughed. "Look at that guy in the fancy Maserati." Squeeaakkk, screechh. "Ha, ha, ha, ha. Dumb dude's paid all of that money for a car that makes that kind of noise. Ha, ha, ha." I've never been so humiliated.

By the time we were through, I was telling everybody that you weren't mine. "Test model," I said. "It's a test model."

Goodness, I hope they believed me.

Other problems: The test model is a 1985 Maserati 425 -- four doors, 2.5 liter engine. It is billed as the "affordable Maserati," which means it is about half as expensive as the $60,000-or-so Maserati Quattroporte, the top of the Maserati line.

Still, the 425 is an exotic machine, the scion of a proud family of automobiles noted for their fine engineering, success in international racing competition and sensuality on the road. When you buy the Maserati escutcheon, you're supposed to buy that heritage of excellence.

Alas, the unforgivable shoddiness of the test model indicates that that might not always be the case.

This particular car must be a lemon. To wit: exterior plastic-to-metal adhesives that melt, leak and smear under the sun's heat; a front passenger door that proved extremely hard to close; a hood-latch that refused to unlatch, despite repeated consultations with the owner's manual and help from mechanics who work on European cars; a driver-side power window that occasionally hesitated and trembled before rising; a seatbelt light that refused to go out, even when the seatbelts were connected; truly second-rate seatbelt connections; a left-rear passenger cabin light that popped out of its socket and dangled until it could be screwed back in; an irritating, high-pitched "dog whistle" noise that seemed to come from the right-front side of the dashboard whenever the car passed 35 mph.

That whistle, combined with the squeaking and screeching, created an unholy cacophony.

Some knowledgeable people call these "minor delivery problems." Perhaps they are right. But ask yourself if you would want these gremlins in this -- or in any -- new car.

Outstanding praise: At highway speeds, the 425, finally, becomes a Maserati. Power pours from its 2.5-liter, V-6, twin-turbocharged gasoline engine. Even with the three-speed, automatic transmission in the test car, this machine moves out! Handling is equally impressive. The 425 takes curves with aplomb. Braking power and vehicle stability in panic stops are excellent. It's really too bad that the overall craftsmanship of this car doesn't live up to its superior performance engineering.

Head-turning-quotient: Excellent. But people heard it before they saw it.

Sound system: Which one? (The audio system was fine when it wasn't overpowered by the car's noises.)

Mileage: Barely 16 to the gallon (20-gallon tank), combined city-highway, running driver only and with air conditioner operating half of the time.

Price-as-tested: $31,552. "Affordable" or not, at that price I don't want to hear about "minor delivery problems," okay?

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