THE FOLKS at Cadillac must've gone to a shrink. They've got a new sense of pride, a better self-image. It shows.

Look at the 1988 Cadillac Eldorado. It's more of what an Eldorado should be: sexy, sassy, extravagantly urban.

That's "urban," not "urbane." Urbane is the mistake Cadillac made with its 1987 "Euro-style" Eldo. Personally, I had no problems with last year's car, but the thing didn't sell well. I think I know why.

The first Eldo hit the streets in 1967 as a flippant response to the weighty and elongated stuffiness that marked most Cadillacs. At 4,758 pounds and 221 inches, the '67 Eldo was no lightweight either, but it did have flair.

Folks would dress up to get into that old Eldo. And I'm not talking about off-the-rack suits. They'd put on fancy colors and fabrics; and they'd wear feathers, leather and hats. Getting ready to get there in an Eldo was an event itself. Arriving was climactic, especially if lotsa people were standing around when you pulled up. But somebody at Cadillac got the goofy idea that the Eldo was too showy, too de'classe'. The car wouldn't play at the racquet club.

Enter the dechromed, rounded, non-flashy, 1987 mock-Euro Eldo. The idea was to appeal to yuppies. It was a bust. A double bust, in fact, because Cadillac offended traditional-Eldo buyers in the process.

But the 1988 model -- 3,358 lbs., 191.2 inches -- should help make amends. With its higher, more-pronounced fender lines and its uplifted rear, it's a truly hip piece of work. And that peaked engine hood is a nice touch, too.

There are more substantial changes: The new 4.5-liter V-8 engine is an example.

But "substantial" is meaningless if no one comes in to look at the car.

People will come in for this one.

Complaints: None.

Praise: Styling. General Motors' Cadillac division gets kudos for changing the sheetmetal on the Eldorado in record time -- in one year versus the usual two-and-a-half. If the test car is representative, the division seems to have done the trick without dropping a screw.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The new fuel-injected 4.5-liter V-8 is a welcome improvement over the 4.1-liter version it replaces. Power is up -- 150 hp at 4000 rpm. Acceleration is smoother. The car's 4-speed automatic transaxle changes gears, even in low-speed traffic and at high elevations, without a hitch.

Ride and handling are excellent. So is braking, thanks to the optional Teves anti-lock braking system in the test model. I enjoyed being in this car.

Head-turning quotient: Funky elegance. An urban American statement.

Sound system: AM/FM electronic stereo radio and cassette, six speakers, by GM/Delco/Bose. Superb.

Mileage: About 24 to the gallon (18.8- gallon tank, estimated 440-mile usable volume), all highway (in Quebec), driver only, using heater part of the time.

Price: $28,048, including $2,632 in options, such as the anti-lock braking system and $525 in transportation costs. Base price is $24,891. Estimated dealer's invoice price on tested model (excluding transportation costs) is $23,394.

RECALL: A recent column on the 1988 Ford Festiva minicar. No such thing as a five-speed automatic transaxle. I meant five-speed manual.

Warren Brown covers the auto industry for The Washington Post.