IT'S HARD to hate things you understand. The 1988 Lincoln-Mercury Grand Marquis LS sedan is an example.

It's a great big car, "medium cabernet metallic" red in color. Its 17.8-foot body is bejeweled with chrome; and the decorative dross doesn't stop there.

The external rear half of the roof is covered with puffed vinyl. The passenger cabin, of course, is the stuff of polyurethane forestry -- woodgrain, woodgrain everywhere.

'Tis not exactly the car of auto writers' dreams. No matter.

Despite all of its apparent excesses, it's an excellent machine. And, frankly folks, it's a car I wouldn't mind owning.

Part of the reason is nostalgia. The rear-wheel-drive Marquis LS evokes memories of a seemingly gentler time: summer nights at drive-in movies, lazy drives from New Orleans to New Iberia, La., anxious moments after Sunday Mass, hoping for a ride home with Peggy, Serena, Lauren or Gloria.

But this grand behemoth has practical appeal, too. It's a bona fide cruiser, a sedan of maximum comfort. It has ample room for six adults and a generous 22.4 cubic feet of trunk space for their luggage.

When outfitted with the "Trailer Tow III option" (heavy duty suspension), like the test model, the Marquis LS can pull a 5,000-pound load. How many modern-day, swoopy-styled, front-wheel-drive sedans can do that?

Ah, and safety. The thing is a tank: steel guard rails inside all four doors, tether anchors for child-safety seats, front pillars and a roof designed to withstand a crash force equal to 1.5 times the Marquis LS' weight (3,828 lbs.), an energy-absorbing interior, and seatbelts front and rear.

If Ford Motor Co. would add full-front airbags, six-passenger shoulder harnesses and anti-lock brakes to this one, it'd be wonderful.

But, as it is, the Marquis LS is a very decent vehicle, an excellent value for the money. It gets thumbs up.

Complaint: Handling. The car is sloppy around curves, and it has noticeable body-sway in fast-lane changes.

Buyers of this model should realize that they aren't getting a racer or a performance car of the "grand touring" variety. The Marquis LS is an easy car to drive, but it needs to be driven with patience.

Praise: Overall quality and craftsmanship. Excellent. The Marquis LS is of the old- fashion body-on-frame construction, the kind that invites rattles and squeaks. But the test model is free of those noises.

Also, the test model is equipped with Ford's optional Insta-Clear heated windshield, which uses a transparent zinc oxide film to conduct electricity over the windshield surface. It gets rid of windshield ice in three minutes or less. A neat innovation.

Head-turning quotient: Other drivers slow down when you get near them. They think it's an unmarked police car.

Acceleration: Excellent. Power comes from a 5-liter, electronically fuel-injected V-8 engine, rated 150 hp at 3,200 rpm for standard Marquis LS and 160 hp at 3,400 rpm for Marquis LS with trailer-towing package.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, six speakers, Ford Premium Sound. Excellent.

Mileage: About 19 to the gallon (18-gallon tank, estimated 330-mile range on usable volume), running with mixed loads (one to five occupants), mostly suburban streets and highways in the Great State of Virginia.

Price: $19,847, including $2,776 in options and a $480 destination charge. Base price on tested model is $16,591. Dealer's invoice price on the base Marquis LS is $14,275.73, and the comparable price on the test model is $16,655.62, according to the Automobile Invoice Service in San Jose, Calif.

Warren Brown covers the auto industry for The Washington Post.