SOME PEOPLE facing imminent death decide to put their best foot forward, to make the remaining time count.

Corporations confronted with certain demise sometimes behave as courageously. Take the case of American Motors Corp.

Shortly before it was consumed by Chrysler Corp. last year, AMC was completing work on its newest car, the 1988 AMC/Renault Premier.

Renault? Yeah. Too ill to develop new products alone, AMC had been getting help since 1979 from French auto maker Renault.

Renault did much of the engine work on the Premier. Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro did the body. AMC provided the car's interior and its unifying concept -- world-class automotive quality at a reasonable price for the American market.

The Premier generated constant excitement at AMC, despite the company's dour circumstances. AMC officials who greeted the new-car project as the savior of their dying corporation continued to work on it with missionary zeal long after it became obvious that the company was lost.

It was a perfect last hurrah. Now called the Eagle Premier, the car is one of the best all-around family sedans in the United States. It runs well against Ford Motor Co.'s Taurus/Sable, Audi's 80/90, Honda's Accord and Toyota's Camry and Cressida models. It is the stuff of tributes.

To former AMC executives Joseph E. Cappy, Jose J. Dedeurwaerder, William E. Enockson, Jerry Sloan and others: You did a superb job in bringing forth the Premier.

To Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca and to the many Jeep-Eagle dealers in whose hands the fate of the Premier now rests: You have an indisputable winner. Don't mess it up.

Complaints: Front-seat shoulder harnesses on the test model, the sporty Premier ES, are too loose. Better safety-belt tensioning is needed. Rear shoulder harnesses, absent in the test model, should be installed.

Also, the four-speed automatic gearshift lever is a curious affair. It rises from behind the steering-wheel column in various twists and turns like a misshapen boomerang.

Praise: Excellent value for the money. The craftsmanship in the five-seat test model is impeccable. And what a comfortable, quiet car this is! Long drives in the front-wheel-drive Premier ES are a cinch.

There are three versions of this car -- the base DL, the fancier LX, and the sporty ES. All are true family-mobiles offering low- liftover trunks and 16.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Auto shoppers in the mid-size and full-size category should put this one on their list.

Head-turning-quotient: Likable, conservative styling. Enduring.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The ride is wonderfully smooth. Handling is precise, even in snow. Acceleration is unbelievably good for a family sedan.

The standard engine in the Premier ES is the 3-liter, fuel-injected V-6 jointly developed by Renault, Peugeot and Volvo. It's rated 150 hp at 5,000 rpm. The standard engine in the DL and LX is the Chrysler-built, 2.5-liter, fuel-injected, 4-cylinder model rated 111 hp at 4,750 rpm.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with electronic graphic equalizer, eight speakers, Accusound by Jensen. Fantastic boogie!

Mileage: About 24 to the gallon (17-gallon tank, estimated 400-mile range on usable volume), combined city-highway, running with mixed loads (one to five occupants) and some luggage.

Price: $17,493, including $2,821 in options and a $425 transportation charge. Base price on the Premier ES is $14,247. Dealer's invoice price on the test model, including options and transportation charge, is $15,249, according to Automobile Invoice Service in San Jose, California.

Purse-strings note: The considerably less expensive DL and LX are just as good as the ES, for practical purposes. Budget-minded folk might consider those models.

Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Post.