IWANTED to drive the 1988 Buick Reatta, and General Motors' publicists tried to enhance the experience by setting up a talk with Ed Mertz, head of GM's Buick Division.

Mertz never showed. He got stuck in snow somewhere in Detroit. The two-seat, front-wheel-drive Reatta arrived by another route.

'Twas just as well. The Reatta does a good job of speaking for itself. I'm swooned by this one, folks -- zapped to the max, which is odd. I've rarely felt this way about a Buick.

Most Buicks I've driven have been devoid of personality and performance -- duds, among the lesser lights on the test-car schedule.

But the Reatta is quite different. It's a very fine car. I wouldn't mind driving it across country several times, just for the heck of it.

Anyone who loves driving, who values the road, has to experience this car. It's a truly graceful machine, automotive choreography at its best.

Distempered throttle-jockeys might disagree with this assessment. Great. The Reatta is not for them.

This is a sports car for people who like the idea, but not the reality, of driving and owning one.

The Reatta, for example, has a comfortable, spacious interior. The ride is firm, but pleasing. It doesn't beat you up. Most sports cars, by comparison, seem to equate competence and quality with suffering.

In short, I'm impressed. As far as Mertz is concerned, if talking to him means that I can get another crack at driving the Reatta, well, then, let's do lunch. I'll buy.

Complaints: GM has an unfortunate penchant for building thick, wide, interior "A" pillars -- the front pillars that frame the left and right sides of the windshield. Those pillars, also present in the Reatta, occasionally interfere with peripheral vision.

Also, the car's name is misleading. "Reatta" is a stylized version of "riata," a Spanish-American term that is the equivalent of "lariat" -- a rope for tethering grazing horses. But this car holds back nothing. GM should've called it "Le Streak."

Concern: Many of the Reatta's functions, such as heating and air conditioning, are controlled by a touch-sensitive cathode-ray tube, located at the top of the instrument panel. I like this device and find it easy and fun to use.

But some people complained that the electronic control center is too complicated and too distracting to use in traffic. I give 'em the benefit of the doubt on that one.

Praise: The Reatta gets superior grades in overall execution. It's a well-made car, which is what I've come to expect from GM's plants in Lansing, Mich., which is where the Reatta is made.

Lansing people eat, sleep and breathe GM. They take their work seriously. They are second to none in automotive craftsmanship.

Head-turning-quotient: The Reatta gets more looks than Lady Godiva at a Pat Robertson rally.

Ride, acceleration, handling: Clean sweep. The car gets gold in every category. Acceleration comes from a 3.8-liter, sequentially fuel-injected engine rated 165 hp at 4,800 rpm. It runs well.

Sound system: GM/Delco electronic AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with graphic equalizer. Boss boogie.

Mileage: A respectable 24 to the gallon, (18.2-gallon tank, estimated 428-mile range on usable volume), two occupants, running mostly on the highway.

Price: $26,205, including $680 for optional 16-way, powered driver's seat and a $525 destination charge. Standard equipment on this fully-loaded model includes air conditioner and anti-lock brakes, among numerous other items. Besides the power seats, the only other available option is a power-operated sunroof, $895.

Base price is $25,000. Estimated dealer's invoice price is $22,800, but that price might also be affected by various factory rebates to the dealer.

Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.