THEY ASKED me to pick up the stripper, but told me not to get excited. When I saw the car, the 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Metro, I knew what they meant.

Folks, we're talking basic. We're talking the kind of car some dealers advertise in bold print, but never have on their showroom floors.

The Metro has four wheels. It has five windows, four seats -- sort of -- and it has a five-speed manual gearbox. It has a heater, steering wheel and fuel gauge, a speedometer, and a gauge to measure engine temperature.

Yeah, Virgil and Virginia, there's an engine -- a 1-liter, 3-cylinder, carbureted job that cranks out 48 hp at 5,100 rpm.

But the Metro lacks much; and not all of those missing parts are frills.

'Twould be nice, for example, if this car had a right sideview mirror. What's the matter with Suzuki and General Motors, respectively the maker and marketer of the Metro? Don't they believe that economy-car buyers have an equal right to safety?

The Metro is aptly named. It's a great little car for scooting back and forth to work, as long as work isn't more than 20 miles away from home, and it's terrific for darting in and out of city traffic and for parking on congested side streets. But don't try to take this one on a long trip, unless you're planning to do penance or something.

Complaints: "Basic" shouldn't have to mean dangerous. It's bad enough that the Metro comes without the necessary right sideview mirror, but the skinflints who made this one have omitted the electric rear-window defogger, too. This is nuts.

If the rear window fogs up, effectively eliminating the use of the interior rearview mirror, that means the driver is reduced to using the standard left sideview mirror to check traffic behind the car. That's simply too risky.

Praise: What's there on the front-wheel-drive Metro is well-made. All seams are tight and right. The four vinyl seats are tough enough to put on a playground. The clutch and the five-speed gearbox are sturdy, durable components.

Two adults can sit comfortably in the forward cabin. Two more can squeeze into the back in semi-comfort, as long as the trip does not last too long.

Head-turning-quotient: Yawn. But do it gently. You don't want to blow this little 1,565-pound thing away.

Ride, acceleration, handling: Awful ride, especially for rear passengers. The Metro simply does not get along well with bumps. Acceleration is better. This car actually reaches highway speeds of 65 mph with little sweat. Handling is reasonable, especially for a car equipped with tiny 12-inch-diameter tires.

Sound system: No radio or anything. But wind and road noises come through clearly.

Mileage: Easily 53 to the gallon (8.7-gallon tank, a range of about 455 miles on usable volume), combined city-highway, mostly driver only.

Price: $5,725, including $230 transportation charge. Base price is $5,495. Dealer's invoice price is $5,275, according to Automobile Invoice Service in San Jose, Calif.

Purse-strings note: Dealers probably will try to persuade Sprint Metro shoppers to purchase the more attractive, better performing Turbo Sprint coupe, which starts at $8,240. Surely, the dealers are after a larger profit. But in the case of this car, they're also trying to do you a favor.

Addendum: In last week's column about the Buick Reatta, I should have mentioned that the car's engine is a 3.8-liter, fuel-injected V6.

Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.