THE DISAPPOINTMENT began when the car's front-end skittered about on a rain-slick highway at modest speeds.

Disappointment became anger on Washington's mean streets. The 1991 Mercury Capri XR2 convertible, made in Australia and tested on rough Australian roads before being shipped to the United States, simply wasn't up to the abuse meted out in the District of Columbia.

The convertible's little body shook and quivered with every bump. Its entire structure trembled, and sometimes squeaked. After hitting one or two potholes, I used special care to avoid those urban craters in the tremulous Capri.

I was heartbroken, mostly because I wanted the Capri to fulfill the longings of my regicidal soul.

For nearly two years now, the reigning monarch in the Kingdom of the Affordable Convertible Sports Coupe has been the Mazda Miata. I wanted the Capri to put an end to that, largely because too many Miata dealers have been charging stiff premiums -- pushing that car's reasonable manufacturer's suggested retail price into the unaffordable zone.

But after driving the Capri, my hopes for a coup de coupe were dashed. It'll take far more than this shaky, skittish little thing to topple the Miata from its throne.

Background: Subcompact convertibles are supposed to be fun and have consistency of feel. That means they're supposed to be tight, nimble and exciting to drive, and somewhat impractical as everyday vehicles -- a "deficit" that actually enhances their youthful, carefree air.

The rear-wheel-drive Miata is all of those things. The front-wheel-drive Capri is not.

The problem may be that the Capri had too many cooks in its pot. The car's exterior was designed by Ford's Ghia studios in Italy; its interior prepared by Ital Design of Italy; its engine and drivetrain developed by (gulp!) Ford partner Mazda. The whole thing was assembled at Ford's Broadmeadows Assembly Plant outside of Melbourne, Australia.

The result is a confusing automotive stew that looks good, smells good but goes down poorly in the eating.

The Capri is available as the tested, turbocharged XR2 and the Standard convertible two-door model.

Complaints: Enough said, uhmmm, except that the Capri's tiny rear bench seat is a fairly worthless item.

Praise: The Capri XR2 is attractive, and it has lots of standard equipment, including a driver's-side air bag. It also has a tad more cargo space than the Miata and a convertible top that is easier to manipulate and store than that on the Miata. (Both are available with optional, removable hard tops.)

Head-turning quotient: It's a good looker and a teaser that promises much more than it can or is willing to offer.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Unimpressive ride and handling. Terrific acceleration.

The Capri XR2 is equipped with a 1.6-liter, in-line, turbocharged engine rated 132 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The standard Capri has a non-turbo, 95 horsepower version of that engine. Both cars have ventilated disc brakes up front to reduce brake heating, and solid disc brakes in the rear.

Sound system: Four-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette. Ford Premium. Excellent, as always.

Mileage: About 26 to the gallon (11.1-gallon tank, estimated 277-mile range on usable volume), combined city-highway, mostly driver only.

Price: Base price on the Capri XR2 is $15,522. Dealer's invoice price on that model is $14,000. Price as tested is $16,157, including $280 for the Ford Premium sound system and a $355 destination charge.

Base price on the Capri Standard is $12,588 with a dealer's invoice price of $11,389.

Purse-strings note: Compare with Mazda Miata. Make your own decision. It shouldn't be difficult.

Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.