MY COUSIN Baby June was a tank of a dude, a muscular bubble on two short legs who moved with the grace of metal-track wheels. If you didn't see him coming, you could always hear him -- thumpa, thumpa, thumpa, "Hey, my man, what's happenin'?"

If Baby June ("Baby Junior") had been a car, he would've been the 1991 Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo -- a pugnacious explosion of curves and bulges that demands attention, but not affection.

Lots of folks didn't like Baby June, and lots of 'em won't like the Celica All-Trac Turbo either. It has something to do with personality.

Bulgy, squat people and things look more aggressive than they necessarily are. It takes a while to warm up to them -- an emotional task that most people would rather avoid.

But those who got to know Baby June made a friend for life. He could make you laugh like crazy and he could, and often would, punch out anybody stupid enough to mess with you.

Ditto the Celica All-Trac Turbo. The car with the humpty-bumpty hood and the pierced-ear sideview mirrors is fun to drive at a leisurely pace, but it can kick up dust on the highway, too.

Background: The 1991 model year marks the fifth generation of Celica sports mobiles, which now include a convertible and 10 other models. The tested All-Trac Turbo tops the line in both equipment and price, which may be too high, considering the lower prices of the many well-made, well-appointed competitors that surround it.

The All-Trac Turbo is four-wheel drive. The other Celica cars are front-wheel drive. All have two rear seats, which are all pretty useless as far as the human body is concerned.

Complaints: The days of paying a premium for presumed superior Toyota quality are long gone. The Celica All-Trac Turbo is good, but I can't find the $5,000 worth of difference between it and its competitors at Mitsubishi, Nissan, Acura, Chevrolet (Geo), and Plymouth.

Praise: Excellent drivetrain engineering and remarkably good design in the front passenger cabin. The five-speed manual shifter in the test car is very smooth. Driver positioning is ideal for short folks. The overall car feels good.

Head-turning quotient: Gets lots of nods and just as many grunts. Insecure people should stay out of this one.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent small-car ride. Credit the Celica All-Trac Turbo's four-wheel independent, McPherson-strut suspension system. That same system, coupled with the car's power steering and 15-inch tires, makes handling a joy. Acceleration is tops in the tested car, which is equipped with a turbocharged, two-liter, four-cylinder, 200-horsepower engine.

Mid-priced models are equipped with 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engines rated 130-horsepower at 5,400 rpm. The lowest-priced Celica cars carry a 103-horsepower, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine.

Sound system: Ten-speaker, electronic AM/FM stereo radio, cassette and compact disc, Toyota's System 10 series. Terrific!

Mileage: About 24 miles per gallon (15.9-gallon tank, estimated 371-mile highway cruising range on usable volume of 87-octane unleaded). The minimum fuel requirement for the All-Trac Turbo is 87-octane unleaded; like other turbocharged cars, it tends to deliver better performance with higher octane grades of unleaded gasoline.

Price: Base price on the tested Celica All-Trac Turbo is $21,408. Dealer's invoice price on the base model is $18,090. Price as tested is $26,508, including $4,650 in options and a $450 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: You don't need four-wheel drive in a car this small, and you definitely don't need a $1,185 sound system. You do need to comparison shop with the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Plymouth Laser, Eagle Talon, Nissan 240 SX, Geo Storm, and Ford Escort GT. Baby June would've done it. His momma didn't raise no fool.

Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.