ALL THE LEAVES were brown, and the sky was gray. We'd gone to war in a land far away. I couldn't stand the strain of that winter's day; so, I jumped in the car and drove to the bay.

It was a new Eagle Summit. As news, 'twas no shock. 'Twas like finding cold waters with no boats at the dock. Still, the Summit had presence, a spirit, a zest. At the end of the trip, I was no longer depressed.

Ah, but the car lacked some things -- it had one side-view mirror where it should have had two. The seats were of vinyl. The dash? Plastic, too.

The Summit was a stripper, a base car, sans frills. But, glory! When it ran, it gave me the chills.

We became fast friends, the Summit and me. 'Twas a sweet note 'midst dirges, a song -- minor key.

Background: The Summit comes from Chrysler and Mitsubishi to help young mamas and papas make economy runs. It's available in four models -- the tested base three-door hatchback, the better-appointed ES hatchback, the base sedan and the upscale ES sedan. All Summits have a base price under $10,000.

The sedans are made at the Chrysler-Mitsubishi Diamond-Star plant in Normal, Ill. The hatchback comes from a Mitsubishi factory in Japan. The manufacturing locations and work forces are different. The quality isn't. These are all good little cars, folks.

Complaints: I hate the Summit's automatic shoulder harnesses. While the harnesses are automatic, the lap belts are manual. That means you can forget to lock the lap belts, which means that you and your front-seat passenger could wind up in big trouble in a crash. Enough of this phony automatic belt foolishness. Chrysler has shown us the value of putting air bags in all of its Chrysler-originated cars. It needs to force partner Mitsubishi to see the light.

Which brings up this continuing nonsense of lone side-view mirrors in cheap cars. Don't auto makers know that cars have two sides? C'mon federal government. Time to make new rules.

Praise: The little front-drive car's nifty when the going gets rough. It moves through mush and snow and accelerates without whining. That's a delight matched only by its handling, which is clean, crisp and tight.

The car is built well. Chrysler says it seats five. I could seat only four.

Head-turning quotient: Not ugly. Not cute, nor anything between. The Summit's beauty is in the driving of it.

Ride, acceleration and handling: For a car of this size, the ride is truly good. Take it over bumps and -- surprise! -- there are no jolts. There are independent struts up front and a three-link torsion axle in the rear. Very nice small-car engineering.

Acceleration is zoomy enough. The engine is new -- 1.5 liter, four-cylinder, 12-valve, 92 horsepower. Wheeee! Hot stuff.

Sound system: Mono is a disease that belongs in a hospital, not in a car. The tested Summit was equipped with a two-speaker monaural AM/FM radio, factory installed by people who, apparently, still believe in Milli Vanilli.

Mileage: About 30 to the gallon (13.2-gallon tank, for an estimated 390-mile range on usable volume of 87-octane unleaded), running mostly highway and driver only.

Price: Base price on three-door hatchback is $6,949. Dealer's invoice price is $6,358. Price as tested is $7,277, including a $328 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Without reservation, the Summit's a buy. You want good and cheap? Give it a try.

Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.