There will be a big difference between the 2001 Oldsmobile Intrigue and the 2000 model.

On the 2001 car, the Oldsmobile name will be bigger, and it will ride above the "Intrigue" moniker.

That is a dramatic reversal of strategy for Oldsmobile, a General Motors Corp. division that wasn't given much chance of surviving the 20th century. Its cars were mediocre. Its sales and service were worse. In the early 1990s, GM's board seriously considered pulling the plug.

But instead of killing the division, John Rock, a feisty general manager, chose to retire the Oldsmobile name--quietly.

Rock's approach was to start producing great cars, such as the Aurora, Intrigue and Alero, and to elevate those individual models above the tarnished divisional identity. The word "Oldsmobile" became small script, discreetly located below, or otherwise isolated from, the Aurora and Intrigue names.

Rock's plan worked. Oldsmobile's sales began to rise, setting the stage for Karen Francis, Oldsmobile's new general manager, who is just as aggressive as her predecessor, and who has some ideas of her own.

Take the 2000 Intrigue GLS sedan, for example. Francis wanted it to be a premium mid-size family car, a no-excuses competitor for the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat.

So she and her lieutenants took on GM's top executives and argued for certain Intrigue exclusives, such as the installation of the Precision Control System, a computer-operated anti-yaw, anti-skid device that keeps the Intrigue going precisely where the driver intends to steer it.

Similar systems usually are found on far more expensive cars, such as those from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But Francis argued that there was no reason to stick a high price on the device because the production costs of electronically controlled components tend to be lower than those of mechanical parts.

Hmph. Then she came back and asked that the Intrigue be equipped with a single engine--one of GM's very best, the 3.5-liter, 215-horsepower twin-cam V-6.

That engine was introduced on some Intrigues last year. But Francis wanted all Intrigues--the base GX, mid-level GL and top-of-the-line GLS--to have the same performance capabilities.

The upshot is that she got practically everything she demanded, which means that people buying the 2000 Intrigue are getting one heck of a lot of car for the money. I can say this with a clear conscience after a nearly 500-mile run in the new 2000 model.

Francis was sitting at the edge of a stage last week, surveying her division's exhibit here at the 2000 North American International Auto Show, which ends Jan. 23. She was frowning.

I asked her what was wrong. She looked across the way at a 2001 version of the full-size Oldsmobile Aurora, on which the Oldsmobile name rode prominently across the rear end. Then she looked at the 2000 Intrigue poised in front of her, with the tiny Oldsmobile script beneath the larger Intrigue logo.

"That was a mistake," Francis said, commenting on the Intrigue's lettering.

"That is a very good car. It's an Oldsmobile. We should say it. We should be proud of it. Next year, the Oldsmobile name goes on top."

Join Warren Brown on Tuesday at 11 a.m. at www.washingtonpost. com/liveonline for "Real Wheels," his live discussion about cars.

Nuts & Bolts

2000 Oldsmobile Intrigue GLS Sedan

Complaints: GM retains a passion for fat A-pillars, those that frame the windshield. I want those pillars to be made smaller and thinner without compromising crash safety. "Wider is better," according to one of GM's favorite ad pitches, but that's not true when "wider" compromises peripheral vision.

Praise: Put it this way: If you're shopping for a mid-size family sedan and you fail to put this one on the list, you are cheating yourself. The Intrigue is one of the best-made and, easily, one of the best-performing mid-size sedans available in the U.S. market--or anywhere else.

Head-turning quotient: Muscular yet streamlined. It possesses a certain "in your face" attitude. It's not for everybody, which is good.

Engine: The aluminum-block 3.5-liter V-6 is designed to produce 215 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 230 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. The engine is designed to meet California's clean-air regulations, which are the toughest in the nation. The engine is mated to a standard, electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission (which is called a "transaxle" in front-wheel-drive cars such as this one).

Capacities: Seats five people. Carries 16.4 cubic feet of cargo. Holds 18 gallons of gasoline; regular unleaded is recommended.

Mileage: About 24 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving.

Price: Base price for the 2000 Intrigue GLS is $25,720. Dealer invoice price on base model is $23,644. Price as tested is $27,100, including $820 in options and a $560 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: A very definite "buy." Compare with any car in the mid-size category.