The nose can be bobbed, the wart removed, the second chin tucked out ofsight and a beast turns into a beauty.

At Buick, the designers grabbed a scalpel and performed a long-overdue,much-appreciated cosmetic makeover to the proboscis of the compact Skylark for1996.

At long last, there's a grille that doesn't look like a set of chromebridgework popping out from between two fenders. Nice touch, and one thatshould have people wandering into the showrooms to check out Buick'sentry-level model.

There's also new bodyside moldings, taillamp treatment and wheelcovers tocomplete the makeover.

In addition to the new, more stylish appearance, Skylark for 1996 adds dualair bags as well as traction control as standard--two features lacking inprevious models. Those who complain about fumbling with the seat beltsattached to the door will be happy to know that for 1996, the belt system isattached to the center roof pillar. And the control for lights has been movedfrom a steering wheel stalk to a dial on the dash. Buick listened to itscritics.

Also for 1996, Buick replaced the 2.3-liter, 150-h.p. Quad Four with a2.4-liter, 150-h.p., 16-valve 4-cylinder that it says is quicker and quieterthan the former engine. And it dumped the 3-speed automatic in favor of a4-speed. Nice move.

We tested the Skylark with both engines, and the 3.1-liter, 155-h.p., V-6still is the choice for optimum performance and quiet operation. If the2.4-liter quieted the commotion, it had to be by a fraction of a decibel atbest.

The Gran Sport sedan we tested starts at $17,710. Add $500 for freight. The2.4-liter, 4 is rated at 21 m.p.g. city/32 m.p.g. highway, the V-6 at 21/29.The slight difference in fuel economy doesn't justify passing up the V-6's ad ded energy andquietness.