When age catches up and moves into the passing lane, man or woman can turn to a bottle of liquid to return the gray locks to their once natural blond, brunet or red color.

Detroit can`t turn to a bottle (OK, a few people we know have), but it can turn to a can, a tin of paint and a fresh new color.

Such is the case with the 1992 Chevy Astro mini-van, a vehicle that`s been around since late 1984, when it was introduced as a 1985 model in an attempt to wrest the market lead from Chrysler.

It hasn`t and it won`t, not in the `92 version even with a new paint covering called light teal metallic-a cross between green and blue. Teal is a nice color, to be sure. Attracts attention. Does it make Astro a better vehicle? Hardly. Astro is a rear-wheel-drive mini-van that makes a little too much noise and carries several pounds too much weight so that it feels too heavy in the wheel to be a serious rival to the Chrysler mini-vans.

In fact, if the Astro accomplishes any task by lingering in present form, it`s to make the front-wheel-drive plastic-bodied Lumina mini-van seem even more appealing, because the Lumina is quieter and has better performance, ride, handling and nimbleness when merging, parking or slipping into the passing lane.

Astro has two swing-out rear doors because Chevy at one time insisted that swing-out rear doors would allow you to carrry a ladder in your mini-van more easily than a hatchback Chrysler mini-van could.

To the four people in this world who have carried a ladder in your mini- van, we suggest you stick with the convenience of the Astro swing-out doors. To the 2 million to 3 million people who carry kids, dogs, cats, luggage and groceries, the lift hatchback still is the choice.

And as we said back in 1984 when we first got our hands on an Astro, the two thick pillars of the closed swing-out doors obstruct rear vision. Those doors also rule out the use of a rear-window wiper, a much-needed feature in rain or snow.

A new rear Dutch door is coming late in the `92 model year or early for `93. It consists of a one-piece lift gate with split-panel doors, with both hatch (top) and swing-out doors (bottom), so you can haul kids or a silly ladder-or silly kids and a ladder.

Astro is offered in two- or four-wheel drive, in regular or extended- length versions and with a choice of a 150-horsepower or an upgraded 200- horsepower version of the 4.3-liter V-6, which replaces the 170- horsepower, higher-output V-6 of a year ago and costs an extra $500. Both are teamed with a 4-speed manual transmission, and both are rated at 16 m.p.g. city/21 highway.

We tested the `92 two-wheel-drive extended-length Astro with the 150- horsepower engine. Astro can haul up to eight people, and because it`s rear-wheel drive, tow up to 6,000 pounds. We don`t advise all those people or all that weight with the 150 horsepower V-6, unless you have one ferocious tailwind to help propel the Astro`s 4,000 pounds.

Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard, all the better to keep the ladder in place if you cross a patch of ice on the way to your regularly scheduled climb.

Two features in Astro`s favor are a wide opening between the two front buckets to allow Mom to slip into the second seat to hand the kids a napkin when they start eating lunch on the vacation trip, or Dad to rush back and shake the kids silly when they spill their lunch.

There`s also what serves as a mini-table up front, with dual cupholders and a flat top to hold mom and dad`s lunch. The table top is plastic so it can easily be wiped when either or both spill vittles or drinks. Adults will be adults, you know.

The regular Astro is built on a 111-inch wheelbase and is 176.8 inches long. The extended version is built on the same wheelbase but is 186.8 inches long.

Base price of our test vehicle was $15,875. Tinted gla s ran $290, sport suspension $237, chromed front and rear bumpers with rub strips $76 and roof luggage carrier $126. A preferred-equipment group including air conditioning, power windows and locks, tilt wheel, cruise control, eight-passenger seating, AM/FM stereo with cassette and clock, reclining buckets with foldup armrests, power remote mirrors and 15-inch tires ran $3,000 but was discounted by $1,300.