We were saddened when the Pontiac Bonneville SSE for 1991 took on thesuspension characteristics of the 1984 Chevrolet Corvette: stiffer than Uncle Charlie at the family New Year`s Eve get-together.

Though you typically move up in a car line to get the best combinationof ride and handling, at Pontiac you move down to the base model LE for 1991, so you don`t have to use a foam-filled pillow to keep from suffering the illeffects of too harsh a suspension system, as in the SSE.

Engines, transmissions and strikingly distinctive sheet metal provide anauto with an image, but the suspension system gives it character-by how itgoverns up, down and sideways movement and how the car responds to suchcommands as go, stop and turn. Consider the Bonneville LE cordial and user-friendly.

With 1991 the last before a switch to an all-new body style for 1992,Bonneville made what commonly are referred to in the business as``refinements.`` Typically, that means 5 percent thicker carpeting and 10percent higher overall cost, but the LE escaped the charade.

For 1991, the improvements include making a 15-inch tire standard, upfrom 14 inches, with a 16-inch as an option for better road holding and drivercontrol. It also means a slightly different angle to the front coil springs toreduce friction and make for a smoother ride.

There`s also a little more wheel travel over the bumps to reduce theharshness coming into the passenger compartment. And at the same time, frontstruts are a little stiffer for better lateral control and handling.

These little things all add up to improvements you can`t see but surefeel, in terms of crisp handling and smooth ride.

The more humane suspension seems to make the 3.8-liter V-6 teamed with a4-speed automatic behave even better than usual. You must credit the fact thatthe 165-horsepower V-6 develops maximum torque at only 2000 r.p.m.; this iswhy the V-6 seems to have a V-8`s pep when moving from the line or slippinginto the passing lane.

The EPA rating is 19 miles per gallon city/28 highway, some good numbersfor a machine that gives four adults ample head, leg and arm room. The trunkalso is spacious.

Base price for the LE is $16,834.

Standard equipment includes power brakes and steering, wide protectivebodyside moldings, air conditioning, tinted glass, AM/FM stereo with clock,independent front and rear suspension, dual sport mirrors, dual visor vanitymirrors and front and rear floor mats.

Our test car was equipped with an option package running $1,539, whichincluded power seats/door locks/windows, cruise control, remote deck lidrelease, intermittent wipers, tilt steering and a ``value option group`` that ran $558 and included 16-inch steel-belted radials and aluminum wheels.

Among the other notable options were a rear-window defroster for $160 and power antenna for $75. A 45/45 split bench seat with cloth seat upgrade added $130 . The options totaled $2,047, but were discounted by $650. The stickercame to $18,881 plus a $535 freight charge.

Two options were conspicuous by their absence: driver-side air bag andantilock brakes. The bag isn`t available in the LE, or any Bonneville, for`91, but will be standard across the board in 1992 even on models withradio controls in the steering-wheel hub. Antilock brakes are offered for `91 for $925. The ability to stop in a straight line in the Snow Belt is a must,and antilock brakes should be the first option on your list.