Thank goodness that reason and sanity won out and Ford didn't give in to those who had planned to replace the venerable Mustang with the Mazda-designed Probe sport coupe.

The Probe has grown old since it was unveiled in the 1989 model year. It may have raised a few eyebrows in 1989, but the lids have grown weary. It didn't help that early design exercises and concepts of what was to become the Probe were stunning and expectations were sky high for a mind-boggling hunk of sheet metal. The production model was a conservative compromise.

Rumors are strong that Probe will put a few more years under its belt before it disappears from the Ford lineup.

The speculation is that 1997 will be Probe's last year. In the 1998 model year, Mercury gets a small sports coupe built off the next generation Mazda 626 and Ford gets a sports coupe built off the front-wheel-drive Taurus platform. The new cars will carry familiar names-Cougar at Mercury, Thunderbird at Ford.

But that is then and this is now so on to the Probe.

Probe somewhat reminds us of the Pontiac Fiero, an economy car wrapped in a sporty exterior. Base engine is a 2-liter, 118-h.p., 16-valve, 4 and the GT carries a 2.5-liter, 164-h.p., 24-valve, V-6. Despite the 24 valves, the 2.5-liter seemed to lack ambition. We expected to get slapped into the seat when the pedal was pushed to the floor. Not so. The V-6 seemed tame.

Fuel efficiency-20 m.p.g. city/26 highway with the V-6-further attests to Probe's economy.

Pluses include dual air bags, but ABS is an option. Rear seat leg or arm room is sadly lacking, as is headroom from the pronounced roof/rear glass slant.

The list of standard equipment on the car's window sticker pales in comparison to the optional bells and whistles.

Standard equipment includes power steering, fully independent suspension, 16-inch tires, cast aluminum wheels, fog lamps, split rear folding seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, AM/FM stereo with digital clock, console with cupholder and sun visors with vanity mirrors-hardly a wealth of technology and innovation.

You have to spring for lots of options to dress Probe to go out. Check out the accompanying box listing Probe specs and the items in the optional preferred equipment package. You'd think Ford could have thrown in a few of those-such as ABS, power mirrors and rear-window defroster-as standard.

>> 1995 Ford Probe GT Wheelbase: 102.8 inches Length:178.7 inches Engine: 2.5-liter, 164-h.p., 24-valve, V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic EPA mileage: 20 m.p.g. city/26 m.p.g. highway Base price: $16,545 Price as tested: $22,470.Add $4,365 for preferred equipment group that includes manual air conditioning, dual electric remote mirrors, intermittent wipers, tilt steering, cr uise control, power windows, power locks, remote keyless entry, convenience lights, color-keyed front floor mats, rear window wiper/washer, power driver's seat, ABS brakes, bodyside moldings; $790 for automatic transmission with overdrive; $270 for AM/FM stereo with compact disc player and clock; and $500 for leather bucket seats. Add $360 for freight. Pluses: Dual air bags standard. Very good mileage. Ford decided not to make this the Mustang replacement. Minuses: ABS an extra-cost option, like just about everything. Though 24-valves, the V-6 seemed focused more on mileage than performance. Rear seat room a premium. Styling won't knock your socks off-or even make them roll down to your ankles. >>