The Buick Skylark is a sleeper for 1989.

That`s somewhat fitting, because the Skylark has been in a slumber since1985, when Buick dropped the compact X-body version in favor of a slightlysmaller compact N-body.

But Skylark also is a sleeper because Buick is focusing its attention for the new model year on the Riviera, the restyled and 11-inch-longer personalluxury car that was a personal disaster in its 1986-1988 reign as a motorized smurf.

The X-body Skylark was saddled with controversy over brakes thatallegedly locked in a panic situation and was discontinued in 1985. A two-doorN-body succeeded the X-car and a four-door followed in 1986.

The N-body replacement not only was slightly smaller than the X-bodypredecessor but it also lacked styling imagination, interior roominess-especially in back-and an engine with some life to it.

The Quad Four 2.3-liter, 4-cylinder from Oldsmobile was added as anoption for 1988, but it seems potential buyers equate that engine more withperformance models than compact luxury cars such as the Skylark.

All it took for the Skylark to regain respectability was a new engine,GM`s 3.3-liter, 160-horsepower V-6. The 3.3 is an offshoot of GM`s former 3-liter V-6, which is no longer offered at Buick. The 3-liter was a favoriteof ours-until the 3.3 arrived with its superior performance.

Skylark styling still won`t win any prizes, and those relegated to theback seat still will find space a precious commodity, but the problem of notenough power under the hood has been solved with the addition of the optional 3.3-liter V-6, which is new at GM for 1989.

GM`s 2.5-liter four is the standard engine, and the Quad Four and the3.3-liter V-6 are optional. The Quad Four and its 150-h.p. runs $660, and the 3.3 and its 160-h.p. will cost you an extra $710. We drove the `89 SkylarkLimited two-door coupe with both optional engines, and the 3.3 is preferredfor smooth and quiet power bursts when needed.

The 160-h.p. 3.3 breathes life into the 2,500-pound car. With the quick,yet quiet, response from the 3.3, the Skylark takes on a new character. Thatconservative little Buick now has the muscle that even some of its largercousins lack.

Even ride and handling seem to benefit, though the tight cornering andminimum of body roll are the result of the car`s Dynaride suspension.Dynaride features deflected disc shock valving. In seat-of-the-pants terms, itmeans a combination of sports-car firm and luxury-car soft ride and handling, depending on the road surface.

The EPA rating is 20 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway with the 3.3 andstandard 3-speed automatic. A 4-speed automatic isn`t offered. The tank holds 13.6 gallons.

Now that Buick has a desirable engine in the Skylark, it should work onsome of the other shortcomings. Most notable is roominess. The X-car hadbetter arm and leg room up front and far more space to wiggle your shouldersin back.

The Skylark is built on a 103.4-inch wheelbase and is 180 inches longoverall. If an inch more was devoted to width front and rear and about 2 more inches to leg room in the rear, it would be appreciated.

At least Buick made one concession to cramped quarters in back by putting the driver and passenger safety belts in the door of the coupe. Entry to theback seat is made easier because the belt goes with the door when opened anddoesn`t stand as an obstacle to the rear seat.

The front-wheel-drive Skylark has power steering, tinted glass, clearcoat paint, AM-FM stereo radio, digital clock, body-colored polypropylene front andrear bumpers and a standup tri-shield Buick crest hood ornament as standard.Youth hell-bent on ripping off Cadillac crest hood ornaments to wear asnecklaces now have a new trophy to go after from Buick.

The base Skylark coupe and sedan start at $11,115 and the Limited sedanand coupe start at $12,345.