Beretta got top billing; Corsica was mentioned in the fine print. Beretta was the main act; Corsica the warmup.

Corsica at first was no more than a conservative, front-wheel-drive,four-door sedan companion to the sporty, front-wheel-drive, two-door Berettacoupe in Chevrolet`s compact lineup.

Beretta was the poor man`s Camaro. Corsica the poor man`s Celebritysedan.

But Corsica has come into its own. It accounts for about 50 percent ofthe Beretta/Corsica sales, which Chevrolet plays games with by lumpingtogether.

By combining Beretta and Corsica sales, Chevrolet can boast it has a caramong the industry`s 10 sales leaders. Individually, neither would make it in that rarified atmosphere.

Corsica`s main function at Chevrolet is as the replacement for theCitation, the compact X-body that was discontinued in 1985. Chevy waited until1988 to bring out Corsica to give consumers time to forget about the chargesof locking brakes in a panic stop with the X-body cars.

Corsica is strong in two departments: looks and performance. It`s farmore pleasing to the eye than the Citation. It benefits in 1989 from theaddition of a glassy hatchback to the notchback sedan line. That curved hatch resembles the glass on a Camaro. Keep in mind that the size of the hatch glasswill require air conditioning to keep the interior cool in the summer.

The compact Corsica is built on a 103.4-inch wheelbase and is 183.4inches long. We test drove the LT version finished in a dark but rich graywith thick body side moldings to protect sheet metal. A red accent stripealong the moldings adds just the right touch.

Performance is the Corsica`s other strong suit, providing you get theoptional V-6 engine. With the base 108-horsepower, 2-liter, 4-cylinder, fuel- injected engine, Corsica is an economy compact designed to carry the familyof four and groceries.

But with the optional 130-h.p., 2.8-liter, multiport, fuel-injected V-6,Corsica comes alive. Performance like this used to be reserved for two-doorcoupes. No more.

A bit startling was the fact the standard 5-speed wasn`t typically GMtemperamental. Good complement to the 2.8`s power. A 3-speed automatic is a$490 option.

Corsica comes in base, LT and top-of-the-line LTZ versions. We drove theLT, which comes with the F41 suspension package. It seemed to hold the roadwell on simple maneuvers such as lane changes, but in hard turns or widesweeps, such as on a tollway ramp, the body seemed to want to linger a bit toolong in the turn.

The LTZ offers an upgraded and stiffer FE3 sports suspenion, same as inthe Beretta GT, with 15-inch Eagle GT all-season performance radial tiresreplacing the 14-inch all-season radials on the LT.

Good looks, ample room for the family, decent mileage and above averageperformance at a respectable $10,375 base price.

Standard features include power brakes and steering, AM-FM stereo withdi gital clock, all-season steel-belted radials, body-side moldings with accentstripe, dual sport mirrors, full wheel covers and side window defoggers.

The LT adds black grille, styled steel wheels, upgraded all-season steel- belted radials and the F41 suspension. All Corsicas have two-sidedgalvanized steel on most body panels, which makes rustproofing foolhardyunless you`re hell bent on financing college educations for the dealer`s kids. The test car added preferred option package No. 3, which includedauxiliary lighting; carpeted floor mats; heavy duty battery; tinted glass; airconditioning; tilt wheel; speed control; gage package; intermittent wipers;power door locks, trunk opener and windows; and upgraded AM-FM stereo withcassette and digital clock. The $2,375 package is discounted by $1,300.

With a few popular options such as electric rear window defogger for $145 and the 2.8 V-6 for $660, the test car listed at $12,740 to which you add $425for freight.

Good buy for the money that would be even better if some of theannoyances and flaws were corrected.

To best appreciate the Corsica with manual you need long legs, to reachthe pedals. The driver`s seat seems to be mounted on a hill. Move it forwardto reach clutch, brake and fuel pedals and you first ride up and then movedown and feel as if the first time you apply the brakes hard you`ll be sittingon the floor.

Other gripes are the heavy prop-held hood; location of the center console cargo holder too far to the rear of the driver and with a top that obstructsusage by opening sideways toward the driver; and a poorly positioned shoulder belt housed too high in the upper corner of the door so the belt grabs at yourneck.

The rear hatch has a pullout vinyl shade to hide packages. But if youneed to carry more cargo, the rear seat folds down-but far from flat, whichdefeats the purpose of having it. Good idea, poor execution.

With that massive glass rear hatch, it would be nice if Chevy would add a wiper, an important safety factor in heavy rain or snow.

The service manual points out that among periodic maintenance, you should change the ``carburetor air filter`` every 50,000 miles. The 2-liter four and 2.8-liter V-6 are fuel-injected, not carbureted.