A little more than 100 years ago, Ransom Eli Olds began making automobiles.

And in 1998, Oldsmobile is still at it. In recognition of this accomplishment, Oldsmobile Division is celebrating by bringing out the 1999 Oldsmobile Alero. The all-new Alero is sort of a car with a personality.

Its exterior draws key brand characteristics from the Olds Aurora.

Clear lens head lamps and tail lamps, low-mounted dual air intakes, fluted side sculpting, round wheel openings, six-spoke wheels, all speak of Aurora.

Something that doesn't say Aurora is the price structure. The Alero's sticker starts out at about $l6,850 for a GX and rises to the $20s for a GLS.

For what is expected to be the best seller, a GL model sedan, the MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) is a couple a hundred bucks more than $18,000.

Rated as a compact, body styles consist of the sedan and a coupe. There are two engine choices, an in-line four-cylinder and aV-6. There is one transmission system, a four-speed automatic. From any angle, you have to say the car has a clean, fluid look. The rooflines between the sedan and coupe are very similar, and yield overall a sports theme.

At 107 inches of wheelbase, the size comes pretty close to edging into mid-sized car category. The same can be said for the Alero's overall length of 186.7 inches.

The front-drive is a five-seater, with the driver's compartment layout being the standard two individual front seats separated by a center console.

The driver's needs are the central focus of the instrumentation, with the console stack being canted slightly towards the driver to enhance a cockpit theme.

In another design move, the radio controls are positioned above the climate controls instead of being located in the more common position of below them. The thinking here is that a driver utilizes radio knobs more than climate control levers.

Front bucket seats are specifically contoured for support and long-instance traveling. For utility purposes, the 70/30 rear seat folds for access to the trunk.

A plethora of safety and security features like dual air bags, traction control, battery rundown protection, side impact protection, tire inflation monitoring system and the like are standard across the line.

However, the tire monitoring is not available on the GX. This system uses speed sensors to detect when a tire is rotating at a different speed and is thus running at a different pressure. The driver is alerted by a chime and warning light in the instrument cluster.

Olds' engineers figured that, sometimes, a collision is unavoidable. As a consequence, the body components surrounding the passenger compartment form a cocoon-like steel structure. The steel safety cage is constructed from steel engineered for maximum stiffness and minimum weight.

Protection is further enhanced by steel door beams. Cast foam energy-absorbers resist intrusion in the event of a side-impactcollision.

Olds says the extremely rigid body offers a stiffness well beyond that offered by mid-market competitors.

Then, there is a slick little feature designed to foil car thieves. The Alero's Passlock passive theft-deterrent system immobilizes the engine's fuel-injection system in event an attempt is made to start the car without the proper ignition key. Driving all this stuff are a couple of powertrains that adopt two different philosophies of technology.

The four-cylinder motor is a dual overhead cam engine with four valves per cylinder.

The V-6 uses push rods and rocker arms and two valves per cylinder. The 2.4-liter (146-cubic-inch) 4 is an advanced design that employs dual balance shafts in the oil sump to cancel the secondary vibrations inherent in all in-line four-cylinder engines. Output is a spirited 150-horsepower.

The torque curve is dead flat between 2,400 and 4,400 rpm, and delivers 155 foot-pounds throughout that range for excellent throttle response.

The 3.4 (205-cubic-inch) V-6 is optional in a GL and stan dard in a GLS.

This motor is an updated V-6 featuring a stiffened block skirt, aluminum heads and intake manifold, and roller hydraulic lifters and roller rocker arms.

Power is 170 horses, with 200 foot-pounds of torque being available at 4,000 rpm.

There also are two transmissions in the Alero, although both are four-speed automatics.

The DOHC 4 uses GM Powertrain's 4T40E four speed, while the V-6utilizes the higher torque capacity 4T45E.