Aurora is the car that gave Oldsmobile a new lease on life.

Introduced three years ago, it brought vitality and fresh thinking to a brand that some thought was on the verge of being phased out completely. Today, Oldsmobile is awash with new products such as the Cutlass and the Intrigue. Both borrow heavily from the vigorous image created by Aurora.

In that context, it seemed appropriate to take another look at the Aurora to see if its halo is still intact.

The answer, in a word, is yes, although the shine is not quite as bright now as it was three years ago because the Aurora's ride quality could stand some improvement if it is to remain a challenger to the mid-luxury imports.

Bottom line, the Aurora remains one of the best cars in all of General Motors, irrespective of brand or price. Its look is lean and muscular, with a body drawn as tightly around its mechanical components as a skin-tight T-shirt around a weight-lifter's biceps. Chrome trim is minimal, and applied tastefully applied when it is used. The lack of an actual grille gives the nose a rakish profile which is becoming an Olds trademark that is finding its way into future models, such as the Intrique.

Looks aside, what makes the Aurora so appealing is the 4.0-liter, dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) V8 engine that sizzles with 250 horsepower. This engine, a spiritual cousin to Cadillac's Northstar V8, revs with a mechanical sweetness sure to charm any enthusiast's soul, yet it's never temperamental. It will idle to the grocery store as smoothly as an electric motor. Stomp on the throttle to power down a freeway entrance ramp and you're greeted with a pleasing rush of power that lets you blend effortlessly into traffic.

Road work is one thing that the front-wheel-drive Aurora really likes. It knifes through turns without healing over like a sailboat on a windy day. The way it sits flat gives the driver confidence. On undulating pavement, however, the ride gets a bit too bouncy, like the shock absorbers need to have tighter control over the body's motions. This the one place where a tightly-controlled European-style ride has an advantage over the Aurora.

Inside, the atmosphere is one of subtle luxury. The dashboard wraps around the driver, creating a cockpit feel. The Aurora has the nicest secondary controls of any GM car. The large, rubber-ribbed heater fan knob, for example, glides through its positions like a ball bearing on glass. Other knobs are similar in their design and feel. Unfortunately, the radio still has tiny buttons for selecting stations.

Leather upholstery and bits of wood trim lend an air of warmth and luxury to the interior. Curiously, the nice wood trim on the console does not extend on up to the dash. The analog instruments are elegantly designed and easy to read at a glance.

The wide, thin shift lever also mimics what might be found in an airplane. A button on the side changes the automatic transmission's shift points.

After three years, Aurora seems to be wearing its age well. Its engine is the class of the segment and the interior is cozy and plush without being overstuffed. Rough-road handling leaves something to be desired, but otherwise this is an outstanding vehicle.

Price

The mid-luxury segment into which the Aurora falls is populated with cars such as the Lexus ES 300, BMW 328i and the Lincoln Continental. The Aurora's base price of $35,735 remains competitive because it is so fully equipped.

Our test's only option was heated front seats, and that brought the sticker price to $36,695.

Warranty

The basic warranty is for four years or 50,000 miles.

Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.

Point: A zippy, high-tech V8 and sporty styling make the Aurora domestic alternative to imported, mid-luxury sedans.

Counterpoint: A tightly controlled ride would improve its handling er undulating pavement.

SPECIFICATIONS:

ENGINE: 4.0-liter, V8

TRANSMISSION: automatic

WHEELBASE: 113.8 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,967 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $35,735

PRICE AS DRIVEN: $36,695

MPG RATING: 17 city, 26 hwy.