Mrs. Dean hasn't squealed and cooed this much since our cat came limping home three days after Northridge stopped playing cocktail shaker.

"It's that happy, firetruck red I couldn't get last time with Henrietta," she chirped. "This car has everything I want. Two doors, a big sound system, five-speed, leather upholstery and a hole in its head."

She means sunroof. But that's the kind of literality for which she is famous. Also for her impetuosity, indestructible enthusiasm and pertinacity. All of which means Henrietta, her burgundy 1992 Accord coupe, is headed for the knacker's yard, and there's a 1998 Honda Accord EX Coupe in the family future.

"What," begged Mrs. Dean, "is thaaaaaaat?"

Her habit is to stretch vowels as an expression of disapproval. Thaaaaaaat, I said, is the larger, roomier, more powerful 1998 Honda Accord LX sedan with a V-6 engine. And with enough interior space to graduate to the mid-size category.

"But it's too big, too sober, too much like a Camry, too . . . tooooooo dull and ordinary," she said.

Frankly, there are times when Mrs. Dean calls shots better than an artillery spotter. Her hunches should be mined by J.D. Power and Las Vegas bookies. She brings the same instinctive flair to cooking the best coq au vin this side of Lyons.

So remember her emotional evaluation of the 22-year-old, sixth-generation Accords when Ten Best and Car of the Year time rolls around: Visually, economically and mechanically, the two-door Accord will be the creator of much heavy breathing, while the four-door will hold its position in popularity, but won't give the Ford Taurus or the Toyota Camry bad cases of the clammies.

Still, consider this husbandly rider: The Accord sedan has long been one of the finest cars in the world. If holding position translates to settling for a stationary ranking among the country's best-selling automobiles, you can bet Nissan and Saturn would give their left lug nuts to be in similar stagnation.

Although its styling is an unexciting, evolutionary lurch, Honda actually has done astounding things with the new Accord sedan. It has grown longer, wider and taller without sacrificing its nimble nature. It was designed here, built here and styled exclusively for the American market--although it may pain some to think Honda stylists see Americans as addicted to oatmeal.

Available engines--a base 2.3-liter, 135-horsepower, in-line-four, a variable valve version of the same rated at 150 horsepower, and a 3.0-liter, Acura-bred V-6 good for 200 horsepower--have been re-engineered from pistons to crankshaft to deliver more power. Tree-smoochers will be happy to know there's an optional four-cylinder engine that meets even California's uptight Ultra Low Emission Vehicle standards.

This capable sedan has more interior room than Camry or Taurus. With a base of $21,550, V-6s will be about $1,000 less than last year 's Accords. That's because the engine, like the car, is now built domestically, not shipped from Japan.

And sticker prices of the four-cylinder cars remain almost level.

But that coupe.

See it, drive it and beat your breast for the rest.

It is a yearling racehorse, a first sweetheart, great dollops of Tabasco on your pizza, and a free spirit that will stir handling thrills thought to have disappeared with the Civic CRX.

This is no reconfigured, two-door version of the sedan, but an original coupe drawn, designed and engineered by Honda's research and development studios in Ohio and California. All exterior panels are exclusive to the car, and only headlights and door handles are shared with the four-door.

And those chortles you hear are from kid-builders of Asian hot rods on learning that automatic versions of the coupe will, for the first time, be given the firecracker V-6 engine.

But even the 150-horsepower, four-cylinder pow er plant--a creature of constant power thanks to valve timing that adjusts to demands upon the engine room--feels remarkably like the V-6s of lesser cars. It is quick from rest, is a little inclined to snooze in the passing lane, but is easily poked awake by snappy stirring of the five-speed shifter.

Although a half-inch taller than yesterday's car, the coupe appears lower because it is several inches longer and shows a glorious, jet-fighter rake to the windshield and rearwindow. The silhouette is clean and smooth, and a few extra bucks spent on optional alloy wheels add jewels to this tiara.

Its enhanced dimensions provide space for four real adults--Honda claims seating for five, but don't bet friendships on it--with wriggle room left over. The coupe's trunk is about one FedEx package smaller than the sedan's, but holds more luggage than an Infiniti Q45.

Honda, of course, has always been the wizard of ergonomics and convenience. Hence a huge glove box, an overhead mini-locker for sunglasses, and sun visors with slide-out extensions to close little gaps the afternoon sun always seems to find. The seats are comfortable and adjust well.

Locked as they are in a value war that is of blessed benefit to buyers, manufacturers can no longer market cars with tire valves sold as extras.

So the best way to appreciate what comes with a $21,000 EX coupe is to list what isn't included as standard equipment--just leather upholstery, a wood grain interior and eight-way power driver's seat. Everything else, including anti-lock brakes and six-speaker CD player, may be considered part of the rent.

Thanks to a stiffer build and a multi-link rear suspension, the new Accord handles even better than the old Accord. Which is an improvement from splendid to super.

Steering response is immediate, reliable. and isn't easily irritated should one change one's mind in mid-maneuver. All in all, a crisp, affordable, frisky performer that will certainly assist Accord's overall dogfight against Taurus and Camry.

Even with a hole in its head.

1998 Honda Accord EX Coupe

The Good: Larger, more powerful, less expensive, with distinctive styling and construction exclusive to coupe. Now available with a V-6. Low emissions show environmental conscience, new roominess makes a brave attack on long-time slump in coupe sales. And the CRX driving fun is back.

The Bad: Slight acceleration snooze at higher speeds.

The Ugly: A V-6 without a 5-speed manual.

Cost Base: $20,750. (Includes dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning, power steering, cruise control, anti-theft system, adjustable steering column, power door locks and windows, heat-tinted windows, 60-40 folding rear seatback, rear cup holders, CD sound system, power sunroof.) Price as tested: $21,950 (Adds leather upholstery, alloy wheels.)

Engine 2.3-liter, 16-v alve, in-line four developing 150 horsepower.

Type Front-engine, front-drive, four-passenger sport coupe.

Performance 0-60 mph, as tested, 8.6 seconds with 5-speed manual. Top speed, electronically governed, 124 mph. Fuel consumption, EPA city and highway, 25 and 31 mpg.

Curb Weight 2,976 pounds.