Bob Lutz, president of Chrysler Corp., was out of the board room and in his element: thrashing a good car around empty mountain roads.

On this high-speed wriggle across the foggy tops and damp bottoms of Central Napa--made trickier by runoff dribbling across the tougher corners, and usually at the apexes--there was little room for whoops.

But Lutz, ever the unemployed fighter pilot, always the hard competitor, BMW biker and European-schooled racer of fiery sports cars, displayed no difficulties.

He trail braked into turns because slower entry produces a better balanced car and quicker exits from tighter corners. On fast, sweeping bends, maintaining the speed limit was excess enough and required responses quicker than the radar detector on the dash of Lutz' 1994 Chrysler LHS.

The Swiss-born Silver Fox grinned through it all.

But not entirely from the moment's exhilaration.

Lutz's full pleasure came from proving to the motoring media--at least those who could stay with him--that Chrysler finally has built a weighty, well-padded, five-passenger, fully-loaded luxury car without sacrificing response, agility, pace or faith in your deodorant.

A current series of commercials reveals Chrysler's new promise. No more wallow. No float and roll. All references to battleships, barges and yachts are henceforth torpedoed.

And no whitewalls or padded vinyl roofs of the Landau look.

Steve Torok, general manager of the Chrysler-Plymouth division, says plush and lavishness, the very essence of old Chrysler, even old Detroit, have been redefined: "Luxury is now . . . the function of the driver's needs."

Chrysler's need, of course, is survival. It wasn't making it with minivans and sport utility vehicles, and with stodgy sedans purchased by a dwindling, older population who prefer to drive living rooms. Demographics demanded more sophisticated vehicles for younger buyers--the ubiquitous, now graying baby boomers weaned on sportier, tighter Japanese cars.

And whether investing in homes, Dalmatians or matrix printers, this practical lot prefers functional design over flashy styles. It is no longer interested in size, mechanical trinkets and being conspicuous. These are Clinton folk. George Bush was your father's politician.

Last fall, Chrysler went from one generation to the next with its line of cab-forward, mid-sizeLH sedans: Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision and Chrysler Concorde. Sales have been off the page--and heavy among those 40-somethings.

Next month, the upmarket Chrysler New Yorker and Chrysler LHS luxury sedans enter American showrooms as 1994 models. They are longer, lower and spiffier than the LH cars, but are based on their 214-horsepower, 3.5 liter V-6 engine.

Although Chrysler is targeting the front-driving New Yorker and LHS against the slowpoke Buick Roadmaster and 2-year-old Mercury Grand Marquis, its new line conceiv ably could create a world of hurt for Cadillac and Lincoln. It may even cause Lexus and Infiniti to squint over their shoulders.

Price is Chrysler's huge advantage.

Granted, we're comparing the apples of V-8 power in Cadillac and Lincoln with the oranges of Chrysler's V-6.

But when equipment is at par, handling is better and value and engineering levels are higher, just how much is one second of initial acceleration and a slightly heftier top speed worth to the average luxury car buyer?

Entry-level Cadillacs and Lincolns start around $34,000.

Base price on the Chrysler New Yorker is $10,000 less.

An Infiniti J30 or Lexus GS300--both with a V-6 engine, double air bags, leather interior, automatic transmission, touring suspension package, anti-lock brakes, CD player and all power trinkets--cost uncomfortably close to $40,000.

A Chrysler LHS with the same equipment is $11,000 less.

Flank to flank, there are zero differencesb tween the New Yorker and the LHS, bar their badging.

Both have the cab-forward look of the LH--a sharply raked windshield mounted further ahead of the dashboard for extra interior room--and the same wheelbase. But the longer Chrysler twins have all extra metal built into front and rear overhangs so typical of big car styling.

The cars show rounded and reduced rear windows reminiscent of the Jaguar Mk VIIs through IXs of the '50s and '60s, and minimal touches of chrome creating a discreet, contemporary exterior well suited to arriving at Chasen's in a tux.

The standard New Yorker, with front and rear bench seating for six, is geared for the traditional Chrysler buyer, right down to its column-mounted shifter. It provides a softer ride on a milder suspension and noise-deadening, all-season tires on 15-inch pressed steel wheels.

Therefore, the car fusses and rolls a little when slung around challenging corners. But the result is a lazy, predictable understeer with equally deliberate recovery.

The LHS, on the other hand, is the letterman.

It has broader, performance Goodyear Eagles wrapped around 16-inch, lace alloy wheels for more positive handling and extended adhesion limits. Also less softness and silence of ride.

The touring suspension on the LHS has been tuned through heavier mounts and stiffer settings of shocks and springs for flatter, crisper handling at higher speeds and more dramatic maneuvering. And the shifter for the four-speed automatic is mounted on the center console--conveniently canted toward the driver--allowing fairly easy downshifts to third for trickier corners. A button for downshifting, however, would triple that particular pleasure.

Internally, there is little to complain about. The split bench seats of the New Yorker are nowhere near as supportive as the broad, glove-leather buckets of the LHS. But then the New Yorker is geared much more to boulevards than back roads.

Thanks to that cab-forward design, rear seating in both cars offers huge amounts of space and the same knee and leg room as first class on Air France. Walnut trim adds a rich burnish to the dashboard. In truth, it is genuine, simulated wood-grain plastic. But you'd have to drill it to find out.

Drawbacks: Chrysler's emergency brake remains a museum piece in search of belated retirement. It is applied and released by stomping, an open invitation to completing most of the morning commute with brakes binding. The obvious solution would be joining the rest of the motoring world and a system of disengaging when the shifter is clicked into drive.

Rear vision needs attention. Viewing dead astern is no problem. But a combination of a back window smaller than normal, and rear pillars heftier than most, puts a driver's over-the-shoulder glances--even with the insurance of side mirrors--in blinders.

Steering is another bug. The turning circle--38 feet with 3.3 turns lock to lock--isn't exactly pivoting on a dime. At slow to middling speeds, road and wheel information fed through a rack-and-pinion steering set-up seems more a matter of fuzzy estimates.

Yet by its small car handling, obvious affordability and high value through superior appointments and construction, these Chryslers should fear no vehicle.

They drive solid. They remain sane under rough handling when every bracket and bushing, every attachment and component work as a concert of friendlies. With a tweak here and an adjustment there, the 1995 New Yorker and LHS will be able point men in America's continuing march toward manufacturing truly superb automobiles.

And it is a huge amount of car for the money.

Incidentally, one is the New Yorker, the other the LHS. There is no New Yorker LHS. Because, notes Torok, younger buyers would rather stop shopping at the Gap than buy anything that sounds so grand-paternal as New Yorker.

H says it is axiomatic in the auto industry that "you can sell an older person a young person's car, but never the reverse."

1994 Chrysler LHS

The Good Big domestic car with secure, nimble handling of small import. Priced to kill the big guys. Superbly equipped for the price. Bridges generation gap between seniors and boomers. Roomy enough for wedding receptions.

The Bad Podiatric emergency brake. Fuzzy steering.

The Ugly Last year's New Yorker.

Cost Base: $29,046 As tested, $29,315. Includes leather seats, CD player, automatic transmission, double air bags, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, touring suspension, anti-lock brakes and remote locking.

Engine 3.5 liter, 24-valve, V-6 engine developing 214 horsepower.

Type Front-drive, five-passenger, full-size luxury sedan.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 9.4 seconds. Top speed, estimated, 135 m.p.h. EPA fuel consumption, city and highway, 18 and 26 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 3,457 pounds.