Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me which car is my favorite.

Lately, that has been a tough question to answer. From Audi to Volvo, there are hundreds of great cars these days. In fact, I can't remember the last time I test-drove a lemon.

Back in late 1994 when Oldsmobile introduced the Aurora, it was one of my favorite cars.

It still is.

I just spent a week with the 1998model, and although it is a bit more expensive than the original model, Oldsmobile has made a number of improvements and refinements to warrant the price increase.

The handsomely styled sedan comes fully equipped, and in my estimation, it still is the best value for the dollar of any V-8-powered, premium luxury car.

PERFORMANCE, HANDLING

The Aurora comes with just one drivetrain: a 4.0-liter, 250-horsepower, double-overhead-cam, V-8 engine with 32 valves, coupled with a four-speed automatic transmission.

This engine/transmission combination is one of the world's best. It delivers spritely, delightfully smooth acceleration. The engine is quiet, but not annoyingly so. When called on for quick takeoffs, the high-tech motor emits a lovely hum, giving the Aurora a bit of soul.

The computer-controlled transmission shifts so smoothly that, in most situations, gear changes are undetectable. A button on the shifter allows the driver to select normal or power mode. In the power mode, the shifts are delayed slightly to allow the engine to rev a bit higher before changing gears. The Aurora is capable of running to 60 mph in about 8 1/2 seconds, which is not bad for a car that weighs nearly 2 tons.

For 1998, Olds engineers took a fresh look at the Aurora's four-wheel independent suspension system and made some major changes. Without getting too technical, let's just say that the springs, struts, bushings, steering system and a dozen other parts underneath were overhauled.

The result of that tinkering has made the 1998 model the smoothest-riding, best-handling, most-enjoyable Aurora yet. The 1998 model's finesse is evident in the graceful way the car rides over bumps and potholes. You feel very little of the ruckus on the inside, and you hear virtually nothing.

The innovative electronic-hydraulic steering system feels better than ever. The wheel turns smoothly but with enough drag on it so that the car gives you a very positive feel as it rounds a corner. The four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are superb.

According to the car's computer, the Aurora averaged 16.8 mpg in city driving, a shade below EPA estimates.

In terms of performance and handling, I can find no fault and no area where the Aurora could be improved. The car is balanced, has poise, and works with the precision of a Swiss watch.

FIT AND FINISH

Oldsmobile's new mission within the GM lineup is to be the division that appeals to upscale baby boomers who prefer imported luxury cars. That's a pretty tough ass ignment, considering the awesome competition from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Lexus and others.

Yet if I were in the market for a four-door luxury car, you would see the Aurora parked in my driveway.

If the purpose of a luxury car is to coddle you and make you feel that such a large purchase is justified - that there is value in such an expensive car - then the Aurora comes through with flying colors.

I liked the Aurora's interior the first time I saw it in 1994.

It has a uniqueness of style and level of quality that I feel is the best of any GM car. (Sorry Cadillac.)

The leather bucket seats in front are sumptuous and superb. You settle into the comfortable driver's seat and feel like a million dollars. You notice the wood trim on the console and the smartly designed dash.

To your left on the door panel, several buttons in the shape of the seat allow you to move the seat up, down, back and forth and so on. Press a button and the setting is locked in, soi someone else drives the car and moves the seat, you can put the seat back into your position with one press of a button.

The Aurora comes with a dual zone air-conditioning system that has remote controls on the steering wheel. But it's the controls on the dash that I used most often. I've always liked the classy controls for the Aurora's air conditioner. They consist of two round knobs and an LED readout, similar to what you might find on an expensive home stereo. I know of no system that is better-looking and easier to operate.

The gauges on the dash also are nice-looking analog units that are easy to read.

The level of standard equipment you get with Aurora leaves you wanting for nothing. This is one car that doesn't nickel and dime you with extra charges for such things floor mats, remote control door locks and a CD player. Our car had four options: an electric sunroof ($995); the Autobahn package ($395), which adds larger tires; and seat heaters ($295). Everything else is standard.

Average-size adult passengers in the rear seat will find plenty of room and comfortable riding on long trips.

Only one improvement is needed: The seat belts should be height adjustable. On many cars, you can move the seat belt up or down so that it doesn't cut across your neck. Although you can raise and lower the seats in the Aurora, that changes the distance from your legs to the steering wheel.

Our test car came with OnStar, an $895 option that adds a unique element to driving. A unit in the car is connected to the government's string of global positioning satellites. Through it, a variety of services and emergency help is just a phone call away at the OnStar Center in Troy, Mich.

For instance, if you lock your keys in the car, you can call a toll-free number and a customer service representative can unlock it by sending a radio signal to your car through a satellite. Or let's say you forget to lock your car, which you've left inan airport lot during a business trip. You can call the number and have OnStar lock the car for you.

The car's exact location always is known at the OnStar Center, so if the car is in an accident severe enough to deploy the air bags, help is sent to the car automatically. Also, if a thief somehow manages to disable the anti-theft system and start the car, the OnStar Center can tell police where the car is. These are only a fraction of what OnStar can do.

All this makes the 1998 Aurora a civilized high-tech, high-quality luxury car - the best value on the road for under $40,000.

Specifications:

1998 Oldsmobile Aurora Base price: $37,645. Price as tested: $38,310. EPA rating: 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway. Incentives: None. Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, front and rear crumple zones, side-impact protection.

Truett's tip: The Old smobile Aurora is the best luxury car General Motors builds. It offers more value for the money than any Cadillac, and it has import-like quality, style and performance.