Sport-ute lite. That's the best way to describe the 1996 Geo Tracker - even though it's grown up a bit this year and sprouted two more doors.

The four-door mini-sport utility can't compare to its larger, more affluent cousins like the Chevrolet Blazer or GMC Jimmy. If you envision items like a Kleenex holder in the instrument panel, think again. The Tracker is definitely more on the spartan side, even with a few updated touches. You want floor mats or air-conditioning or a radio? They all cost extra.

But still, there is a certain charm to this spunky, semi-affordable competitor.

She: I fell for the Tracker several years ago - and even put down cold hard cash on one, a two-door hardtop. But the affair only lasted a couple of months.

Those two doors and tiny rear cargo area were killer. I have very clear memories of struggling to cram two mini-beach chairs in my old Tracker. Golf clubs and Dan's tenor sax were totally out of the question. It's always been fun to cruise around in the Tracker, but would the extra two doors make me fall in love all over again?

He: I never had your problem to begin with, honey. I always thought the Tracker was too little vehicle for too much money, and believe me, I'm not very infatuated with the new four-door incarnation. Compared with the big boys, I suppose it's affordable, even though our test model topped $19,000. But it still feels like strictly kid stuff to me. Buy it for your 16-year-old - especially now that it has dual air bags - but treat yourself to something a little longer and roomier, with a few more options.

Do you realize you can't get power door locks, power windows or mirrors on the base version we drove? No, thanks. I'm too old for all that do-it-yourself manually operated stuff.

She: Come on, the Tracker is so compact that it doesn't take much of an effort to lean over and adjust a mirror. And by the way, change that remark to "big girls."

He: I was afraid I might get slapped.

She: Look, you do get some value for your money - besides the extra doors, they updated the grille, they've added daytime running lights and the air bags. And you've got to admit it's fun to drive. I especially like the oversized windows which give you lots of visibility. And you can switch the optional automatic transmission from normal to power mode if you want more aggressive shifting.

He: You might like to point out that, even with the standard five-speed manual gearbox, the 95-horsepower four-cylinder engine is a dog. With the automatic, it takes forever to get up to speed. This is no BMW either, in terms of handling. It's not even a Cavalier. The Tracker handles like an old Jeep, and that's no compliment. The longer wheelbase does give it a bit more stability on the road, but it still feels kind of tippy if you take a corner too fast. All in all, there's just a little too much excitement here for my taste.

She: I think the overall sensation puts you mo re in touch with the road and makes you feel like you're really boppin' around. It's the exact opposite of being in a family sedan or a minivan. Forget your gripes about lack of power windows and mirrors. This thing needs an optional surfboard or snowboard to complete the picture.

He: And a $2,000 rebate. I was always amused when the boys' classmates used to look at you in that old Tracker and say, "Gee, Mrs. Lienert sure is HIP." Good thing they don't know what an old dog Mr. Lienert is, huh? I'm sorry, but I was surprised by how rough the Tracker still rides, even though the wheelbase is 11 inches longer on the four-door model. On some rough pavement, even the rear mirror jiggles around - which is something I haven't noticed lately on too many cars. I don't mind looking at jiggles, just not on cars.

She: Maybe you'll stop bugging me to go see Showgirls now that you've been in the Tracker. I certainly know how I feel about the new edition. It makes up for everything that missing in the old model.

I found that hauling gear around was no problem - and I'm talking about stuff like 20-some costumes for the high school play, big sport duffels and groceries. I especially like the standard Scotchguard fabric protector and the child-proof rear locks on the four-door. It's a little pricy, but I think this would be an ideal vehicle for youthful retirees, moms who like to limit the car-pool kids and singles of every stripe.

He: If they don't mind a few jiggles.

Anita's rating: (above average)

Paul's rating: (average)

What we liked: Semi-affordable baby sport-ute; The extra doors make all the difference; Nice safety touches; Tons of fun (Anita).

What we didn't like: Grossly underpowered; Rough rider; Tons of boredom (Paul).

1996 Geo Tracker 4-door hardtop

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel-drive, four-passenger mini-sport utility vehicle.

Price: Base, $15,320; as tested, $19,301 (inc. $315 destination charge).

What's new for '96: Four doors, new instrument panel, new safety features, new colors, new exterior styling changes (grille, fascias, moldings, hood).

Standard equipment: Center console with cupholders and storage tray, carpeting, rear-window defogger, spare tire cover, power steering, reclining front bucket seats, analog instrumentation, tachometer, trip odometer, door pockets.

Safety features: Daytime running lights, dual air bags, child-proof rear door locks, antilock brakes (optional).

Options on test vehicle: Rear washer/wiper ($125), antilock brakes ($565), cruise control ($175), four-speed automatic transmission ($800), front skid plates ($75), 15-inch alloy wheels ($335), AM-FM stereo with cassette ($220), automatic locking front hubs ($200), preferred equipment group #3, including air conditioning, electronically tuned AM-FM stereo, carpeted floor mats, body-side moldings ($1,171).

EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/26 mpg highway.

Engine: 1.6-liter 16-valve; 95-hp at 5600 rpm; 98 lb-ft torque at 4000 rpm.

Transmission: Four-speed automatic.

Competitors: Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Jeep Wrangler, Suzuki Sidekick, Suzuki X90.

Specifications: Wheelbase, 97.1 inches; overall length, 158.7 inches; curb weight, 2434 pounds; legroom, 42.1 inches front/32.7 inches rear; headroom, 40.6 inches front/40.0 inches rear; shoulder room, 52.5 inches front/51.8 inches rear.

Where built: Ingersoll, Ontario.