They stared at the thing. Some touched it. Others walked around it. Some wondered aloud: “That’s a Chevrolet?”

It was. It is — the 1988 Chevrolet Beretta GT. That’s right, 1988.

All over the Washington area, people stopped to look at this car. Even the guys in the garage across the street from the office gave it the once-over — and they rarely look once at anything sporting a Chevrolet nameplate.

“That’s a Chevrolet?” asked one of the garage attendants, echoing the comments of pin-striped oglers on Capitol Hill.

The attendant called several of his coworkers. “It’s a Chevrolet,” he said, pointing to the slope-nosed beauty with the upswept rear. The attendants walked around the car. There were some nods, some smiles, and this from one of the group: “It’s a Chevrolet? A real, American Chevrolet?”

Complaints: General Motors Corp. has had its share of goofs, and some of them are in the test Beretta GT.

Most of the flaws — none of them traumatic — were identified by GM officials before my week-long test run. Actual experience with the car confirmed their findings: a slight distortion in the curvature of the lower-left windshield, producing a minor visibility problem; a clutch that is positioned too high for some driving tastes, including mine; buttons too close together on the AM/FM stereo cassette console.

To that list, add this: hard-to-reach power window controls.

Praise: Exterior styling and overall product quality.

Aerodynamic styling has become the design cue of the world auto industry. Sloped metallic noses, sculpted to reduce wind resistance and improve auto fuel efficiency, are poking into garages around the globe.

Ford Motor Co. led the way domestically, first with its Tempo and Topaz cars and later with its excellent Taurus and Sable models. But GM, wedded to the concept that square is inoffensive and inoffensive is better, resisted following the aero trend in its majorproduct lines.

The Beretta GT, which goes on sale in March of this year, is a well-executed turn away from GM squarethink. Give it a “10” in the beauty ratings, and an 8.5 in the fit-and-finish department.

Ride, acceleration, handling: The test car is equipped with Chevrolet’s optional Z51 suspension — top grade for the company’s compacts — which offers a firm but pleasant ride. Directional stability at highway speeds is excellent. Getting to highway speeds is no problem, thanks to the Beretta GT’s 2.8-liter, V-6, fuel-injected engine. Zoomability is super for this sporty five-seater, which is positioned under the Chevrolet Celebrity and Camaro and ahead of the Chevrolet Cavalier in GM’s marketing plans.

Note: The Beretta GT is exclusive to Chevrolet. No lookalike models at Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick or Cadillac. The Beretta does have a Chevrolet stablemate — the tamer, more traditionally designed Corsica familymobile.

Sound system: AM/FM ste reo radio and cassette with graphic equalizer, by GM Delco. Excellent tonal quality and signal retention.

Mileage: About 23.5 to the gallon (13.6-gallon tank), combined city-highway, running driver only and with climate control operating most of the time. The test model is equipped with a superb five-speed gearbox, made by Getrag of West Germany. (What the heck. All-American ain’t what it used to be.)

Price-as-tested: $13,083, including $370 destination and handling charge. Base Beretta is $9,555 and base Beretta GT is $10,611. Compare with Mustang LX and GT, Honda Prelude, Toyota Celica, Pontiac Fiero and Isuzu Impulse, and Nissan 200-SX. Drive and compare. I think you’ll be surprised. Caption: This Chevrolet, the Beretta GT, has a different aero about it, eh?