AUTOMAKERS ARE suffering from the "Camelot Woods Syndrome," a maladymanifested by the hyperbolic naming of everything from housingdevelopments to drugstore colognes.

Take the 1988 Pontiac LeMans SE.

Part of the literature accompanying this subcompact says: "LeMans.The name evokes images of famed European race tracks and fast cars. Ittakes a person back to a time in Pontiac Division's history some twentyyears ago, when the Pontiac LeMans boasted a reputation of distinctivestyling in a fine-handling performance car . . .."


The new LeMans does 0-to-60 mph in 15.5 seconds. Fast? Get outtahere.

The new LeMans was designed in West Germany by Adam Opel A.G., aGeneral Motors Corp. subsidiary. The car is produced in South Korea byDaewoo Motor Co. Ltd., 50-percent owned by GM. This is Pontiac Divisiontradition?

And what about styling? Many people mistook the test car for a HondaCivic. That's distinctive?

Don't get me wrong. I like this Pontiac. It's one of the bestsubcompacts I've driven. But it does nothing to rekindle memories ofhot-rodding nights on the main drag of Hometown, U.S.A.

It's an excellent little commuter. No more. No less. Isn't thatenough, Pontiac?

Complaint: The park-to-reverse lever in the automatic gearbox gotstuck, which temporarily prevented shifting from park to reverse.

The problem was corrected by popping the gearbox cover, moving a wireblocking the movement of the spring-loaded lever, and then shifting. Theshifter worked perfectly after the fix.

Yeah, yeah. I know that you're supposed to lift the shifter "collar"before moving from park to reverse in this car. But that maneuver didn'twork until after the lever was adjusted.

Praise: Overall excellent small-car quality. In fact, I would choosethis one over the Chevrolet Spectrum (made by Isuzu), the Toyota Corollaand the Ford Escort -- to name a few.

My reasons are largely subjective. Despite its Honda look-alikeexterior, the LeMans does have a distinctive, wraparound, highlyfunctional interior design, with round-dial instrumentation.

The car uses three-point seatbelts front and rear, carries fourpeople comfortably, five with a squeeze.

The LeMans is tighter than many of its competitors, which means it'svirtually rattle-free.

And the LeMans also is a lot more fun to drive than many of itsecono-counterparts. This is hard to define. It's just a feeling, and theLeMans has it.

Ride, acceleration, handling: Firm, comfortable ride on a 99.2-inchwheelbase. Zero-to-60 acceleration is slow, but good enough to move intohighway traffic in reasonable safety. The car moves with authority inthe 55-mph-to-65-mph range. Power comes from a 1.6-liter, overhead cam,four-cylinder, throttle-body injected engine -- which means that ithas a single, centrally mounted injector supplying fuel to all fourcylinders.

Throttle-body injectors are more efficient than carburetors formixing air and fue l, but they're less efficient than multi-pointinjection systems.

Handling is excellent in this front-wheel-drive car.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo with push-button volume and tuningcontrols and "slide" bass/treble, balance/fader controls, by Delco.Good.

Mileage: Easily 25 to the gallon (13-gallon tank), combinedcity-highway, running driver only with heater on most of the time.

Estimated price as tested: Official introduction of the 1988 LeMansis in June 1987. GM officials estimate that the upscale SE version, thetest model, will sell at under $8,000 -- including such optionalequipment as three-speed automatic transmission and air conditioning andstandard items like fog lamps, all-around three-point seatbelts andtachometer. LeMans prices will start at under $6,000, GM officials said.