I EXPECTED everything except excitement. The car was a 1995 Volvo960. I've never been excited over Volvos.

In fact, the 960 sat in the driveway for two days while I rolledother wheels, including a new Ford Taurus station wagon -- a car sostraight, it could be used as a conservative's campaign poster.

After the Taurus wagon, anything looked exciting; and maybe that'swhy I went gaga when I drove the Volvo. Va-va-voom! Lordy!

The car had big-time twisting power, lots of engine torque, enoughto go from 0 to 60 in barely 8 seconds.

Well, heck, I went hunting for curves, which meant going to theShenandoah Valley, where there are curves aplenty. The car moved sexily,which was surprising. I'd always likened Volvo to a work of automotivecelibacy -- a cheek-pecking, hand-shaking, howdy-do-ing kind of car. Butthe 960 was rockin' n' rollin', twistin' n' turnin'. Danged thanngg wasactin' hip.

The drive gave me an idea: Conservative politicians ought to use the960's designers and engineers as consultants. Being straight, after all,doesn't mean you gotta be square.

Background: The rear-wheel-drive 960 has been reshaped andreengineered for 1995. The reshaping -- softer corners and a mildlysloping front end, accented by smaller headlamps -- ain't much to cheerabout. The reengineering is something else.

Start with the suspension. The old 960, like all Volvos, looked andfelt like a tank. The car's appeal was its feeling of invulnerability.Handling and comfort were distant afterthoughts.

The new 960, by contrast, handles as well as some sports cars,including those from Porsche and BMW. (Don't gag until you drive thething.) Credit new front-suspension work and a redesigned, multi-linkindependent rear suspension. The front stuff includes MacPherson strutswith offset, mounted coil springs and stabilizing bar. The back stuffincludes an aluminum subframe mated with a long leaf spring (rear coilsprings are out), gas shocks and a stabilizer bar. The upshot is moredriver control and less car-body roll, about 35 percent less, in the new960.

There's lots of standard equipment, too, including: two front airbags, enhanced side-impact barrier protection, electronically controlledfour-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel-disc brakes with ananti-lock system, leather seats, power sunroof and, um, daytime runninglights (DRLs).

Volvo is the first automaker to introduce DRLs to the United States.Look for others to follow, either as a result of federal mandate ormarket pressure. Common sense dictates that it's easier to see a lightedobject than it is to scope out one with no lights.

With DRLs, the low-candescent headlamps automatically come on whenyou key the ignition. Canada and several European countries requireDRLs.

The 960, available as a sedan or wagon, is equipped with aPorsche-developed, in-line six-cylinder engine rated 181 horsepower at5,200 rpm. Torque is set at 199 pound-feet at 4,100 r pm. What a whizzer!

Complaints: Highly functional, but very ugly instrument panel.

Praise: The 960 proves that practicality can live in peace withfun. One hoot of a road car! And it's nice that someone at Volvo wasthoughtful enough to design a low lift-over trunk, which makes it easierto load groceries and other cargo into the 16.6 cubic feet of space.

Also, kudos for turning radius. Though a full-size sedan, the 960can make a perfect U-turn on a relatively narrow street.

Head-turning quotient: An elegant yawn. Still looks like aVolvo.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Triple aces. Braking wasexcellent.

Sound system: Six-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette. VolvoPremium Sound. Excellent.

Mileage: About 23 to the gallon (20.8-gallon tank, estimated463-mile range on usable volume of recommended premium unleaded),running mostly highway with two occupants and light cargo.

Price: Base price is $29,900. Dealer's invoice is $27,700. riceas tested is $30,560, including a $460 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Excellent value for dollar. Compare with anysedan in the $25,000-$30,000 category. My hunch is that this one willhelp Volvo pick up some of its U.S. market share.