IT WAS A serious car, midnight blue with gray interior. It had afine body, Jaguaresque in appearance. But the dark paint muted thesensuality of that shape. Even the bright molding, wrapped around thecar's lower panels, seemed bereft of levity.

Still, I liked the thing, the 1993 Buick Park Avenue Ultra. I likedsitting in it. It had big, comfortable, leather-faced seats. And it wasneat the way the instrument panel curved around the front end of thepassenger cabin until it disappeared into the doors.

But I felt a little strange in the Park Avenue Ultra on the SaturdayI drove it. Saturday is get-funky time. But it's hard to get funky in acar that prefers pin stripes over denim. So I wore a blazer and dressshirt with my jeans, and cranked up the engine.

You should've heard that engine! It was deep and throaty -- kind ofmade me smile. I mean, here was this car, all proper and everything,with an engine that sounded like a love scene between Madonna and ArnoldSchwarzenegger. Hoooah!

I headed for I-95, bound for New York. The car could move. I washaving a good time until I pulled into the parking lot of the MarylandHouse, a public rest stop along I-95.

Church people were getting off a bus that identified them as churchpeople. Some of them stopped to admire the Park Avenue Ultra, whichlooked clerical in repose.

"Beautiful car, young man," one of the church ladies said. I glowed.Forty-five years old and chubby, and some woman's calling me "youngman." I sucked in my gut, for naught. "You a minister?" she asked.

Background: The Park Avenue is the top-of-the-line Buick; the Ultrais the top-of-the-line Park Avenue. The car is thus a bona fideluxmobile, a worthy competitor of Lexus, Cadillac, Acura Legend, Audi,Jaguar, Infiniti, Lincoln and 300-series Mercedes-Benz models.

The Park Avenue Ultra has a softer ride than many of its rivals,especially softer than those from Germany. But that's okay for the waymost Americans use cars -- to commute, shop and take occasional vacationtrips.

There are two models: the base sedan and the Ultra. The primarydistinction between the two is the engine. The base Park Avenue isequipped with a 3.8-liter V-6 rated 170 horsepower at 4,800 rpm, with amaximum torque rating of 225 pound-feet at 3,200 rpm. The Ultra comeswith a supercharged version of that engine rated 205 horsepower at 4,400rpm, with torque put at 260 pound-feet at 2,600 rpm.

Complaints: I wish that the driver's seat didn't have so darned manypower adjustments. It's great once you get it right; but getting itright is an absolute pain.

Also, the side-view mirrors need redesign. They're small, oddlyshaped things. Getting them angled right is a hassle, too.

A driver's air bag is standard. But competitors in the luxmobilecategory often come with two standard bags, for the driver and the frontpassenger. Any car named Ultra ought to be a two-bagger.

Praise: Excellent overall design; a superi or long-distance runner.The front-wheel-drive Park Avenue Ultra seats six people comfortably,but for maximum comfort, throw the sixth person out. Anti-lock powerfront disc/rear drum brakes are standard.

Also, insurance companies love the car. Insurance over five years is$7,274 for this big car, which gets an "excellent" rating fromIntelliChoice Inc., an automotive marketing and research firm. Thecompany also gives the Park Avenue Ultra an overall "excellent" ratingfor ownership costs over five years.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent ride and acceleration.Handling might leave something to be desired among people accustomed tothe taut responsiveness of German luxury cars. In short, there's morethan a little float in the Park Avenue Ultra, especially around tightcurves. Braking is excellent.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and compact disc player, Delco/BoseMusic System. It's better than any sound system Mercedes-Benz ever putin its cars.

Mileage: A bout 23 to the gallon (18-gallon tank, estimated 403-milerange on useable volume of recommended premium unleaded), running mostlyhighway with one to three occupants and light cargo.

Park Avenue models are equipped with standard, four-speed, electronicautomatic transmissions. Automatics tend to be less fuel-economical thanmanual transmissions.

Price: Base price on the Park Avenue Ultra is $29,395. Dealer invoiceprice on that model is $25,427. Price as tested is $29,995, including a$600 destination charge. Average taxes and fees could push the figure to$30,484, according to IntelliChoice.

Purse-strings note: A seriously good luxury value for the money.Compare with any car in the $30,000-plus, full-size luxury category.