IT WAS A chicken car, the kind that had to run like heck just tostay out of the way of the real cars on the road. In retrospect, itshould not have been there on the New Jersey Turnpike -- not with those18-wheel trucks, those big sedans and all of those high-powered sportscars zipping about. But you gotta drive what you gotta drive in thisbusiness, and the 1993 Toyota Paseo was all there was to drive. I pumpedadrenalin roundtrip from Virginia to New York.

The first thing I noticed was that other drivers apparently hadtrouble noticing the subcompact, two-door Paseo. Trucks and bigger carsrepeatedly moved into my lane, almost on top of me. On one occasion, Ifrantically honked the Paseo's horn, which had all of the effect of arooster crowing in the middle of a roaring steel mill. Yet somehow theguy in the merging car heard the wimpish little thing and swerved justin time.

The rest of the trip went pretty much like that. Along the way, Idiscovered that the Paseo had a number of good points, but none of thosewere good enough to justify running the tiny thing in anything otherthan gentle suburban traffic.

Background: There's a conceit in the auto business that works likethis: Take a basic economy commuter. Give it some fancy sheet metal.Tweak the engine. Slap on a new name. Add fresh marketing, seasoned withyoung, beautiful bodies and faces. People will pay a higher price forthe illusion of "better."

And so it is with the Paseo, a slicked-up Toyota Tercel in sportsclothing -- a front-wheel-drive econocar with a cute body and adiscount-store interior.

The Paseo is available only as a coupe; but it can be had with eithera five-speed-manual, or four-speed-automatic transmission. Get thefive-speed stick, because the four-speed automatic tends to becomebreathless at around 60 mph.

Complaints: The Paseo is small and cramped. Adult, front-seatoccupants of medium build complained that the car's seats were barelyadequate. There are two seats in the back. But they're a joke, unlessyou happen to be the unfortunate soul who has to sit in one of them.Also, road and wind noise in this little car are high. And so thatothers might see you, it's best to keep your lights on at all times whendriving this one on the highway.

Praise: Though it weighs a scant 2,150 pounds, the Paseo is puttogether well. No rattles or anything. Trunk space, eight cubic feet, isadequate for two duffel bags and a couple of other small items. Adriver's air bag is standard; but there's an automatic seatbelt for thefront passenger. A note about the air bag: Don't be lulled into falsesecurity here. The Paseo is a SMALL car. Getting a good smack in thisone, with or without the air bag, will not be a pleasant experience.

Also, anti-lock brakes are optional. Get them.

Head-turning quotient: Looks good when parked. Disappears in heavytraffic.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The ride is great on good roads; butbeing in the Pa seo on bad roads is a passingly miserable experience. Youget bounced and shaken. Handling, however, is quite surprisingly good.You can get out of trouble quickly in the Paseo. Problem is, the carseems to find so much trouble to get into.

Acceleration, using the five-speed manual transmission, is goodenough to keep you ahead of the big trucks. The Paseo is equipped with a1.5-liter, double-overhead cam, four-cylinder, 16-valve, 100-horsepowerengine.

Brakes, which are good, include vented front discs with rear drumsand optional anti-lock backup.

Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with optional compactdisc, installed by Toyota. Sounds good when the car is parked. Barelyaudible in heavy traffic.

Mileage: About 29 to the gallon (11.9-gallon, estimated 335-milerange on usable volume of regular unleaded), mostly highway, runningwith three occupants and light cargo.

Price: Base price on five-speed Toyota Paseo is $11,498. Dealer'sinvoice price on that odel is $10,003. Price as tested is $15,078,including $3,255 in options and a $325 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: I never thought I'd say it; but this is one timeI'd recommend a Hyundai product, particularly the Hyundai Scoupe, over aToyota model. The Hyundai offers more space, as much power (97horsepower), and commensurate quality at a lower price. Also comparewith Saturn Coupe, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Mazda MX-3, Ford Escort.