CAROL, who delivers test cars for Chrysler and Mitsubishi, didn'twant to let go of the 1990 Plymouth Laser RS.

"This car is sweet," she said.

"Looks good," I said. "Where are the keys?"

"I love this car," she said. "I could drive it all the way back toNew Jersey," whence it came.

"Unh, huh," I said. "Where are the keys?"

"Just a second." she said. "I gotta get my stuff out of the car." Sheretrieved her belongings -- and stood next to the Laser RS, stillholding the keys.

Carol started talking again. But I wasn't going to let her get awaywith it. I stuck out my hand. She gave me the keys.

But she had another ploy.

Usually, this very independent woman would hail a cab and scoot tothe Amtrak station after dropping off a car. Sometimes she'd drive backin a test vehicle that was being returned to the manufacturer.

Not today, though. She was putting stuff back into the Laser RS.

"Could you give me a ride to the station?" she asked.

"Sure," I said.

"You're gonna drive?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"I really like driving this car," she said.

I dismissed the hint. There was no way she was going to get her handsback on those Laser RS keys -- not for another week, anyway.

Background: The front-engine, front-wheel-drive Plymouth Laser RS isthe identical twin of the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS. The cars are producedon the same assembly line at the new Diamond-Star plant in Normal,Illinois, jointly owned and operated by Chrysler and Mitsubishi.

Both mid-priced sports coupes go on sale in January as "1990" models-- which is mostly a marketing ploy to enhance their futuristic image.The cars will compete against the Ford Probe and Mazda MX-6, mechanicaltwins produced on the same assembly line at Mazda's plant in Flat Rock,Michigan. Also in the competition is the Nissan 240 SX. It's one of thehottest races in the U.S. auto market.

Complaints: The back seats of the Laser RS are worthless. They're soinadequate, tiny children felt squeezed in them.

Also, somebody goofed up by putting the headlight switch on theturn-signal stalk. This arrangement makes it easy to turn off the lights -- when you don't want to. Another thing: The car's rear end is cuteas all get out. But the trunk sill is too high. You have to lifffftthings over to get them into the cargo space.

Praise: This car is a show-stopper and heart-throbber. It's sopretty, it makes you weep for joy. People went ga-ga over this thing. Icould've taken sales orders.

Ride, acceleration, braking and handling: Splendid on all counts. Somuch soul in such a little car! Eeeowww! The Laser RS is equipped with aturbocharged and intercooled 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine rated 190 hp at6000 rpm. Whoosh! It's a dartmobile. It goes where you point it atreasonable highway speeds. Brakes are power-assisted four-wheel-discs.

Sound system: Six-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette withgraphic equalizer, by Mitsubishi. F irst-class vibes.

Mileage: About 24 to the gallon (15.9-gallon tank, estimated range of371 miles on usable volume), mostly highway and driver only.

Estimated price: Base price is $10,300; price as tested is $15,800.Dealer's invoice is $13,746. Firm introductory prices have yet to beset.

Purse-strings note: Expect some dealer resistance to markdowns onthis one. In fact, look for markups. But don't despair. The competitionin the Laser RS small sporty segment is so stiff, something's bound togive.