YOU'RE GOING TO HEAR lots about the 1989 Peugeot 405 sedan in coming months. Most of it will be good.

You're going to hear complaints, too, chiefly that the 405 lacks an air bag -- a pouch-like device, usually installed in the steering wheel, that quickly inflates to protect you in a head-on collision.

I like air bags and wish that the 405 had one. But the absence of that crash protection system does not diminish my enthusiasm for the car.

Simply put, the 405 -- particularly the 405 Mi 16 test model -- is one of the finest automobiles to come from France in years and among the best of cars available anywhere.

The Mi 16 is a well-made, front-wheel-drive compact, a pinch-nosed road demon that handles exceedingly well, runs fast, and has the discipline to stop swiftly and surely.

It won't keep you awake if you're too tired to drive, and it won't make you sober if you've been drinking before driving.

Nor will a motorized arm reach out and latch you into a seatbelt if you're too arrogant, crazy, or downright careless to do it yourself.

But if you are of reasonable temperament and have decent driving skills, the Mi 16 probably will give you many thousands of miles of safe and pleasurable highway travel.

All things considered, it's the perfect car for adults who understand and accept the risks of driving in an imperfect world.

Complaints: The Mi 16 has a harder ride than the other two 405 models, the DL and the S. That means "road feel" on rough roads can be a tad bothersome in the Mi 16, especially for people who prefer the "boulevard" rides of more softly sprung cars.

Another gripe concerns the politics of safety: Some consumer groups have targeted Peugeot for a buyers' boycott because the company puts no air bags in its cars. Other car companies forego air bags, too, but the boycotters say Peugeot is an easier hit; with less than 1 percent of the U.S. auto market, the company is smallenough to knock off but big enough to attract media attention. That strategy seems more opportunistic than altruistic.

Praise: The Mi 16 is designed for ease of use. Everything from the five-speed manual transmission to the big-display analog instrument panel is fixed with the driver in mind. There's no fumbling about in this car, no gear-hunting, no aerobics workout in pushing the clutch.

Passengers, too, get good treatment with spacious seats, equipped with manual shoulder-lap belts front and rear. The car seats four adults comfortably, five with a squeeze.

Trunk space at 13.7 cubic feet is good, for a compact car.

Head-turning quotient: High "wow!" factor. No wonder. The body's by Pininfarina of Turin, Italy. But it's still recognizably Peugeot.

Ride, acceleration, braking, handling: People who like harder rides won't complain. People who like exceptionally responsive cars -- the kind that zoom, swerve, and stop on demand -- will exclaim.

The Mi 16 is equipped with an excellent 1.9-liter, 16-valve, fuel-injected, four-cylinder engine, rated 150 hp at 6,400 rpm. Brakes are power four-wheel discs backed up by an anti-lock system. Tires are good-tracking, 14-inch diameter Michelin MXV radials.

Sound system: Theft-resistant, six-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette by Alpine. Quite nice.

Mileage: About 24 to the gallon (17.2-gallon tank, estimated 402-mile range on usable volume), running driver only, mostly highway, with air conditioner off.

Price: Base price is $20,700. Estimated dealer's invoice price on base Mi 16 is $18,423. Price as tested is $21,520, including $375 for metallic paint and $445 for destination and handling charges.

Purse-strings note: Peugeot 405 models start at $14,500 for the DL and $17,700 for the S.