High-performance Pontiac 6000 STE

With its 6000 STE, Pontiac is in hot pursuit of some of Western Europe's high-level touring sedans. A midsize car -- Pontiac's high-performance version of its own 6000 and of the Chevrolet Celebrity, Buick Century, and Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera -- the STE has a wheelbase of 104.8 inches and a quite capacious space for both motorists and luggage, plus a sizable trunk.

The glovebox, by contrast, is minuscule, although there is storage space in both the front doors as well as the console between the two front seats. Headroom is fine, although knee room may be a problem in back.

When the STE was first introduced, the shortage of cars was severe. Now availability has sharply improved, with production running about 25,000 a year compared with perhaps 15,000 a year ago.

Built in the General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ontario, the 6000 STE (acronym for Special Touring Edition) carries a high level of standard equipment and is base-priced at a smidgen over $15,000, although the test vehicle I drove included an added 6-way power seat for the driver ($508). Other extras include a sunroof and leather suede upholstery.

Power comes from a high-output 2.8-liter multiport fuel-injected V-6, which provides spirited performance, despite the 11/2-ton weight of the car. The V-6 gives the car the kind of swift passing ability lacking in the standard 6000, with its 1.5-liter 4-cylinder.

The wedge-shape design of the STE is attractive, and the car handles well with minimal effort.

A digital speedometer is accompanied by bars for the tachometer, fuel level, oil pressure, engine temperature, and battery. Push a button and a service reminder tells you when to change the engine oil and filter, rotate the tires, or get a tuneup. Another button engages the ``car-check'' feature, which informs you of an unsecured door or trunk lid. An accessory tool kit sits inside the trunk.

The heavy hood has to be propped up by a rod -- a negative feature. Also, it's hard to adjust the ventilation controls because of their low-on-the-dash location.

You can expect an average miles per gallon of something in the mid-20s, depending on topography, condition of the car, personal driving habits, weather conditions, traffic, and the like. Fuel-tank capacity is 16.4 gallons.

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