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PETIT JEAN, Arkansas — Twisting down a narrow string of blacktop etched into ramparts of Petit Jean Mountain overlooking the Arkansas River Valley, a prototype edition of a new compact coupe cuts clean lines through curves at a quick clip without protest from tires.
Through these cliff-bound esses, the tester maintains a flat and stable position with little concession to lateral forces of motion and virtually no body roll, the result of a stiffly braced unibody structure with independent suspension components installed at all corners.
Steering, firm but responsive due to a rack-and-pinion arrangement, feels tight and precise, like an import.
Throttle power, lurking beneath the right foot pedal, proves too much for the curves on Petit Jean and requires reins now and then through the left pedal, which links to four disc brakes and an on-board computer with wheel-spin sensors to regulate wheel lock and traction controller.
Coming off the mountain on Highway 154 into flats along the Petit Jean River, speed builds on long rural straights, with tires seemingly glued to road. This one glides over rough spots of irregular pavement and settles down to click off some fast travel miles.
In an ongoing assessment, the car clearly possesses the poise and manners of imports, yet a check of lineage shows it comes from the ranks of General Motors.
Call it Alero. In coupe and sedan styles, it replaces Achieva as high-volume compact in Oldsmobile's fleet.
Built on a long and broad new chassis and equipped with independent suspension plus disc brakes with standard anti-lock and traction control, Alero exhibits clean and distinct exterior lines and has an interior laced with perks for comfort and convenience in the manner of Japanese cars. It mimics imports so well, in fact, that you cannot tie any Alero behavior to the loosey-goosey action of Achieva.