—Leslie Gordon

I had always preferred vehicles with crank windows and manual transmissions to those equipped with tons of electronics. But the beauty, power, and speed of the STS V8 forever altered my point of view.

The STS has pleasing, aerodynamically sleek lines, tungsten halogen headlights, and classy 17 7 in. cast-aluminum wheels. Our test vehicle came in " infrared," a color so striking that several people stopped me to remark on its beauty.

Inside, although there is plenty of headroom and the STS seats five adults, the cabin feels a bit tight. But the well-lit dashboard gages are logically placed and easy to read, and the comfortable leather seat positions me squarely in front of the steering wheel, which also sports audio controls for those who like to channel surf. I found the controls much safer to use than reaching forward and twisting buttons. Our spiffy vehicle included an option of eucalyptus trim throughout the cabin.

Another nifty feature is Electronic Keyless Ignition. As long as the keyfob (RF transmitter) is in the car, the driver merely pushes a button on the dashboard to start the car. And the fob also works remotely, within a range of about 30 ft, to start the engine, lock or unlock doors, open the trunk, and locate the vehicle.

Other electronic amenities include eight-way power seats and a power-tilt, telescoping steering wheel. I easily "personalized" these settings to my 5-ft 4-in. body size through a menu on the GPS touchscreen, which also controls the navigation system and an eight-speaker Bose sound system. Also, drivers can set the headlights to turn on or off automatically in response to whether it's day or night. And a rear-parking-assist system discreetly beeps if one is about to back into immovable objects such as brick walls or other cars.

GM claims the STS was track tested for performance and this is easy to believe. Step on the gas and the 4.6-liter Northstar V8 VVT fuel-injected engine cranks out a powerful 320 hp at 6,400 rpm for a rocketlike thrust. A five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission shifts smoothly. The car felt a bit stiff, but its rack-and-pinion steering with electronic power-assist delivers tight control around curves and good handling on straightaways. Maybe the independent, four-wheel suspension with an antisway bar in front and a modified multilink with antisway bar and automatic level control in the rear play a part in that. Excellent braking is assured with fourwheel disc brakes and antilock, allspeed traction, and computer-controlled stability control.

Safety features include driver and passenger front, side, and roof-mounted air bags. The STS also includes OnStar Service, which combines global-positioning technology and a hands-free voiceactivated cellular phone. Drivers can also press a button for roadside service. The system automatically calls an emergency number if air bags deploy.

In addition to the V8, a 3.6-liter V6 VVT is also available. Both models come standard with rearwheel drive or optional all-wheel drive. Our real-wheel tester is rated at 17-mpg city and 26-mpg highway. The STS comes standard at around $47,520. Add options such as a heated steering wheel, headlamp washers, sunroof, a performance-cooling package, and premium paint ($995.00) and this jumps to around $60,000, a stiff price but in line with similar V8 competitors.