The Colt has served for many years as the smallest car in Chrysler's stable, built by Japan's Mitsubishi. It is also a horse of many colors for 1991.

Restyled last for 1989, the Colt is sold in a three-door hatchback style under both the Dodge and Plymouth brands, virtually indistinguishable from one another except for minor trimwork.It is also known as the Mitsubishi Mirage, offered under that nameplate in a small four-door sedan version as well. Chrysler's Eagle division sells a sedan style only, ambitiously named the Summit.

A Plymouth Colt GL hatchback was driven for this review, but most comments apply to each permutation of the small front-driver, now Chrysler's fuel economy champion.

The sedan versions, however, have a slightly longer wheelbase than the hatchbacks' 94-inch span, and there are obvious differences between the three- and four-door body styles.

All versions compete in a field that has evolved in recent years from boring "econobox" to spritely and even spacious subcompacts.

Nearly all hail from Asian automakers like Toyota, Mazda and Honda. Like the Colt, many are Asian-built but sold under American names like the Ford Festiva, Geo Metro and Pontiac LeMans.

The Plymouth Colt starts $7,067 for the base model; $7,964 for the GL. Both include as standard power-assisted brakes, fabric and vinyl interior with a split-folding rear seat, center console and a stainless steel exhaust system.

The GL version has an upgraded interior, 5-speed manual transaxle and larger tires.

Both have the same Japanese powerplant found in the Mirage and Summit: a 1.5 liter, 12-valve four-cylinder engine generating 92 horsepower at 6,000 rpm.

A 4-speed manual transaxle is standard in the base Colt, with a 5-speed manual standard in GL versions. A 3-speed automatic is offered for $499 more on the GL and $601 on the base model.

Fuel economy with the 5-speed gearbox is 29 mpg city/35 mpg highway.

A Colt GL driven for this review cost $8,943 as tested, including a $416 package adding a rear window defogger, tinted glass, power steering and multi-speed wipers.

Also added was rather tinny sounding AM-FM stereo for $217. Floor mats ($28) and a $368 destination charge rounded out the sticker.

The Colt is surprisingly spacious, especially in the rear where even tall occupants will find generous head, leg and elbow room.

Part of this is because of its long roof, which lends the Colt more of a station wagon profile. But the tradeoff is a skimpy 11.5 cubic feet of cargo space, unless the rear seats are folded flat.

Driving position is very good, with stalk-mounted controls for the lights and wipers, and simple twist knobs for the ventilation system. Automatic shoulder belts and manually fastened lap belts are found up front.

Coin holders and storage pockets are found throughout, but what passes for a cup holder is placed too far back for front passengers.

The instrument panel houses only a large speedometer and smaller look-alike pointer gauges for the fuel level and engine temperature.

If a tachometer is desired, one must order a $1,058 package that also adds, among other things a rear spoiler, aluminum wheels, digital clock, rear wiper, tinted glass and a rear defogger.

When it comes to either city or highway driving, the 2,205-pound Colt is one of the most pleasant small cars offered for the money. Its shifter is very smooth and its engine has ample pep and response for most needs.

Its ride is also commendably smooth for a small car, partly because of coil springs and a three-link torsion axle in the rear. There is also very little of that hollowness or resonance felt in many subcompact cars.

The level of fit and finish on the Colt driven was first-class, although its hood and roof were dimpled by a brief hail storm.

Access to owner-serviceable items like spark plugs and drive belts is excellent from above. The oil filter is easily changed from below.

The Colt is well worth looking into if one is searching for a roomy, frugal and affordable small car in what has become cutthroat competition among automakers.

As of this writing, Chrysler was offering rebates of up to $700, and anyone practiced in the art of haggling may do even better in what is now a buyer's market.

Chrysler hopes to sell about 26,000 Dodge and Plymouth Colts this year, down from 40,000 in 1990 because of the overall weakness in the auto market. Each Colt comes with a three-year/36,000 mile warranty, as do the Mitsubishi versions.