We recall it as though it were yesterday. Six years ago, we took our first ride in the new Oldsmobile Achieva. It was at a product preview and we were riding in the new Achieva with a representative from Oldsmobile. We hadn't driven 200 feet when we turned to the Oldsmobile representative and said, "You've got to be kidding!" We then went through a long list of the car's deficiencies and asked him if any of the people who designed the Achieva had ever been in or near a Japanese car. He said he wasn't sure--and he was the marketing guy for the car line. Things sure have changed at Oldsmobile in the past few years. This time around, the folks at Oldsmobile closely studied the competition from Japan. The result is that the Alero is a vastly superior automobile. And it offers an exceptional value with a long list of features and creature comforts. This makes a worthy competitor for both Japanese and domestic cars--something we could not say for the old Achieva. The Alero's key competitors include the Ford Contour, Dodge Avenger, Chrysler Sebring and Chrysler Cirrus. But Oldsmobile hopes the Alero will woo buyers away from the Honda Accord, Mitsubishi Eclipse, and Nissan Altima. The Achieva has been discontinued and we won't miss it. Oldsmobile will also be phasing out the Cutlass. That leaves the Alero as the entry-level car in the Oldsmobile family. Oldsmobile expects to sell about 150,000 Aleros a year, making it the company's volume car line.