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Expert Reviews 1 of 3
By Larry Printz
The Morning Call and Mcall.com
May 31, 1998
It doesn't take a whole lot to improve a car with a life span slightly longer than the Ice Age. But the Buick Century attracted its loyal following with a combination of low sticker price and traditional Detroit amenities. These drivers
like it soft and quiet, and value this over the ultimate in sophisticated engineering. But that didn't stop Buick from creating a much more refined automobile for the latest incarnation of the Century. The newest iteration is based on GM's new
mid-size car platform, which also carries the Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Intrigue and Buick's own Regal. The Century has a slightly different character from the Regal, with which it shares most of its visual cues. The body shell of both cars
differ in details. The Century takes a more liberal approach toward chrome, with a somewhat formal chrome grille up front, and more open-handed use around the body. This is something the Regal avoids. Neither car is trendy; both have conservative baby
Buick-like looks. Inside, the interiors are similar but, where the Century uses the all too typical bench seat and column shifter, the Regal uses bucket seats and a console. Certainly the seating is comfortable in the Century. But any thoughts of
actually carrying six people in this car will shortly be dashed. Those in the center position up front surely will strangle you the minute the ride is over for sentencing them to ride on this high, uncomfortable perch. The storage armrest that serves
as a backrest for this uncomfortable center passenger serves as a resting place for the cup holders as well as coins, CDs or tapes. Gaining access to these things can be a problem if someone is using the center position. Rear seating is much improved
over the old cars, with chair-height seating and much improved legroom. Front and rear seats could use a little firmer padding and lower back support, though. Aside from the lack of a center console, and its handier storage, the interior is identical
to the Regal. This means clear, large instrumentation (sans the Regal's tachometer). Idiot lights monitor volts, oil pressure and the like. The radio is high on the sensuously curving dash, and the test vehicle included an AM/FM-cassette-CD player. The
audio system has good imaging, although overall sound quality was only fair. What's impressive about the Century is content for the price. It's available in two trim levels: Custom (base price $18,215) and the upper level Limited (base price
$20,270). The test car was a Limited, which is worth springing for if you want such standard features as dual automatic climate control, variable effort power steering, rear center armrest, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, power mirrors, retained
accessory power and front seat storage pockets. Available on all Centurys are keyless entry, automatic door locks, automatic headlamps, power windows, air conditioning and rear seat heating du
cts. An option worth considering is the integrated child safety seat, located in the center of the rear seat. Another one is GM's OnStar. Hooked to a hands-free cellular phone is a Global Positioning System that can track where your car is and give
you directions if you're lost or it can recommend a nearby restaurant. An option worth skipping is steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. They're located right where your hands fall, and it's too easy to change stations or raise the volume inadvertently.
If you notice that I haven't talked a whole lot about what this car is like to drive, it's because this is not really a driver's car and is inferior to its more expensive sibling, the Regal. While the Regal gets Buick's smooth, silky 3.8-liter
V6, the Century makes do with the corporate 3.1-liter V6. This workhorse engine pumps out an adequate 160 horsepower, 35 less than the Regal's mill. With a full load, this strains with a hoarse growl that's pretty unrefined. I
's obtrusive. There is no engine option. Hooked to a fairly smooth-shifting four-speed automatic, it makes adequate work of getting around. The suspension is fully independent, but is set for a softer ride. Bump absorption is good in either the Regal
or Century. The difference is that the Century has a l-o-t of body lean, and the body rocks long after the bump has passed. All this motion makes one notice the poor condition of some roads in the Lehigh Valley. The tires aren't much help. Asked to
do anything beyond a moderate pace and these puppies howl in protest. Fast starts set the tires spinning, and because traction control isn't available on the Century, this can happen often. Wet-weather grip is better. Anti-lock brakes and dual air
bags are standard. The trunk has almost 17 cubic feet of space and features a low lift-over. It's roomy and flat and has a cargo net standard. Despite its positioning as a cheaper alternative to the Regal, it comes off more as a shrunken
LeSabre. Certainly, the content of the vehicle is generous for the price. At around $20,000, this car offers a lot of little luxuries at a family-bus price. It also modernizes the traditional American sedan, and that should keep Century owners happy until
the next one. 1998 Buick Century Limited Standard: 3.1-liter V6, four-speed automatic transmission, dual air bags, anti-locks brakes, keyless entry, daytime running lamps, battery rundown protection, P205/ 70R15 tires with bolt-on wheel
covers, speed-sensitive steering, tilt steering column, air conditioning with air filtration system, power windows with driver express down, power door locks, dual power outside heated mirrors, dual visor vanity mirrors, front and rear map pockets,
theater lighting, lockout protection. Options: GM Buypower Package (dual automatic climate control, rear window antenna, cruise control, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, AM/FM cassette stereo, steering wheel radio controls, concert sound II speaker
system, trunk convenience net, leather seating surfaces, CD player, California emissions. Base price: $20,270 As tested: $21,740 EPA rating: 20 mpg city, 23 mpg highway Test mileage: 23 mpg