1991 Buick Park Avenue
Jaguar cars are losing their looks. To General Motors. Or, more specifically, to this year's Chevrolet Caprice and next year's Cadillac Seville and now Buick's new Park Avenue. These beamy, four-door American whoppers carry enough of the slopes and bulges of the Jaguar XJ6 to bristle the wig of any British barrister specializing in plagiarism suits. They also display that Coventry trademark of setting a car low and flat to camouflage its weight and bulk. The slink is further accentuated by full use of horizontal styling lines. Look once: There's aristocratic tradition in their fluted and heavily chromed grilles. Look again: Their wheels are reverse dishes and polished aluminum, mild chin dams lurk beneath the front bumpers and both items are the subtle hints of high speed. See the whole package as a flattering imitation of the Jaguar aura of elegant performance. Lordy, fire up the new V-6 of the Buick Park Avenue and it even has that distinctive, gurgling purr of the venerable straight six that was in Jaguar's 3.5-liter saloons of the '40s and the XK120s of the '50s. The irony is that General Motors simply swiped these handsome visuals to compete on their own shores against the classier, more expensive Jaguar. Ford, on the other hand, bought the British company lock, stock and look for $2.6 billion last year but hasn't announced any intentions of producing a domestic car with the Coventry lines. Go figure. Buick's 1991 Park Avenue is probably closer to Bond Street than anything else coming out of Michigan these days. It's a four-door notchback, more than 16 feet long and 6 feet wide and is available with leather upholstery. So is the Jaguar XJ6. The windshield on the grandly touring Jaguar has a long, sporty rake; quarter-panes in the rear windows so doors can be made larger and passenger visibility increased; enough hip room for three adults in the rear seats and narrow door pillars to lighten the roofline. Same with the Buick Park Avenue. Looks, however, do not prove the car any more than they maketh the man. There is only one Oreo cookie. So how can any domestic car pretend to that throne of quality occupied by Jaguar since it was Swallow Coachbuilding and making motorcycle sidecars? It can't. But the Buick Park Avenue is the one domestic vehicle that comes closest to catching and matching the European combination of grace, pace and luxury. It isn't a perfect clone. The Park Avenue cannot compete with Jaguar (or with Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Infiniti, for that matter) when the road beckons broad and straight and is empty of gendarmes. In fact, full stretch for the Park Avenue isn't much more than 110 m.p.h., which for mightier machines is about time to be shifting into fifth. Also, in its passion to be considered modern, Buick has pursued the traditional gospel according to GM by piling on conveniences that are littl e more than dime store novelties. Nobody really needs an overhead warning panel to glow when a parking light has burned out. Nor is there the slightest need for a tachometer in a basically unsporty car equipped with automatic transmission that will shift exactly when and where it chooses. On the other hand, what the Park Avenue can do, it does for a base price of $24,385. Including driver-side air bag and anti-lock brakes. At $39,900, the sobriety and stiffer uppers of a Jaguar XJ6 might not appear quite so attractive. Despite ghastly touches of plastic burled walnut trim in doors and dash, Buick has built a pleasant, uptown interior for its Park Avenue. Fabrics and some of the fittings (the center armrest has a tendency to wobble) don't feel quite as substantial as the Europeans. Bench seats are a definite anachronism offering precious little butt and body grip during quick maneuvering. A gearshift mounted on the steering column is another relico the pre-Columbian era of motoring. But the living quarters of the Park Avenue are definitely superior to most run-of-Detroit interiors. Knobs are not threatening to drop. Plastic and chrome do not appear ready to peel. Flush fitting, decorous finish and tight cabin sealing have attained that level of excellence where quiet thoughts are allowed when cruising. May it all be the start of a quality trend that will eventually trickle south to less expensive cars in the GM lineup. Mechanically, the Park Avenue is based upon a front-drive platform it shares with the Oldsmobile 98, the Cadillac Seville and other broad-shouldered stablemates from GM. It plows no new soil. The engine is a port-injected, 3.8 liter V-6 producing 170 horsepower. Refined, but far from radical. The powertrain, however, is an electronically controlled smoothie and the automatic transmission has caught up with one of the best and most sophisticated features of Japan's enormously successful luxury car, the Lexus LS400. Simply put, Buick's new Hydra-matic transmission (developed in the GM shop that in 1939 produced the world's first automatic transmission) is a system of computers and solenoids that control the shift pattern until it is crisp, quick and free of the surges and sags of lesser automatics. So on the road, the Park Avenue is smooth, magnificently mannered and from rest to 60 m.p.h. will run alongside a Jaguar until the final split second. Hard, mid-range acceleration from 60 m.p.h. to 80-m.p.h. takes 20 seconds. These are not exactly Roger Ramjet numbers, but are quite respectable for a car of this size, weight and purpose. That purpose, of course, is to carry a half-dozen souls in quiet, undramatic fashion over fairly long distances without requiring the services of a chiropractor at journey's end. This the Park Avenue achieves and with a reasonable consumption of regular unleaded. We only wish the car didn't wallow quite so much. We also would like the front wheels and steering box to lose that Kleenex feel. Discs brakes on the rear wheels would be nice. Yet these are the only real deficiencies remaining with a satisfying car that clearly is Buick's response to the elitists--and its gage to sister divisions and a domestic industry fighting for a tomorrow. 1991 Buick Park Avenue The Good Elegant, European styling. Single-digit initial acceleration. Smooth, silent riding for long haul. Closing door on imported quality. The Bad Interior loaded with gimcracks. No rear disc brakes. Marginally mushy handling. The Ugly Genuine simulated imitation plastic walnut trim. Cost Base: $24,385 As tested: $27,094 (including power seats, power door locks, upgraded sound system, theft deterrent system, driver-side bag.) Engine 3.8 liter, V-6 developing 170 ho rsepower. Type Front-drive, six passenger, luxury sedan. Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 9.8 seconds. Top speed, estimated, 110 m.p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA city-highway, 18 and 27 m.p.g. Curb Weight 3,580 pounds.
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