1990 Buick Reatta

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Expert Reviews

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By 

Orlando Sentinel

Driving the new Buick Reatta convertible is something of a bittersweet affair.

Your heart is stolen - wheeled away - by the car's subtle, graceful styling. But your mind is troubled somewhat by the car's performance.

At first glance - and especially with the top down - the Reatta has an expensive European look, making you think that it must be a sports car.

But when you slip behind the wheel, you find out quickly you are wrong. The Reatta is a luxury car. It runs, rides and performs like a luxury car, and a good one at that. It's smooth, refined, relaxed and very comfortable.

Power comes from Buick's super smooth fuel-injected 3800 V-6 engine that develops 165 horsepower. The Reatta convertible weighs in at a hefty 3,577 pounds, which is nearly 200 pounds heavier than the full size Park Avenue luxury sedan. The only transmission available in the Reatta is GM's four-speed automatic. Both engine and transmission are superb units that serve as the standard powertrain for dozens of GM vehicles.

But since the Reatta is a hand-built luxury car that is Buick's flagship and, arguably, the nicest looking American car in years, doesn't it cry out for something special under the hood, such as a highly tuned version of the V-6 or maybe a turbocharger?

Cadillac discovered that its potential customers wanted performance with the Allante luxury convertible. When the company responded with a more powerful engine, sales increased. Buick may find out the same thing with the Reatta. Several enthusiast magazines have tested the Reatta convertible and clocked 0-to-60 mph times ranging from 9.8 to 9.1 seconds. That performance is respectable, but it isn't special. For the $34,995 base price, one expects better than that.

If however, you don't rank muscular performance very high and are looking for a topless car that will make heads turn, you will not find a car that can do it any better than the Reatta convertible. It is nothing less than a styling and design masterpiece.

The front end sports a slight wedge shape, hidden headlights, a front spoiler with integrated fog lights and a big black rubber strip that runs the length of the car. The rear end is rounded, and the taillights run the length of the rear area. One shape or directional change blends smoothly into another, giving one the impression that the Reatta was carved by the wind. It is a timeless design.

Mercedes-Benz attracted worldwide attention earlier this year by introducing a convertible top mechanism that raises and lowers in just 28 seconds, all at the flick of one switch.

Who would have thought that Buick engineers could have made a better top mechanism using none of that complicated electrical wizardry found on the Mercedes models?

The Reatta top is a completely manual affair. But you can raise and lower it very easily in about a minute. I prefer an easy-to-operate manual top to an electrically controlled one. Manual tops are easier to maintain and infinitely simpler. They place less demand on the car's electrical system, there are fewer parts that can break, and they keep mechanical clutter to a minimum.

The nicest feature of the top is that it folds down all the way into its compartment, and the fiberglass tonneau cover fits flush with the bodywork, for a very neat, streamlined appearance.

With the top up, the Reatta is very quiet, even at high speeds. No wind noise can be heard and after several heavy downpours, there were no water leaks.

Just one other note about the top: Most European convertibles offer cloth tops. They look expensive and convey class. The Reatta has a cheaper-looking vinyl top like those used on lesser-priced cars.

A cloth top could make a big difference in the way people perceive the Reatta, which costs more expensive and convey class. The Reatta has a cheaper-looking vinyl top like those used on lesser-priced cars.

A cloth top could make a big diffe ence in the way people perceive the Reatta, which costs more than any car Buick has ever built. A more expensive-looking cloth top would help underscore the Reatta's exclusivity and value.

The test car, painted red and fitted with a brown leather interior, sported Buick's electronic instruments, but unlike other instruments of this type, Buick's are shaped like traditional analog gauges. I am not of fan of this type of instrument system, but Buick's is easy on the eye after you get acquainted with it. The layout provides the driver with full information in an easy-to-read format, and it is packaged to take up very little room.

The brown leather seats were sumptuous. A myriad of adjustments - 16 in all - make them flexible enough to allow nearly any body to be comfortable. Foot room and head room are good. For a two-seater, the Reatta is quite practical, thanks to its 10.5 cubic feet of stowage space in the trunk. There also are compartments behind the seats for small items. One of the best features of the Reatta is its remote control locking, which is activated by a small radio transmitter located in the key fob.

Now, the best for last: Equipped with anti-lock brakes, big, fat 15-inch Eagle GT radials on mag wheels and a quick steering ratio, the Reatta is a pleasure to drive - unless you are the type who needs to be somewhere in a hurry. There may not be a better car in the mid-$30,000 price range to take to the country club on Sundays or to the beach.

You can sit for hours in the driver's seat and never become uncomfortable. With the top up or down, rear vision is never a problem. The car has a bit of body flex over rough roads, but it is generally a smooth, stable and solid cruiser. Gas mileage averaged a very respectable 21.4 on combined city/highway driving with the air conditioning on.

The test car features Buick's best sound system, an excellent four-speaker AM/FM-cassette-CD affair. Cruising at high speeds with the top down does not drown out the clarity of the radio.

There isn't much in the way of competition in the Reatta's price range. The Mercedes-Benz models are at least twice the price and hard to get. The Cadillac Allante is about $20,000 more. There are a few lesser convertibles, but if you can afford a Reatta, then you certainly wouldn't want to drive a Miata, RX-7, Mustang, Capri or Chrysler convertible.

The Reatta's low production and stellar styling will ensure the car's classic status. One wishes, however, that Buick would make this car - or at least a special model - appeal to performance enthusiasts.

Buick could satisfy those who want sports car performance in the Reatta by building a GS model. It could have stiffer suspension, a set of cloth-covered sport bucket seats, a five-speed, regular analog instruments and a turbocharged engine. Within the confines of GM, all the pieces are there. Is the will?


    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

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