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Expert Reviews 1 of 4
By Richard Truett
June 13, 1991
There are some who would have me flogged for mentioning the much-revered Buick Grand National in the same sentence as the Buick Regal Gran Sport. One is a turbocharged, rear-wheel-drive muscle car; the other is a smooth, front-wheel-drive
performance coupe. The Grand National is out of production and has taken its place among the classics. The Gran Sport, with some refinements, has the potential to someday follow its predecessor. I can describe the Gran Sport with one word:
balance. The car offers a nice blend of performance and refinement, luxury and sportiness, styling and utility. Buick no longer is making hot rods for rich kids, but it is by no means out of the performance market. Buick has left the smoking tires and
rasping exhausts to other GM divisions and has set off in a different direction. These days - in keeping with Buick General Manager Ed Mertz' dictum - performance and maturity go hand in hand at Buick. It's a good combination. ENGINE,
TRANSMISSION Buick brought out the first American-made V-6 in 1962, and except for a few years in the late '60s and early '70s, the company has been perfecting it ever since. This year's 3800 V-6 with Tuned Port Injection ranks among the world's
finest engines. It has the power and smoothness of a 5.0-liter V-8; it delivers fuel economy equal to some four-cylinder engines; it sounds nice; it runs cool and quiet; and it has enough torque to pull heavy loads. The 3800 TPI engine develops 170
horsepower - the same as the GM standard 5.0-liter V-8 used in the corporation's largest cars. Buick has applied some of the technology it has employed in its successful race cars to create this powerful-yet-smooth engine. The engine has a balance shaft
and roller lifters, lightweight pistons, special oil pump, highly polished crankshaft and tubular exhaust manifolds - referred to as ''headers.'' Coupled with the superb GM four-speed overdrive automatic, theGran Sport's drivetrain is very refined.
Several times I hit 60 mph and didn't even realize it. A powerful computer oversees both the engine and transmission and calibrates both for smooth shifting. Gas mileage is EPA rated at19 miles per gallon in the city; 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged
a solid 25 mpg in combined city/highway driving. STEERING, HANDLING Some tweaking needed here. The turning radius is too wide, making even a simple U-turn difficult. The wheels do not turn sharply enough; the car's fat tires appear to limit the
turning radius. However, the power steering has a nice weighty feel to it, and the rack and pinion steering is crisp in lane changes and other maneuvers. The suspension is soft but not bouncy. Though the Gran Sport is no race car, it handles most
curves easily. There is little body roll and no tire noise during high-speed turns. Braking could be improved. The test car came with the optional ($925) anti-lock brake sys
tem. The pedal had a pulsing, spongy feel to it that undermined the rest of the car's solidity. The brakes on the Gran Sport are four-wheel power discs, and despite the poor feel of the pedal, they still did do a credible job of stopping the
3,300-pound coupe. FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS With the Gran Sport, Buick is building on its reputation as the nation's automotive quality leader. I could not find one flaw in manufacturing. All the car's components fit together well and were bolted
down tight. In the '80s, GM was criticized for making too many cars that looked alike. The company has fixed that problem - at least on the outside. But it seems that if you've sat in one GM car lately, you've sat in them all. Switches and controls
are the same in Chevrolets, Buicks, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs. For that reason, the Gran Sport's interior lacks charisma, personality and sparkle. Everything works well, but there is really nothing special about it
I found the dash layout a bit awkward. The easy-to-read analog instruments are spread out in a narrow gap between the upper and lower portions of the dash. The gas gauge is positioned too far to the right. Seat switches are difficult to locate,
wedged as they are between the door panel and the lower portion of the seat cushion. The optional leather seats were comfortable. Room for rear passengers is excellent. Visibility is terrific. I admit my complaints are minor and subjective. After
a week I became used to the car and found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable automobile - more importantly, one that I would trust. The Grand National is gone. But is Buick building boring cars? Not on your life. The Regal Gran Sport and the upcoming
supercharged Park Avenue Ultra are proof that performance is still alive at Buick. Nowadays it just comes wrapped in a more civilized package.