1990 Buick Riviera

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chicagotribune.com
Sometimes GM does things right.

Take the Buick Riviera. It was a real charmer in 1980-1985: big and bold, with a powerful V-8, long hood, short deck, very distinct styling.

There were a few problems. Big and bold made it difficult to park sometimes, and the powerful V-8 meant you could sprint from the light directly to the next filling station.

The hood was long, and so, too, were the doors. In fact, the doors were two-handers, with both of the latter being needed, first, to open one and, second, to fold in prayer when the door you just opened banged into the car of that defensive tackle parked alongside.

In 1986, Buick shrunk the Riviera. It was lighter and more fuel- efficient, with the advent of a V-6, but the style was gone. Short hood, even shorter deck; it looked dumpy and frumpy.

For 1990, Riviera loyalists should give the car another try. It`s not as big as the 1985, but it`s not as small as the 1986. Buick learned its lesson and grew the personal luxury car by several inches. Wheelbase is 108 inches, and length is 198.3 inches.

Those dimensions mean the car is small enough to be manageable, but not so small as to be confused with a compact. There`s very good room up front and tolerable room in the rear, where an inch more leg room would be appreciated. Trunk space is ample.

While the pre-shrunk Riviera was stately, it also was a bit cumbersome. You realize that when you get behind the wheel of the `90 version. You feel weight in the wheel, but not bulk. The `90 Riv is much more maneuverable.

Beefed-up front and rear stabilizer bars, added reinforcements to the body structure and dynaride suspension combine to provide good road manners. Dynaride incorporates deflected disc shock absorber valving.

That technical mumbo jumbo means the suspension is soft enough to travel over highway bumps and bruises without transmitting the harshness into the passenger compartment, yet firm enough so you don`t wander and float around on the roadway in simple corners and turns, as was common with the pre-downsized models. You get better road control. Long-distance travel would be very nice in the new Riv.

The Riv boasts good looks, above-average ride and handling and more-than- acceptable performance from the standard 3.8-liter, 165-horsepower V-6 teamed with 4-speed automatic. The EPA ratings are 19 miles per gallon city and 28 highway.

The package is enhanced by antilock brakes (ABS), to ensure stopping accuracy regardless of road conditions. One drawback is that ABS is a $925 option. ABS vies with a $1,399 Bose compact disc system. Wisdom dictates paying the $925 for the safety it ensures. But Buick officials report that wisdom often loses out to the more expensive disc player.

The disc player may give you hours of pleasure, but the ABS only has to be used once to pay for itself.

Fans of the electronic control center, the TV screen in the dash that Allowed you to activate controls by pushing a word on the glass screen with your finger, will find it replaced with vacuum fluorescent readouts. The control center had proved confusing.

We enjoyed the retained accessory power feature, which allows you to continue listening to the game on the radio after you switch off the key, providing you don`t open a door. And the door and trunk lock and unlock buttons on the key fob come in handy when approaching the locked car with arms full of packages. The key also has a built-in resistor that matches a sensor in the steering column to guard against theft.

With such attention to detail, too bad a cupholder is absent. And we prefer a pull-out, push-in knob for lights, rather than the plastic button Riv uses, which requires more than a casual glance to determine if the lights are off.

Riviera is loaded with power goodies: brakes, steering, windows, seats, doors, mirrors and deck lid release. There also are steel-belted, all-season whitewall radials; AM/FM stereo with cassette; rear-window defroster; cruise control; tinted glass; air conditioning; tilt steering; and leather-wrapped wheel.

For the safety conscious, a driver`s side air bag is standard.

Riviera`s base price is $23,040. Our test car ran $27,434, with the disc player, ABS, all-leather interior, ``firemist`` exterior paint and a few other options.

>> 1990 Buick Riviera
Wheelbase: 108 inches Length: 198.3 inches Engine: 3.8 liter, 165h.p., V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 19/28 m.p.g. Base price: $23,040 Strong point: Manageable size, comfort plus performance Weak point: ABS a $925 option Chicago Tribune Graphic. >>

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