Big coupes seem to be a GM specialty. Whether you're talking about the 1963 Buick Riviera, the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado or the 1984 Corvette, GM has a heritage of function following form when it comes to coupes. The latest samples, Buick's Riviera and Cadillac's Eldorado are two of GM's newer entries. 1996 BUICK RIVIERA Redesigned last year, this big boat sees little change save the addition of real wood accents that help warm the otherwise cold plastic interior, and a more powerful optional engine. That engine, Buick's supercharged 3.8-liter V-6, gets 240 horses with 280 pound-feet of torque. That's enough to propel this 3,722-pound land yacht to 60 in just about 8 seconds. The engine makes its presence known to the crew a bit more than in the Park Avenue, but given this car's cruiser mission, it's easy to overlook. What might not be easy to overlook is the car's nautical handling. If you prefer a soft ride, with oceans of body lean, you'll feel right at home. Otherwise, you might be dismayed. Despite the waves made by the handling, this front-wheel-driver has tremendous grip --meaning that you might be kissing the windows if you take a corner too fast, but the car hangs in there. Most of us sea-faring types won't care, though, because the car looks so good. The styling is some of GM's best -- glamorous and distinctive, yet clearly a Riviera. The subtle ridge that sweeps along the side of the car is a new Buick styling touch, one coming for 1997's redesigned Park Avenue. The interior has good front seat space, but the back is best for the adventurous -- it is comfortable as long as you're not traveling eight hours back there. The front bucket seats and console can be replaced with a split bench seat. The captain of the ship will be well-treated. The captain's chair is heated and it faces a dash with a retro-'60s feel to it. All controls fall readily to hand. This car carries a full range of safety items, including anti-lock disc brakes, dual air bags and traction control. The EPA rating is 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. This beautiful boat can't carve the corners, but that's not its intent. This car is about looking good, about oozing down the street with a car that makes you look good. At about $33,700, it's one heck of a deal in luxury liner. 1996 CADILLAC ELDORADO The Eldorado is every bit as flashy on the outside as its corporate cousin, yet more sublime. The exterior plays off the styling heritage of the original 1967 Eldorado. But this front-driver is very up to date. The base Eldo comes equipped with Cadillac's superb Northstar engine. This 4.6-liter V-8 is rated at 275 horsepower and 300 pound feet of torque. Power delivery is smooth and assured, with seamless shifts from the electronically controlled automatic. Faster than the Buick, it also handles with more poise and is a bit more fun t o toss through corners. Gas mileage was better than the Buick's 18 mpg, netting 19 mpg. Being the base car, there weren't so many features as were found on its nautical cousin. Missing from GM's premier coupe were heated seats and dual climate controls. But the Eldorado was much more of a driver's car, despite being every bit as big. Both cars had good trunk space, but the Caddy's squared-off roof gave it superior back-seat space. Both were well-built and quiet, yet the Eldorado clearly felt more expensive, with refined handling and polished interior amenities. But then again, at 41 big ones, you should get something more for your money. Overall, both cars offer distinct personalities. The Eldorado has a very European feel to its suspension and handling, with a more refined feel than its Buick brother. What the Riv offers is more features for the money, giving heavy dollops of luxury over a dynamic driving experience. Either one allows its drivers so ething beyond the typical four-door sedan. Both offer their owners shapes beyond the ordinary. You might call each a coupe de grace to the competition.
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