Oldsmobile is poised for a powerful comeback in 1992. This year the General Motors division has a strong lineup of vehicles that offers an excellent blend of performance, economy, style, quality and class. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the new Eighty Eight Royale LS Sedan, this week's test car. Compared with other similar-sized sedans in the same price range, you will have a tough time finding a better value. From its European-inspired tail to its comfortable interior and long list of standard equipment, the new Eighty Eight has ''classic'' written all over it. Olds has had a rough time in the last few years, but now it is on the rebound with some of America's best vehicles. ENGINE, PERFORMANCE GM's terrific 3800 V-6 with Tuned Port Injection is the only powerplant offered in the front-wheel-drive Eighty Eight. Its smooth 170-horsepower engine gives the 3,468-pound car performance you'd expect from a V-8. There is ample muscle for fast sprints up the ramp to the interstate. Cruising is relaxed, and there is plenty of power for passing. The exhaust note is surprising for a luxury car - it has a pleasantly sporty growl. There is only one transmission available, a new computer-controlled, four-speed automatic. Shifts are so smooth that they're nearly imperceptible unless the car is under full acceleration. Only once in 300 or so miles did I detect a slight hesitation. It came at about 40 mph; the transmission shuddered slightly when it shifted from third to fourth gear. The car had fewer than 1,500 miles. Gas mileage? The Eighty Eight is rated at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway - best in its class. In combined city-highway driving around Central Florida I averaged close to 24 mpg using the air conditioner. STEERING, HANDLING Oldsmobile engineers may have set a new standard for ride quality in a big American car. The test car came with the optional ($654) FE3 Touring Ride and Handling Suspension System, which features larger wheels, an automatic load-leveling system and enhanced towing capabilities. For a ride so quiet and smooth that you'll think there is no bond between the car and the road, check out the Eighty Eight. If you want a full-size car that you can toss abruptly into corners, maneuver and stop quickly, and sail over bumps as if they weren't there, you will find it all in the Eighty Eight. Suspension is independent front and rear, with coil springs, struts, A-arms and a rear anti-roll bar. The steering conveys excellent feedback. The power rack and pinion unit offers crisp response. The turning radius is quite good - about 40 feet - for a large car. The test car came with disc/drum anti-lock brakes. In panic stops, the brakes were excellent. Over the past few years, GM has worked to improve its ABS systems. The Eighty Eight's is the best from GM I've tried. FIT, FI NISH, CONTROLS You can order the Eighty Eight with the same layout - bucket seats and floor shifter - as you would find in an expensive full-size import. You also can order a complete gauge package. The test car did not come equipped this way, but with the added gauges and the bucket seats, Oldsmobile might have a package that would turn some heads in a very crowded market. In any case, the test car sported leather-covered bench seats, a column-mounted shifter and a very simple analog gauge package that consisted of a fuel gauge, speedometer and temperature gauge. The seats were comfortable. The driver seat is power adjustable in six ways. I dislike only one aspect of the interior. The driver has to reach forward quite a bit to adjust the controls for the radio and for the temperature. They are located in the center of the dash. Controls for the windshield washer and cruise control are stalk-mounted and easy to use. The paint on the white test car wasp rfect. The car was put together tightly. There were no rattles or squeaks. Room for front and rear passengers is excellent. This year's Eighty Eight is 4.1 inches longer than last year's model. The trunk is huge and made for easy loading. Visibility - front, rear and side - is excellent. As you would expect in such a car, there is long list of standard equipment that includes a driver's side air bag, power windows, remote control power door locks, air conditioning, tilt wheel and more than a dozen other items. The new Eighty Eight belongs at the head of the pack of 1992 full-size cars.
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