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Expert Reviews 1 of 13
By Warren Brown
May 15, 1998
The 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue GL sedan is a life preserver in the mainstream of automotive boredom. It is proof that a family car need not be a motorized wedding ring, a four-wheeled capitulation to drudgery masquerading as practicality and common
sense. It is not perfect. The interior panel on the left rear door of the test car was fitted poorly at the corners -- a minor thing that became a major irritation, because almost everything else about the car was so right. There would have been
no sloppy seams in a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord sedan. Those cars are Ozzie-and-Harriet perfect-- cheek-pecking, hi-honey-I'm-home regular. By comparison, the Intrigue is soaring passion. It catches the eye with bulging haunches front and rear. It
is muscular, powerful. It captures the heart and moves it at speed with a 195-horsepower V-6 engine, only a tad more kick than a V-6 Camry. But the Intrigue's power comes smoothly, consistently -- no jack-rabbit starts, no engine lag, just a nice, even
delivery of running juice. And it does that without sucking the life from your wallet. I drove up the New Jersey Turnpike and back down into Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. I wore the road out with the Intrigue in 540 miles of travel -- just to see what
it could do. The gas tab came to $20 for regular unleaded. By happenstance, I'd also been driving the 1998 Volvo C70 -- a heart snatcher, about which I'll write more in another column. But, now, suffice it to say that the Intrigue was double the fun
at half the price. An apples-and-oranges comparison, I know. The C70 is a sports coupe designed more for performance than domestic taxi service. The Intrigue is a four-door, upper-middle-income family sedan engineered for less arduous pursuits -- or
so I thought. The cars are similar only in that both are front-wheel-drive -- which is where the Intrigue's surprise came. The front wheels on front-drive cars can sometimes twist, tug and skitter during acceleration, largely because they are being
asked to do two things at the same time -- drive and steer. Some of that bad front-drive behavior was evident in the C70. But it didn't show up at all in the Intrigue, which handled curves and straightaways with aplomb. This is what happens when auto
companies design with focus. The people at General Motors Corp.'s Oldsmobile division wanted a mid-size family car with driver appeal; and they wanted it to be able to compete in overseas markets. So they didn't waste time with a variety of engines.
They chose the best GM V-6 available -- the legendary 3.8-liter model, engineered to produce 195 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 220 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. They didn't fool around with a bunch of wishy-washy suspensions. They chose one primo
setup for all Intrigue models -- a four-wheel independent system with MacPherson strut, coil spring and an anti-roll bar up front and a three-linkage, coil-over-strut with stabilizer bar in the rear. The
y chose one transmission, an electronically controlled four-speed automatic. And they worked with the same uniformity and purpose in designing the Intrigue's instrument panel, where all buttons and gauges are exactly where they're supposed to be. The
test car would've been perfect if Oldsmobile's people had done one more thing -- bypass the temptation to have three different trim levels, including base, GL and GLS. Perhaps, had they done that, they would've had more time to make sure that all of the
interior door panels fit correctly. 1998 Oldsmobile Intrgue GL Complaint: It's the little things -- the way an interior door panel drops haphazardly from the point where it is supposed to meet a corner window molding -- that drive you nuts in this
car. Praise: The big things, including overall design and construction quality and drivetrain engineering. Ride, acceleration and handling: Triple aces. Absolutely no complaints. Excellent braking. Four-wheel antilock d
brakes are standard. Safety: Good. Dual front air bags; front and rear safety belts with shoulder harnesses at outboard positions; active safety enhanced by excellent suspension system and antilock brakes. Head-turning quotient: Exactly the way
it should be. Bold styling turned some people off, but it excited many others. This is a baby Olds Aurora with attitude. Mileage: About 29 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving. Impressive for a V-6 gas job with chutzpah. Fuel tank holds 18
gallons. Estimated 512-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded. Sound system: Optional six-speaker AM-FM stereo radio and cassette with single-disc CD player. Delco Dimensional Sound system. Excellent. Capacities: Five passengers, 16 cubic
feet of trunk space. Price: Base price of the tested GL is $22,290. Dealer invoice on base model is $20,395. Price as tested is $24,560, including $1,720 in options and a $550 destination charge. Purse-strings note: Good car, good value. Compare
with any mid-size family model in the $20,000-to-$30,000 range.