1996 Oldsmobile LSS
GETTING LOST while driving requires little talent. Simply follow Any Highway, U.S.A. Exit to a side road. Follow that road without paying attention to where you're going. Stop after you realize you're lost, and then try to figure out how the hell to get back home.I once did that by accident, and found myself wandering Virginia's back roads after dark, searching for anything that resembled a major highway. I was saved by the proprietor of an all-night gas station, who laughed at the notion that I was trying to orient myself through the use of a Rand McNally road map."I don't think we're on there," he said.This time, driving a 1996 Oldsmobile LSS sedan, I got lost again in Virginia -- albeit on purpose and in broad daylight.I was testing the car's optional Guidestar navigational system, which is designed to lead the wayward traveler to within a tenth of a mile of his or her intended destination.The darned thing works. It led me from Central Plains, Va. to the Arlington street where I live, putting me less than two blocks from my front door. It was an impressive performance.Background: Guidestar is a navigational device using five elements: a four-inch, color liquid-crystal display screen attached to the LSS's instrument panel; a database cartridge containing operating software and regional map information; a small Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite antenna mounted behind the rear seats; a trunk-installed computer; and a wiring harness connecting those various pieces.Oldsmobile is not the only auto company selling satellite technology. Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division and GM's Cadillac Motor division are offering navigational and satellite communication devices. Guidestar is a turn-by-turn system, meaning that it gives explicit voice and visual route commands. For example, to travel from Central Plains to my home, I had to find a way to get to I-64 East, and then to I-95 North.A yellow arrow on the Guidestar screen indicated the best route. But I didn't have to keep my eyes on the arrow. The system also gave oral orders, such as: "Slight right turn approaching" or "Left turn ahead."Guidestar is able to give those directions by monitoring four functions: The LSS's road speed, the car's direction of travel, directional signals from three GPS satellites and signals from an internal gyroscope.All the driver has to do is install the correct map cartridge and key in the desired address. Well, not "all." Map cartridges -- currently available for 13 states, the District and the Las Vegas area -- cost $330 each. Guidestar officials say cartridges for the entire United States should be available by the end of this year.Thieves might find Guidestar's screen especially attractive, which is why it is detachable for secure storage. You must remember to take it with you or lock it away when you're parking in strange places.Guidestar is an option on all Oldsmobile Eighty Eight models, of which the LSS is the best-equipped.About the car: The LSS is a front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, full-size sedan that easily rivals the Toyota Avalon and Acura's new 3.5 RL sedan in safety, ride, handling, comfort, build and, quite frankly, overall performance and value.The LSS is equipped with a standard 3.8 liter V6 (General Motors Corp.'s 3800 Series II V6) rated 205 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, with torque rated 230 horsepower at 4,000 rpm. The test car was equipped with an optional supercharged version of that engine rated 240 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, with torque rated 280 horsepower at 3,200 rpm. Standard safety items include dual front air bags with anti-lock brakes. Power-assisted, vented disc brakes are up front. Drum brakes are in the rear. An electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission is standard. The car also has a gargantuan trunk, 17.5 cubic feet.Complaints: About Guidestar -- too danged expensive, as presently configured. The system costs $1,995. Oldsmobi e is attempting to make the cost more palatable by including the buyer's home-region map cartridge free of charge and by not charging a satellite fee.About the LSS, I really have no complaints. I've liked this car since its introduction in 1992.Praise: About Guidestar -- fascinating technology with myriad potential uses. It takes much of the worry out of regional driving.About the LSS -- simply one of the best full-size sedans for the money. Anyone in the market for a big, high-content family car would do well to shop this one.Head turning quotient: The LSS is a thing of subtle curves and muscularity. Sexy in a Middle America sort of way.Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent in all three categories. Does a petite body roll in sharp corners, but handles far better than Honda's big new car, the Acura 3.5 RL. (Don't take my word for it. Shop your dealers. Do a comparison ride-and-drive.) Braking was excellent.Mileage: About 24 miles per gallon (18-gallon tank, estimated 419-mile range on usable volume of recommended premium unleaded), mostly highway, running driver only.Sound system: Six-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, Delco Dimensional Sound. Very good.Price: Base price on the LSS is $26,010. Dealer invoice on base model is $24,319. Price as tested is $29,667, including $3,017 in options ($1,022 for the supercharged V6 and $1,995 for Guidestar) and a $640 destination charge.Purse-strings note: Guidestar is a constantly developing technology. Its capabilities will increase and its price probably will decline. But it has limited availability now (check your dealer). Compare the LSS with the Toyota Avalon, Lexus ES 300, Acura 3.5 RL, Mitsubishi Diamante and Chrysler LHS.
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