1991 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight

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$1,500
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Expert Reviews

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chicagotribune.com
The Oldsmobile 98 is 50 years old in 1991, or about five years youngerthan the average age of one of its buyers.

Though the nameplate keeps getting older, the car has been run throughthe fountain of youth for the 1991 model year, and the result is a longer,wider, peppier machine.

If only buyers could be rejuvenated as easily. That`s what Olds hopes toaccomplish in 1991, with its newly styled machine that switches from thewedge-shaped look of past years to the long and lean aero design. Some call it``European`` design. Better you think of it as ``non-traditional GM`` andleave it at that.

Olds joined Buick in redoing its full-size, front-wheel drive luxury C-body sedan for 1991. Both boast that neither looks like the other and,except for the windshield, share no exterior components. No argument.

In addition to a new car, Olds came up with a new name strategy for 1991. The base car is called the 98 Elite, the top of the line the 98 Touring Sedan.The Brougham name has been dropped. We test-drove the Elite.

Olds` fortunes took a twist along about 1986, when it downsized the 98.Those accustomed to a boat were left with a dinghy. In the luxury-car market, traditionalists believe big is better and downsized is dumb.

For `91, the 98 is still built on a 110.8-inch wheelbase, but length hasswelled by 9.5 inches to 205.8 inches. The stretch is evident when you slipinto the back seat and enjoy the leg, head and arm room that was sacrificed in1986.

But what`s more room without more power, according to luxury-car owners.The 3.8-liter V-6 features a new tuned-intake manifold and lower restriction exhaust manifolds and boasts a 5-horsepower gain to 170 horsepower, yet an 18 m.p.g. city/27 highway mileage rating teamed with a new four-speed automatic. The 3.8 is sufficiently peppy, though some probably will ask why Oldscan`t slip Cadillac`s 4.9 liter V-8 under the 98`s hood. In fact, some 98loyalists will never be satisfied until a V-8 returns in Olds biggest machine. Ride and handling has improved, thanks to stiffer springs, larger anti-roll bars, firmer shocks, 15-inch tires and automatic electronic load-leveling rear shocks that are standard, plus an optional computer ridecontrol that allows the driver to push a button to choose between comfy andaggressive suspension settings.

In the area of safety, antilock brakes and driver-side air bag arestandard.

There obviously was attention to detail, with such notable conveniencesas a lightweight, easy-to-open spring-held hood; a massive though not realdeep trunk, ideal for several sets of golf clubs and loads of suitcases; afront center fold-down armrest that holds a pullout cupholder and concealedcoin and cassette holders; and a trunk lock/unlock button in the glove box.

There are also 2-in-1 sun visors-a large visor that folds down and overto block glare from the side window and a small one that folds dow n to blockfrontal glare-plus side pullout plastic visors for any other problem spots as well as vanity mirrors in the visors that automatically light when you openthe cover; dash-mounted gas filler door and trunk-lid release buttons; volume/seek controls for the radio and fan/temperature controls for heater/airconditioner in the steering-wheel hub; and a dual-mode soft/firm suspensionsetting button in the dash.

Then, too, all body panels feature two-sided galvanized metal, and frontfenders are made of a plastic composite material to guard against rust. Andall glass features a new EZ-Kool process that reduces the solar heat loadcoming into the cabin by about 20 percent, to keep the interior cooler andreduce the workload on the air conditioner.

One other item you`ll appreciate is the self-adjusting clip for theshoulder belts. GM cars have become notorious for belts that scuff the chin orrub the neck and are left undone rather than annoy driver and passenger.

With the adjustable clip in the plastic holder in the center-roof pillar, all you need do is press the clip and the belt travels up or down about three inches in the holder so that the shoulder belt moves down and off your chin orneck to rest securely against upper torso.

Before you rush down to the 98 showroom, there are some just-as-obviousflaws that need fixing. The dash-mounted fuel filler door and deck-lid releasebuttons are behind and to the left of the steering wheel and so low in thedash you can`t see them; ditto with the dual-suspension setting button that`s behind and to the right of the steering wheel; volume and seek controls arefine for the radio, but why not add the equally useful on/off and AM/FMcontrols?

Also, the seats have power controls, but you can push ``up`` till yourfinger turns blue and you`ll still feel as if you`re sitting in a hole lookingup and out over the dash, a feeling made more awkward by the fact the panel iscovered by a huge plastic cover to prevent glare but which requires lookingover to find the road; fake side-vent windows provide ample evidence why theindustry did away with them-they`re ugly; the gear-shift lever for the four-speed automatic is so small you`d swear Olds cut the original lever in halfas a cost-cutting move.

And finally, the instrument panel is a joy to behold-providing you lie on the roof and look down rather than sit in the driver`s seat and look forward. All controls, gauges, words, and numbers are slanted backward away from thedriver. That`s a position that makes all those items difficult to see and use. Want to change from AM to FM? You need reach and hunt for the button afull arm`s length away and slanted from your field of vision. Yet, while most frequently used buttons require a road map to find and use, there`s 13 buttonsright there in the middle of the dash in easy sight and reach that you can useto obtain such seldomly used data as average speed and fuel economy on yourtrip or estimated time of arrival at your destination.

The data are displayed in the instrument panel directly behind thesteering wheel. Hopefully, Olds put the miles-to-empty and average speed data there only to reserve space in the future for some truly useful information.We found the driver information data center performed at its best when wetouched button No. 13, the one that read ``off.``

Standard equipment includes air conditioning with rear-seat ducts; AM/FMstereo with cassette and digital clock and power antenna; power brakes (withABS) and steering; power door locks, windows, mirrors and driver`s seat;cruise control; tilt steering; and trip odometer.

Elite`s base price is $23,695. Our test car added $2,548 in options. With the options discounted by $450, the sticker read $25,793, plus a totallyunreasonable $580 in freight.




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