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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Tom Strongman
June 27, 1997
Oldsmobile is closing the gap on its competitors from Ford and Chrysler with an all-new Silhouette minivan that has solid handling, a responsive engine and options like a power side door and quad bucket seats. The new Silhouette is a quantum leap
over the old, pointy-nosed model that was not very space efficient and whose radical looks left a lot of folks cold. The new model looks more traditional, to be sure, but it will surely find a wider audience as a result. The look may be
conservative, but what will endear this van to its owners is the way it works. The stronger body structure makes it feel tight and strong, and it has a ride that is pliable enough to be comfortable yet firm enough to offer responsive handling. Our loaded
GLS test vehicle was equipped with the touring suspension that made it feel, at times, almost like an imported sedan. It stays reasonably flat in turns and has a nicely centered feeling at highway speeds. That's not really surprising since Opel, one of
GM's German divisions, was heavily involved in the development of the vehicle because it sells a version in Europe under is nameplate. Other standard equipment on the GLS includes traction control, rear air conditioner/heater, aluminum wheels, rear
seat radio controls, power front seats, second-row captain's chairs and a second set of radio controls on the steering wheel. Even though the front-wheel-drive Silhouette is kin to the Chevrolet Venture and Pontiac Trans Sport, each brand differs
slightly in trim and exterior details. All come in standard or extended-wheelbase versions, with seating for up to seven. The longer versions will be the most popular because they have the most hauling capacity. What they all share is a 3.4-liter
V-6 that has 180 horsepower and a nearly flat torque curve through most of its usable powerband. Give it some throttle and it responds nicely without making you wait while it builds enough power to move. A "limp home" feature allows limited driving even
if all the coolant is lost. Spark plugs and coolant are designed to last for 100,000 miles. An important complement to this engine is a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission. The power sliding door is a wonderful device. In case
you are worried about children getting their hands caught, it has a safety stop that reverses the door when anything is in its way. From a functional perspective one of most appealing things about our test van was its 7-person seating arrangement
of two bucket seats in front, two captain's chairs in the second row and a 50/50 split-folding bench in the third row. Another option for the second row is a 60/40 bench with up to two built-in child safety seats. The rear seat backs fold forward
and a 4X8 sheet of plywood will fit on top of them. The Silhouette has cupholders in every imaginable place, but the ones that fold out of the lower part of the passenger seat for front passengers are awkwa
rd. A nifty cargo net can be fastened between the front seats and it is a great place to dump the junk that normally floats around in the front of your car. The front seats had good lumbar support, and the backrest adjusts with a rotary knob
that enables the tiniest of adjustments. The instrument panel has nice simple gauges, but some of the secondary switches and knobs look chunky and overdone. Various sections of the dash use hard plastic without much texture, which is not inviting.
The revamped Silhouette is one of the key core vehicles for Oldsmobile and the thorough redesign puts it on more than even footing with its competition. Price The base price of our Silhouette GLS was $26,235. The only option was leather
seating areas, and that brought the sticker price to $27,675 with transportation. Warranty The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the a
o manufacturers. Point: The Silhouette is a tight, spacious minivan with responsive handling and room for seven. The engine has nice mid-range response, and the long-wheelbase version can swallow 4X8 sheets of plywood. Counterpoint: The
dash design could be improved with a better selection of textures and materials. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 3.4-liter, V6 TRANSMISSION: Automatic WHEELBASE: 120 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,942 lbs. BASE PRICE: $26,235 PRICE AS
DRIVEN: $27,675 MPG RATING: 18 city, 25 hwy. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 3.4-liter, V-6 TRANSMISSION: Automatic WHEELBASE: 120 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,702 lbs. BASE PRICE: $23,369 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $27,424 MPG
RATING: 18 city, 25 hwy.