1989 Oldsmobile Toronado

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The Morning Call and Mcall.com

America's first successful front-wheel drive car is now celebrating its 23rd birthday and, even though it is no longer the only car around with front-wheel drive (somewhat of an understatement), it still manages to be a unique and outstanding automobile.

The car, of course, is the Oldsmobile Toronado, which back in 1966 not onlyproved this country could produce a front-wheel-drive car, but one of heroic dimensions.

Here was no wimpy two-liter, under-2,000-pounds econobox but a huge six- passenger coupe weighing in at 2 1/4 tons and powered by a seven-liter/ 425-cubic-inch V-8 rated at 385 horsepower and more than 500 foot pounds torque.

It was great American showoff engineering featuring dramatic styling, pop- up headlamps, torsion-bar front springs, a planetary-type differential and a low-friction rear suspension. In fact, the driveline was so bulletproof that there were no major changes until 1979, when fuel economy forced downsizing (and probably survival).

For 1989, the Toronado may be smaller but it certainly doesn't lack sophistication. The test car (supplied by Ruhe Oldsmobile, 15th and Tilghman Sts., Allentown) was a Trofeo, the more expensive and sportier of the two models offered. For those interested in such things, the name is trophy in Spanish. Toronado, of course, is also derived from Spanish and loosely translated could mean flying bull.

The current design was introduced in the 1986 year and still looks as if itwere fresh off the drawing board. The design is clean, uncluttered, sporty andquite handsome. The test car, bright white with a dark blue accent interior, received its fair share of compliments.

Although this year's Trofeo may look like last year's Trofeo, there are a number of new items for '89, including a new engine mounting system, four-lamphigh-beam headlamp system, oil-level sensor, power seat recliner switch relocated to console, body color front air dam and rocker extensions, and power thigh support adjuster for front seats.

There are also a number of new standard-equipment items added to the list: ABS brakes, touch-control steering wheel, automatic door locks, electrochromicday/ night mirror, electric remote control fuel filler door, twilight sentinel, power trunk pull down, floor mats, courtesy and reading lamps, illumination for interior and front door locks, and driver and passenger illuminated visor vanity mirrors.

As befitting a personal performance luxury coupe (as Oldsmobile refers to it, and who's going to argue?), the Toronado Trofeo has plenty of luxury, lotsof performance and lots of suspension. First, though, the luxury.

The interior features perforated Morocco leather in the seating area with Doeskin vinyl trim on the rest of the seat as well as the instrument panel anddoor panels. The car is rated for five but if there are three in the back theybetter not be big. The driver and front-seat passenger, as usual, have the best o f it. All dimensions are generous, though with the optional sliding sunroof head room is cut down somewhat for tall people.

Besides the sunroof ($1,230), there aren't many other options offered on the Trofeo (after all, everything else comes standard), but the test car had the two other big ones, a cellular telephone ($1,795) and Visual Information Center ($1,295).

For those who have a desire for a car telephone, this one is probably as good as any. So as not to be too much of a driving hazard, this phone doesn't require one to hang on to the headset, if incorporated with the VIC. All you have to do is talk to the car. Or rather, to the pickup above the rearview mirror.

The VIC looks like something right out of the video arcade; as such, it is probably best left to children who enjoy such things. This system allows one to store and recall up to 51 visual displays. It also includes an electronic compass, provisions for an integrated mobile phone, and a monitor for all climate-control and entertainment functions. For those who like toys and are willing to pay, this is it. But be careful; it can be distracting.

Driving the Trofeo does not require any special talents (besides figuring out the VIC). Handling is responsive and quick, though not extremely so. For those who are more serious about their driving, the car will not be a disappointment. Just wring it in and wring it out.

Good handling, however, should be expected since the Trofeo comes standard with Oldsmobile's Level III suspension, sometimes called Sports Suspension, atother times, FE3. This is the highest level of suspension available and, although it places a priority on handling over ride, the ride really isn't badat all. A little firm, but that's about it.

The FE3 package is built around the Trofeo's four-wheel independent suspension (MacPherson struts at all corners), rear automatic leveling system and P215/65R15 all-season performance tires. In essence, it features front andrear anti-roll bars, relatively firm suspension bushings, higher spring rates,quick-ratio steering gears and calibrated shock absorbers. And to add even a little more, the Trofeo, as mentioned, comes standard with ABS, anti-lock braking system. So, plenty of suspension and chassis.

To keep up its performance image, the Trofeo's powertrain contains GM's 3800 V-6 and a four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The 3800 measures 3.8 liters, or 231 cubic inches; features sequential-port fuel injection, and is rated at 165 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 210 foot pounds torque at 2,000 rpm.

Performance is quite good. Just tromp on the accelerator and let the four- speed automatic do the thinking. Fuel mileage is very decent, but then it should be with a V-6 and four-speed. The test car averaged 15 mpg for city driving and 25 mpg over the highway. Because of the engine's relatively low 8.5:1 compression ratio, unleaded regular can be used.

Base price on the Trofeo is $24,995. Add in a destination charge of $550, the test car's three options (totaling $4,320) and the full price comes to $29,865. However, there is a discount of $1,000 if the VIC and phone are ordered together. In addition, until Feb. 28, Oldsmobile is offering a $1,500 discount on all Toronados (either Trofeo or standard). So the adjusted price on the test car would come to $27,365.

The basic warranty, the one that covers most parts on the car, has been increased this year to 36 months/50,000 miles. (After 12 months/12,000 miles there is a $100 charge.) The powertrain warranty, which had been 6 years/ 60,000 miles, is now the same as the basic warranty. There's some trade-off here, but it could be a better deal, depending on what goes wrong and when. Corrosion protection is 6 years/100,000 miles.

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