THIS IS A city of old things, a place of tradition. It’s the perfectsetting for a test drive of the Buick Century, America’s most aptlynamed car.
From its body to its dashboard, the Century is a work of motorizedmoss — so dated, so funky, it could be on display in a museum.
‘Tis a wonder that Buick had the temerity to call the currentCentury a “1995 model.” I mean, look around. What other 1995 car hassuch linear, boxy, uninspired lines? Step inside. That dashboard, withall of its angular weirdness, could fit into a scene in one of AnneRice’s vampire novels.
But all is not lost. The car has some bright touches, such as thedashboard-mounted map light, illuminated interior door handles, brighterwarning lights and — finally! — an arc-shaped speedometer that’sactually readable.
There are other good points. But the whole of the Century is quiteunderwhelming — about as exciting as sitting in a dank Bourbon Streetbar, sucking on a bottle of Dixie beer.
Background: The Buick Century has been around for 14 years. It’s afront-wheel-drive, mid-size sedan, which is also sold as a wagon. It’sdevoid of anything approaching soul or personality.
If you can accept that, or, if it doesn’t matter, the Century is agood deal. It’s a solidly built machine. It’s reliable, very comfortablefor five people and reasonably comfortable for six.
The Century comes with one of two engines. There’s a 2.2-liter,inline four-cylinder job rated 120 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, with torqueset at 130 pound-feet at 4,000 rpm. It’s an adequate engine, but it’snot much more than adequate in a car that weighs nearly 3,000 pounds.
Better to get the optional 3.1-liter V-6 rated 160 horsepower at5,200 rpm, with torque set at 185 pound-feet at 4,000 rpm. It gives theCentury substance.
A three-speed automatic transmission is standard with thefour-cylinder engine, which makes it more of a slug. A four-speedautomatic comes with the 3.1-liter V-6.
The car comes with one air bag — for the driver.
It also comes with those ludicrous, door-mounted automatic seatbelts. Egad! Talk about passe!
Standard brakes include power front discs/rear drums with anti-lockbackup.
Complaints: Interior and exterior styling, and those goofy”automatic” seat belts.
Praise: Overall build; improved, more comfortable seats in the 1995car; good luggage space at 16.2 cubic feet; reliable familytransportation.
Head-turning quotient: Zip.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Very good highway ride, especiallyon straightaways. Dicey handling on curves. That is, the front endthreatens to lose composure on any curves taken at speed. Decentacceleration with the V-6 engine. So-so acceleration with theinline-four. Braking was okay — meaning that especially in this car,you have to apply common sense before you hit the brakes. This isn’t aperformance car. Understand?
Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with compact disc.GM/Del co. Very good.
Mileage: About 23 miles per gallon (16.5-gallon tank, estimated365-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded), combinedcity-highway, running with one to six occupants and light cargo.
Price: Base price is $16,360. Dealer invoice is $14,642 on basemodel. Price rises to $17,965 for the Century Custom package; dealerinvoice for that package is $16,079.
The Custom package includes leather-faced seats, power windows and,um, whitewall tires. Price for the whole Custom shebang is $18,500,including a $535 destination charge. Purse-strings note: It’s wortha look. But there are much more enjoyable, competitively priced mid-sizecars, such as the Mazda 626, the completely revamped 1995 ChevroletLumina, Chrysler Cirrus, Ford Taurus, Ford Contour, Honda Accord, NissanMaxima. But, hey, none of those has the Century’s historical value.