Political correctness is losing its luster.
These days, some people start mumbling nasty things about your mother when you mention something politically correct. These days, political incorrectness seems to be correct.
Such is the case with cars. Cruise around in a Buick Park Avenue Ultra for a week and you’ll get the sudden urge to smoke a cigar. (They’re back in style now, too.)
Open the door and step back to a time when American cars were kings of the road. There to greet you is a split bench seat swathed in leather with gentle contours redolent of sofa cushions. Shaped for those who enjoy living large, they’re soft but not overly supportive. They’re electrically heated, too. (Please, no jokes about giving your spouse the electric chair.)
The dash is as flat as Nebraska, very unlike today’s more driver-oriented contoured dashboards. Everything is logically arranged, but the radio can be a stretch. Thankfully, Buick mounts duplicates of the most-used controls on the steering wheel. Very convenient.
And this whole car is about convenience, loaded with an arsenal of luxury gear that makes coddling the occupants its first concern.
“Personal Choice,” a new option for ’96, will remember and recall two different settings for seats, mirrors, lighting, security and more when the keyless entry is activated.
Tired of slamming your trunk? A power pull-down assists. An AM/FM-cassette-CD unit plays your favorite tunes with clarity. Power windows, locks, seats and mirrors are, of course, standard. Climate control is automatic. So is the general sense of comfort and serenity. Door locks lock and unlock automatically. Shoulder belts are adjustable.
The rearview mirror adjusts automatically for lighting conditions, and contains a compass to make sure you stay pointed in the right direction.
But perhaps the biggest luxury is the space available here. Six full-sized, well-fed Americans will fit, as long as they don’t mind those seat contours. The trunk holds 20 cubic feet of luggage, golf clubs or cases of smuggled Cuban cigars.
So how does it drive?
Here comes that political correctness again.
In today’s world of taut-handling sport sedans, the Ultra is a throwback. Hit a bump and the response is a bit of mild bouncing. It’s not uncontrollable, because the optional Gran Touring suspension keeps things pretty well controlled. But this car is a Buick, and that means it’s softly sprung with a classic American big-car ride. It won’t rattle your dentures.
It won’t require you to shout at fellow passengers, either. The ride is quiet and hushed. Even when you ask for speed.
Stomp on the accelerator and it moves faster than a lot of sport coupes. Credit Buick’s trusty old supercharged 3.8 liter V-6. In Ultra form, it now produces 240 horsepower, up 15 from last year and good for 0-to-60 times of under eight seconds. This power does not c ome at the expense of fuel economy: The EPA rating is 18 mpg city, 27 highway. The supercharged engine requires premium unleaded fuel.
Steering on the Ultra is GM’s new magnetic-variable assist system that boosts assist at low speeds and reduces it as the scenery moves by faster. It feels somewhat disconnected from the road.
Stopping is courtesy of four-wheel anti-lock brakes, disc in front, drum in rear. An optional traction-control system uses anti-lock brakes and trims power from the engine to regain traction. Both worked admirably.
But this whole car works admirably as a modern iteration of Detroit’s large family sedan. The 1996 Buick Park Avenue Ultra’s space, features, comfort and speed will satisfy anyone who can’t find luxury in a small, hard-riding imported car.
But then, they probably never were politically correct, either. Buick Park Avenue Ultra Highlights: Supercharged 3.8 liter V-6, dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, power door locks power windows, power seats with memory feature, keyless entry, variable power steering, automatic level control, dual air conditioning, power antenna, cruise control, AM/FM-cassette-CD, electrically heated driver and passenger seats, traction control, leather seats.
Base Price: $32,820
Destination charge: $640