Vehicle Overview
Portholes are back on Buick’s top model, the Park Avenue Ultra, which helps to commemorate the company’s centennial year. First called VentiPorts, the chrome-plated portholes on the side of each front fender first appeared on Buicks in 1949 and were last seen on the 1983 Electra. They reappeared on Buick’s Cielo concept car in 1999 and continued on the subsequent LaCrosse and Bengal show cars. These portholes — three on each side — are said to be functional as well as decorative, helping to cool the engine compartment.

As Buick puts it, the Park Avenue Ultra “reaches back into a rich design heritage to present a modern interpretation of a classic Buick.” A prominent vertical-bar grille was inspired by the automaker’s LaCrosse concept car, which integrates a chrome see-through tri-shield badge in its center. The automaker calls the grille “a modern interpretation of a design created for the 1938 Y-Job.” The Y-Job was developed by Harley Earl, GM’s first design chief, and is often considered the first concept car.

Lower-profile tires on the Park Avenue Ultra are mounted on larger, 17-inch, chromed-aluminum wheels that promise better handling and a sportier ride. A standard Gran Touring Package includes a specially tuned suspension and rear stabilizer bar. New polished walnut woodgrain trim decorates the interior, which features updated instrument-panel graphics.

Buick’s full-size, front-wheel-drive, near-luxury sedan is similar to theLeSabre, but the Park Avenue Ultra comes with more standard features and a higher price tag. First seen at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2002, the new Park Avenue Ultra carries a supercharged V-6 engine that churns out 240 horsepower. Production began in September 2002. Buick also continues to offer a base-model Park Avenue with a nonsupercharged engine and fewer amenities.

Though the Park Avenue is larger in dimensions, it has the same basic look as other Buick sedans. At 206.8 inches long overall, it stretches almost 7 inches longer than the LeSabre — Buick’s lower-priced, family-oriented, full-size model. The Park Avenue rides a 113.8-inch wheelbase, measures 74.7 inches wide and stands 57.4 inches tall.

A new monochromatic tri-shield badge is visible on the grille and trunk lid. Special chrome-plated exhaust tips are installed. Three new body colors and seven carryover shades will be available. Turn-signal indicators are incorporated into the side mirrors.

Seating for six occupants is standard in the Park Avenue’s roomy interior. The spacious trunk holds 19.1 cubic feet of cargo.

The Park Avenue Ultra features an optional convenience console that creates a five-passenger environment. Bright aluminum sill plates with raised ridges line the floor at the front door openings. Four headrests are embroidered with Buick’s tri-shield emblem. Leather upholstery and wood trim are standard. GM’s OnStar communication system is standard in the Ultra model and optional in the base Park Avenue.

Under the Hood
A supercharged version of Buick’s 3.8-liter V-6 engine, which produces 240 hp, goes into the Park Avenue Ultra. The base Park Avenue uses a 205-hp nonsupercharged version of that engine. Both team with a four-speed-automatic transmission.

Traction control, antilock brakes and side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard on both models. StabiliTrak, GM’s electronic stability system, is standard on the Park Avenue Ultra and comes in an option package for the base model.

Driving Impressions
The Park Avenue Ultra is a great road car, but the ride isn’t quite as easygoing as some sedans in its class. Occupants may be tossed around a bit when the car is riding on rough pavement, but the top Buick model is well controlled on any surface. Smooth performance is a Park Avenue hallmark. Most buyers would probably be satisfied with the base model’s engine. The supercharged version in the Park Avenue Ultra adds some extra zest, but its operation is subtle. The Ultra’s new portholes also look rather subtle and are appropriate for a serious sedan in this league.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 2/5/03