Camry–Accord, Camry–Accord, Camry–Accord.
It’s like a mantra to many mid-size sedan buyers, who seem to think there’s little else that would satisfy their craving a good mid-sized sedan.
Should I tell them that the Oldsmobile Intrigue seems a strong competitor to these cars?
The styling is familiar to you now. Smooth and stylish, the car’s fenders bulge menacingly, giving it a distinctive look in a field of jelly-bean cars. Certainly it looks at home in a field of imported cars, the intention of Olds’ designers who have reshaped the General Motors division into a more international viewpoint over the last couple years.
There’s little chrome, just artfully crafted surfaces.
But if the look is international, what was under the hood was all-American: GM’s 3800 V6, a 3.8-liter overhead-valve engine that first saw duty during Kennedy Administration. Smooth and powerful, the engine, while good, didn’t have quite the stuff to go up against the more sophisticated double-overhead-cam mills that power the Asian duo.
So GM took the Aurora’s double-overhead-cam “Premium V8” (aka the Northstar that also sees duty in various Cadillacs) and lopped off two cylinders. The result is a 3.5 liter V6 with 215 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque.
This engine has a number of features that make it easy to maintain. The camshaft is chain-driven, there’s no timing belt to replace. The engine coolant lasts 150,000 miles, the spark plugs are good for 100,000. A limp-home mode allows the engine to continue running if there’s a sudden depletion of coolant. An electronic monitor tracks oil life based on your driving.
But it’s the engine’s ability to enhance the import personality of this car that transforms the feeling of it.
Like many DOHC engines, there’s not as much grunt off the line as overhead-valve engines, but the power available at speed is far superior. It’s most evident at highway speeds, where a blitz of speed is easy to obtain. The engine downshifts as promptly, albeit not as smoothly as it has with the old 3800. The noises the engine makes are sexier too. Fuel efficiency was typical, getting the low 20s in a mix of city and highway.
Braking power was quite good, with positive progressive feel. The steering was quick, but somewhat numb.
Handling was good, a lot more entertaining than a Camry and up there with an Accord. Grip was excellent; handling through corners was good for a sedan. The tires ran out of grip before the chasis
The interior lives up to the sophistication of the exterior and drivetrain. Unlike the flat, appliance-like interior of the Camry, but not as post-modern as the Accord, the Intrique still has an interesting, functional dash.
A rounded center housing contains a decent-sounding AM/FM/ cassette/CD stereo audio system. The test vehicle also had a trunk mounted 12-CD changer. The changer had storage for the CD jewel cases, a nice touch.
Other nice touches include the automat ic climate control system with two simple round knobs that make it easy to operate. The rearview mirror dims automatically and contains a compass. The headlights and door locks work automatically. The ignition switch is dash, not column, mounted. The analog gauges are large and easy to read. The bucket seats were very comfortable. The rear seats were a little low, but still proved comfortable. Rear seat passengers also get their own heating ducts and cupholders. The trunk was roomy, with a low liftover, with hinges that don’t interfere with trunk volume.
The test sample was well assembled, without any squeaks and rattles. If you think this is no big deal, you haven’t seen a press car with 11,000 miles.
Actually, the whole interior, with its padded door panels, grained plastics and leather trim had an air of opulence.
By now you wonder whether we should tell the Honda-Toyota zombies how good a car the Intrique is. There’s only one problem: they’ll never bel ieve it.
1999 Oldsmobile Intrigue GLS
Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V6
Transmission: 4-speed automatic transmission
Standard: Power windows/locks/mirrors, anti-lock four-wheel-disc brakes, dual front airbags, traction control, vanity mirrors, AM/FM/cassette stereo, cruise control, floor mats, keyless entry, fog lamps, faux wood trim, split-folding rear seats, cargo net.
Options: Chrome aluminum wheels, upgraded stereo, CD changer, rear-deck spoiler, air filtration system.
Base price: $24,945
As tested: $27,410
EPA rating: 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway >>