EXPERT REVIEW

chicagotribune.com's view

It’s been a 32-year odyssey. Buick woke the motoring public in 1963 when itintroduced a new Riviera, but put everyone fast to sleep again by 1994, when the car was discontinued to prepare for a remake.

If you remember 1986 and Buick’s near fatal decision to downsize Riviera, it’s time to forgive and forget. The 1995 Riviera coupe, back after a one-yearabsence, is built on the same large platform as the all-new 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora sedan-only minus two doors and with a V-6 under the hood rather than the V-8 with which Aurora is blessed.

Buick says it wanted a two-door coupe and a V-6 engine, and Olds got the four-door sedan and a V-8. Others insist GM brass stepped in to say that Buickwould have only two doors and a V-6 so as not to vie for sales with Aurora. Wetend to believe the scenario about corporate intervention rather than the one about Buick’s preference for two-doors and a V-6.

To ensure ample power, however, Riviera offers two versions of its 3.8-liter, V-6, one a more powerful 205-horsepower update of the 170-h.p., 3.8and the other a supercharged 225-h.p. version of the old 3.8. For now, however, you can get only the supercharged engine because the 205-h.p., 3.8 isn’t ready for public consumption. Probably won’t be until fall.

We tested the Riv with the quiet yet fairly powerful supercharged V-6, which experiences a momentary hesitation-though not as long as the lag time with a turbocharger-between the time you apply foot to pedal and the time fullpower is unleashed slingshot style. Fuel economy is a respectable 17 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway for an engine capable of 225 h.p.

Ride and handling are very similar to that of Aurora: firm without being harsh; the ability to take tight turns and sharp corners while sitting straight up in your seat; and power steering that offers precise movement withonly fingertip effort. The first time you change lanes, you’ll wonder how you got there so quickly and effortlessly. Our test car came with 16-inch GoodyearGA radials with stiffer sidewalls for better cornering and overall handling. You can opt for 16-inch Michelin tires if you prefer a more cushiony ride.

Buick concentrated on a stiffer body to reduce squeaks and rattles while improving ride and handling. The 1979-84 Riv, though featuring perhaps the best styling in the car’s career, tended to wander the road like a boat. The ’95 stays put until told.

Inside, leg, head and arm room are very good for four adults. Buick insistsyou can get five sets of golf clubs in the trunk, which may be possible, but not practical, since you can get only four adults in the car if you want to enjoy optimum room and comfort.

Riviera is offered only in coupe form-no convertible for now-though Buick says the car could easily be transformed into an open-top machine. You’ll haveto settle for an optional power sunroof.

Some noteworthy Riviera features include bi g outside mirrors that don’t force you to guess whether something is approaching when you prepare to changelanes; easy to see and use trunk-lid and fuel-filler door release buttons on the driver’s door (a second trunk release button is in the glove box) rather than buried under the seat; a seat “exit” button that motors the seat down to door-sill level and raises the seatback automatically to make for easier exit from the car; dual pop-out cupholders in the center console, along with a cassette holder/coinholder in the center console armrest; a glass case built into the roofliner; radio/temperature controls in the steering-wheel hub; two-in-one dual sun visors for side/frontal protection from glare for driver and passenger; driver/passenger temperature controls; and a clever white ring on the interior reading lights that becomes visible when the motorist forgets to turn the lights off before exiting the car.

One feature that will be available soon is a trio of uttons in the roof liner above the mirror that will open/close your garage door; turn on/off youroutside house lights; and open/close the metal security gate guarding the entrance to your palatial digs.

But there are features that could stand some improvement. The seat bottom cushion, for example, could be two inches longer for more thigh support. This was a disappointment because Buick has a special task force that focuses on seat comfort.

Also, the cruise control lever, left and behind the steering column, was hidden from view and not easy to use; the “unleaded fuel only” badge on the dash was crooked and as unnerving as walking into a room and seeing a crooked picture; there was no arrow on the fuel gauge to remind which side the fuel door was on, though Buick said it may follow Ford’s lead and add this feature.

Also, a power plug along the lower right side of the center console partition will handle a phone or radar detector, but the driver must lean overto find the plug; and there was no vinyl-covered floor kick pad for the driverto rest his or her left foot, a small item, to be sure, but one that will become visible after several months, when a wear pattern starts to show in thecarpeting.

Finally, the gas pedal has a slippery cover that should be replaced at oncewith a more sure-footed one.

One item may be a blessing or an annoyance: There’s precious little room under the hood, so Buick, like Olds with Aurora, put the battery under the rear seat. Relocation away from engine heat should prolong battery life, and that’s good. And Buick retained a clearly marked battery connector cable underthe hood so you can attach the positive jumper cable if a start is needed.

But some won’t relish the idea of parking their posterior over a rubber-coated box of lead acid, and others will say Buick goofed by having a positive battery cable connector cable under the hood, but not a clearly labeled chunk of metal to which you can attach the negative cable for a ground.

The 1995 Chrysler Cirrus removed its battery from under the hood, too, but has positive and negative connectors there for jump starting.

Like Aurora, Riviera is loaded with safety hardware-dual air bags, anti-lock brakes and traction control. To get traction control, however, you have to buy the prestige option package for $992, which also gives you retained accessory power so the radio works for 10 minutes after you turn off the ignition, bodyside stripes, automatic day/night mirrors, lumbar support seats and cornering lamps. That’s a lot of frills to buy to get one worthwhileitem.

Buick won’t say how many buyers it hopes to win over, but does say it hopesthey come from the 1 million Riv owners on the highway and the several thousand owners of the Lincoln Mark VIII, Acura Legend and Lexus SC300 coupes,which, as a rule, cost several thousand dollars more.

Base price is $27,632. Y ou have to add $1,100 for the supercharger package that includes the Goodyear Eagle GA tires and aluminum wheels, which brings itup to $28,732.

Just about everything-air, power antenna, cruise control, rear window defogger, power locks, solar glass, trip odometer, power mirrors, AM/FM stereowith cassette and clock, power seats, remote keyless entry, tilt and leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic leveling control suspension, power windows and 24-hour roadside assistance-is standard.

In addition to the turbo package and prestige package with its traction control, our test car added leather seats for $650, upgraded sound system withAM stereo and compact disc player for $434 and heated driver seat with memory seat/mirror positions for $310. That brought it to $31,743, including $625 forfreight.

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