Pity the Buick Riviera, a coupe vying for attention in a world tuned to sport-utility vehicles, trucks, mini-vans and sedans.
Coupes are orphans looking for a garage to call home. Rodney Dangerfield gets more respect.
Riviera has been trying for 10 years to overcome the blunder General Motors made when it chose to downsize the personal luxury coupe into a Matchbox car in 1986. Buick took size and weight out, also removing character and personality.
GM brought out a new enlarged Riviera built on the same platform as the Oldsmobile Aurora in 1995. But Olds got a sedan with four doors, Buick a coupe with two. Not only was Riv shorted a couple of doors, but Olds also got a V-8, the Buick a V-6.
Buick feels V-6 complaints lack merit. The base 3.8-liter delivers 205 horsepower, but the supercharged version for ’96 delivers 240 h.p., up from 225 h.p. in 1995. Yet it is rated at 18 miles per gallon city/27 m.p.g. highway.
We tested the ’96 Riviera with its supercharged V-6, which needn’t apologize for being two cylinders short of a full load.
The V-6 doesn’t hesitate when sprinting down the merger lane or pulling out to pass or when climbing a sharp incline or zipping past the locals wearing plugs of chedder in lieu of hunting caps on the hilly backroads of Wisconsin.
Riv is fleet of foot from the supercharged V-6 and sure of foot, too. Ride and handling are very Aurora-like–firm but not harsh, with the ability to keep you sitting upright despite aggressive maneuvering. The suspension is complemented by variable-effort power steering and 16-inch Goodyear GA radials. You get precise handling and above-average road control. The Riv stays in its lane without wandering or floating.
The 1996 Riv coupe we tested starts at $29,475. A prestige option package added $1,092 for lighted vanity mirrors, cornering lamps, automatic dimming rearview mirror, powerlumbar support driver’s seat, radio controls in the steering column, body stripes, and traction control, a rather hefty price when all you really want is the radio controls and need is traction control. The supercharged V-6 adds $1,100, but the only reason to pay $1,100 for 15 more horses is if those steeds won the derby.
Standard equipment includes dual air bags, four-wheel ABS, power door locks/windows/mirrors, keyless entry by pressing the key-fob button, automatic climate control, power antenna, cruise control, solar glass to reduce passenger cabin heat, trip odometer and AM-FM stereo with cassette and compact-disc player.
Neat features include trunk/fuel door release buttons in the driver’s door, an exit button that powers the seat away from the wheel for easier exit from the car, a power lockout so the door won’t lock if you exit the car without taking the key and programmable garage door/security gate/house lights open/close-on/off switches buil t into an overhead console.
Two annoyances: a cellular phone power plug beneath the dash that’s difficult to reach and no vinyl kick pad on the floor to rest your shoe to prevent carpet dirt/wear marks.