Oldsmobile dropped its long-selling Ciera and replaced it with the Cutlass, a clean-sheet design shared with the Chevrolet Malibu.

One of three new products responsible for redefining Oldsmobile, the front-wheel-drive Cutlass is a conservative, import-oriented four-door designed to appeal to folks who might otherwise choose a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. In spite of the understated styling, it is a solid performer that provides good value for your transportation dollar. It is well equipped, with a standard V6 engine, anti-lock brakes, dual airbags and side-impact beams.

There are two trim models, standard and GLS. I drove the upmarket GLS, which, for a hair less than $20,000, had all of the goodies most folks would like: leather seats, power windows and locks, power mirrors, aluminum wheels, keyless remote, fog lamps and tilt steering wheel.

Built with a 107-inch wheelbase, the new body is strong and stiff, which results in a ride that is quieter and smoother because the suspension can now be tuned to absorb bumps without having to take the body's flexing into account. I found it comfortable without being sloppy. Bumps are swallowed up easily, yet if you take a turn quickly it remains fairly poised.

Some of that poise is due to the fact that the V6 engine, transaxle and part of the front suspension are mounted on a separate subframe that contributes to the body's strength and more precise steering.

The 3.1-liter engine has 160 horsepower, and it is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission whose shifts are nearly imperceptible. Acceleration is about average for this class, and the EPA rates the mileage at 20 in the city and 29 on the highway. Not bad for a vehicle with a curb weight of roughly 3,000 pounds.

Inside, the Cutlass is much like the Malibu, but the GLS has a higher quality of materials. The leather seats of our test car were most pleasant, even on warm days. Most of the dash is covered with a non-glare substance that has a quality look. Sections of hard plastic around the instruments and radio, however, would look better with a more textured surface. Climate controls and radio are also nicer than that of the Malibu.

A handy item is a pull-out cupholder on the left side of the dash. Another cupholder is molded into the center console, which contains a large central storage bin.

Fingertip controls on the steering wheel make changing radio stations safer because you don't have to take your hands from the wheel.

In back, the split-folding seat gives alternative hauling options for folks with an active life style. Rear-seat legroom exceeds that of both the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

The new Cutlass, as a part of Oldsmobile's Centennial Plan, joins the Silhouette, Aurora and soon-to-be-available Intrigue as the foundation for a completely new product line that emphasizes value, performance and function.


The base price of our test car was $19,225. Add in destination charges and the sticker was $19,698.


The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.

Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.

Point: The Cutlass GLS is a conservatively styled mid-size sedan that offers a lot of value for the money, which makes it an attractive alternative to an import.

Counterpoint: Outside, the styling lacks the boldness of the Aurora; inside, some plastic surfaces would be more appealing with a softer texture.


ENGINE: 3.1-liter V6


WHEELBASE: 107 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 2,982 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $19,225


MPG RATING: 20 city, 29 hwy.