There's a new Century from Buick, and it's a good vehicle to take them into the next century.

The old Century was produced for 15 years and more than two million were sold. A new model is welcome.

There are two trim levels, Custom and Limited. We drove the Custom, which is likely to be the highest-volume seller. Its base price was $17,845.

Tight and solid, this family four-door won't grab your attention with flashy gimmicks. Its look is identifiably Buick, which means an oval grille and conservative profile, yet the simplicity is appealing. Like many of the new mid-size cars from GM, the Century is not intended for driving enthusiasts but mainstream buyers who value function over style and want a good value for their hard-earned dollar. Seen in this light, it is a success.

Derived from the same platform as the Pontiac Grand Prix and Oldsmobile Intrique, the Century's wheelbase is 4.1 inches longer than its predecessor. The track is wider, too, and it rides on larger tires. While the ride is not as tight as the Pontiac Grand Prix, it is considerably firmer than a LeSabre, due in large measure to its rigid body structure. Over heaving highways it felt a tad soft but never enough so to be uncomfortable.

Many cars in this class, which includes the Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus, have six-cylinder engines, and this one comes with a 3.1-liter V6. Rated at 160 horsepower, it works through a four-speed automatic transmission. While not GM's most impressive powerplant, it certainly passes muster with flying colors.

The engine, power steering and most of the front suspension is mounted on a separate cradle that is then attached to the car with four large rubber mounts. This lessens the amount of noise and vibration that make its way into the cabin.

Triple door seals also keep out noise, and sound deadening material is placed on the instrument panel, floor of the trunk and over the rear wheels. Sheetmetal is double-galvanized to resist corrosion. These are items that cannot be readily seen but are important over the life of the vehicle.

Brakes are disc in front and drum in back, with anti-lock standard.

Other handy touches include air filtration for the passenger compartment and battery-rundown protection.

Steering feel is much improved, thanks to a new variable-assist power steering unit that uses a combination of electronics, hydraulics and electromagnetics. At parking speeds it is light and responsive, yet it firms up as speed increases.

The interior of our dark-red test car was upholstered in a patterned light-tan cloth, and the rest of the interior was the same color, which gave it a lively look.

The new dashboard has revised instruments located in a curving pod behind the steering wheel. Most switches, including radio and climate control, have been redesigned for easier use. Secondary functions of the radio still have tiny buttons but at least they are not used as much.

The front bench seat can accommodate three persons with the armrest up, but most folks won't use it that way. Cupholders fold out of the center armrest, which is not as good as having them in the dash or a console.

The power seats have door-mounted, metaphoric switches for simple adjustment.

Around back there is decent legroom, and the trunk is also good sized. The back seat is mounted slightly higher than the front for better visibility, and an integrated child seat positioned in the middle of the back seat is optional.

Price

The base price of our test car was $17,845. Options included integrated child seat, aluminum wheels, AM/FM stereo cassette player, upgraded speakers, power windows and locks, cruise control and tilt steering wheel.

The sticker price was $19,785.

Warranty

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.

P nt: The new Century offers simple styling, decent power and room for six in a pinch.

The ride is soft but better controlled than in the LeSabre Custom.

Counterpoint: Folks looking for a sporty sedan may be disappointed, but not those who value function for their dollar.

SPECIFICATIONS:

ENGINE: 3.1-liter, V6

TRANSMISSION: automatic

WHEELBASE: 109 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,348 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $17,845

PRICE AS DRIVEN: $19,785

MPG RATING: 20 city, 29 hwy