Not all automakers are giving up on older drivers.
The Buick division of General Motors is revamping and refining its lineup to create a brand of vehicles that is technically advanced as well as traditional in design, appearance and layout.
Meanwhile, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Lincoln are on a quest to attract younger buyers, so they are building sports sedans and sport-utility vehicles. If they are successful, older buyers who prefer column shifters, bench seats and a softer ride will have fewer models of cars from which to choose. And Buick will have a big slice of the automotive pie all to itself.
Our test car, a 1997 Park Avenue outfitted with nearly every option, proved to be a very stylish, sophisticated and well-built machine designed for older drivers who don’t want a stiff-riding European-flavored sports sedan.
Once during the week that I tested the Park Avenue, I opened the hood and just listened as the 3.8-liter V-6 idled patiently and quietly. This is a terrific engine – one of my favorites.
Somehow Buick engineers have been able to tune this pushrod V-6 to deliver the refined performance and silky smoothness of an expensive 24-valve overhead-cam engine, such as you might find in a Lexus ES 300 or Acura 3.5 RL.
Yet without all that expensive performance-boosting internal engine gear, Buick’s V-6 runs just as well. And it delivers outstanding fuel economy. In more than 400 miles of combined city/highway driving, our dark red test car averaged 24 1/2 miles per gallon.
Although the Park Avenue weighs in at nearly 3,800pounds, the 205-horsepower V-6 is well up to the task at hand. Performance is strong from a stop. When you press the accelerator, you hear a slight burble from under the hood as the V-6 breathes. As soon as you reach your desired speed, the engine’s throaty sound disappears. This V-6 delivers pleasing performance when the time comes to merge onto a busy interstate or pass slower cars.
The Park Avenue has a new four-speed automatic transmission this year, a maintenance-free gearbox that never needs fluid changes.
In fact, low maintenance is one of the selling points of this car. Buick has equipped the Park Avenue with a new type of radiator coolant good for five years or 100,000 miles and platinum-tipped spark plugs that are warranted for 100,000 miles. Buick says the Park Avenue will need no scheduled maintenance except oil and filter changes for the first 100,000 miles. Mechanically, the Park Avenue is an excellent automobile.
Handling is another area where the Park Avenue shines. The ’97 model rides on an all-new chassis that was derived from the Oldsmobile Aurora and Buick Riviera. Both of those cars have extremely stiff bodies, which reduces (or, in this instance, eliminates) squeaks and rattles, improves crashworthiness and allows engineers to fine-tune the suspension system.
Park Avenue is equipped with a four-whee l independent suspension system. Most of the parts are mounted to separate frames that attach to the Park Avenue’s body. Buick engineers claim this helps reduce noise and vibration.
They’re right. You don’t hear much more than rubber rolling over pavement. I drove the Park Avenue on numerous bumpy roads, such as brick streets and ones with giant potholes. Not only is the car quiet, but it deftly handles the rough stuff.
As with the Riviera, the Park Avenue also uses GM’s magnificent ”magna-steer” rack-and-pinion power-steering system. Magna-steer uses hydraulic pressure and magnets to turn the wheels. It’s a very smooth system that allows the Park Avenue to turn a complete circle in just 39.4 feet – excellent for a full-size sedan.
The ’97 Park Avenue has a strong set of anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes that bite hard and stop the car quickly. Our test car came with Buick’s optional traction control system which prevents the front wheels from spinning on slick pavement.
FIT AND FINISH
Buick has crafted a very comfortable and stylish interior for the new Park Avenue. It retains many traditional Buick touches, such as six-passenger seating, column shifter and acres of head, leg and shoulder room.
Inprevious years, Buick – as well as other GM divisions – had trouble getting the ergonomics on its interiors right. Switches and buttons would be obscured or hard to reach; seats would be uncomfortable; seat belts would cut across your neck.
All those maladies are gone in the new Park Avenue.
From the moment you settle into the driver’s seat and reach for the seat belt, you know that Buick’s interior designers put some serious thought into making this car right for its intended market. They didn’t just pick out corporate parts from the GM bin and cobble it together.
I particularly like the dash, instruments and layout of the controls. The speedometer and tachometer are flanked by a set of warning lights placed around the perimeter of the gauges. A series of buttons on the left of the instrument pack calls up vital information, such as fuel data, oil change information and the trip odometer. This information is shown in a brightly lit numerals.
Like a Mercedes or BMW, the seat belts in the Park Avenue are integrated into the seat. No more reaching for the belt on the pillar between the doors. The seat belt is a very comfortable fit.
Our test car came with bench seats that proved to be comfortable during several long trips. They are electrically adjustable and include power lumbar supports.
The driver can control the radio and air conditioning system with his or her thumbs by using the buttons on the steering wheel. Front seat passengers can set the temperature on their side of the car by moving a lever on the dash just above the glove box.
All these things, as well as the built-in garage door opener in the roof panel, the full array of power accessories, the fold-out cupholders and the interior grab handle above the passenger’s doors help make the Park Avenue a very user-friendly automobile for older drivers.
Specifications: Base price: $29,995. Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, side-impact protection, front and rear crumple zones. Price as tested: $32,535. EPA rating: 19 mpg city/28 highway. Incentives: None.
Truett’s tip: The Park Avenue is a comfortable, well-equipped, quiet, roomy sedan that delivers excellent performance and pleasing handling.