Orlando Sentinel's view

It’s not hard to imagine where Oldsmobile engineers came up with the inspiration for the Premiere Edition of the Silhouette minivan.

They were probably standing in the aisle of a Circuit City or a Radio Shack when they were struck with this idea: Why not make a minivan that’s designed to keep the kids occupied while the parents concentrate on driving?

The result is the industry’s first luxury minivan that comes from the factory with a built-in video system that can play movies or any number of video games.

What a nifty idea.


The Silhouette comes with a 3.4-liter pushrod V-6 engine, which is rated at 185-horsepower, and a four-speed automatic transmission. No other drivetrains are available.

Performance is robust but civilized. You can hear the engine gulping air – perhaps a bit more than you’d like – when the accelerator is floored, but overall the Silhouette goes about its business in a refined manner.

Power comes on strong and smooth at low speeds and keeps building with no peaks or valleys. The transmission’s shifts are nearly seamless.

Traction control is standard. The system is on all the time. It activated inadvertently when I drove over sand on the corner of a road. Once a sensor detects wheel slippage, the engine throttles back automatically and a light on the dash lets you know traction is low. The system works well.

Silhouette comes with a 20-gallon fuel tank. That means you can probably go between 400 and 500 miles between fill ups – excellent for long trips. In combined city/highway driving, the Silhouette delivered 22 mpg.

For the most part, the Silhouette handles like a sporty midsize sedan. The ride is a bit firmer than that of a Ford Windstar or Chrysler Town & Country. That comes in handy when rounding a corner quickly. The body doesn’t lean much.

However, the suspension system makes a bit of noise as the van rolls over medium-size bumps.

Our van came with Olds’ touring suspension, which has a self-leveling feature. If you load the back of the van with people and cargo – as I did on a Christmas shopping excursion – the system keeps the Silhouette from sagging in the rear.

Power rack-and-pinion steering and power-assisted anti-lock front disc/rear drum brakes are standard. Both systems worked well. But on a luxury vehicle that sells for about 31 grand, I’d like to see four-wheel disc brakes standard. If Chevy can make them standard on the Silverado, which starts at $16,000, Olds can do the same on a van that costs nearly twice as much.


The best way to test the Silhouette is to put some kids in the back and let them try out the video system. If adults can drive in peace, then the system is worth the price, I reasoned.

They can and it is.

I had two test-drive helpers, Richie, 8, and Christopher, 7, go with me on a test cruise. I popped a cartoon into the VCR player, which is located below the radio on the floor in t he center of the dash. We plugged the boys’ headphones into the jacks, folded the LCD screen down from the roof and set out.

It works. The kids were occupied. The adults could carry on a conversation. With the proper adaptor, the Silhouette’s video system could accept nearly all of the popular game systems, such as Sony’s Playstation.

Rear seat passengers also have their own air-conditioning system and radio controls. The second row of seats consists of two captain’s chairs, while the third row is a bench seat.

Our test van came with soft leather upholstery, which gave the vehicle’s interior a warm ambiance. Power-everything is standard on this van.

There’s a CD player, alarm system, automatic headlights, cruise control and much more.

Despite the large number of accessories, the Silhouette Premiere is very user- friendly. The buttons, switches and controls are easy to reach and use. For instance, you can adjust the radio using the buttons on the steering wh eel. The crui se control system is operated by buttons on the turn signal lever.

There was a time when it looked as if the Oldsmobile division of General Motors might not pull through a severe sales slump. Now it is one of GM’s fastest growing divisions.

The Silhouette is one reason why Olds’ sales are ahead of last year – even though a strike choked off the supply for more than two months. Through October, Silhouette sales were 31,049 for the year, compared to just 19,137 for the same 10 months of 1997.

1999 Oldsmobile Silhouette Premiere Edition

Base price: $30,875. Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, daytime running lights and side-impact protection. Price as tested: $31,445. EPA rating: 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. Incentives: None.

Truett’s tip: In the Silhouette Premiere Edition, Oldsmobile has created a unique luxury minivan. It’s packed with a strong drivetrain and plush interior and a long list of accessories. All this comes at a reasonable price.

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