The Detroit News's view

Oldsmobile’s fortunes are still uncertain. It just lost its lively, young general manager Karen Francis to a Silicon Valley dot-com. Its sales are down this year. It’s a dicey time to be messing with its leading image car, the flagship Aurora. But for 2001, the Aurora gets its first serious makeover, with the division’s designers and planner shopping to lure – surprise! – younger buyers and more females. The new Aurora is good. But Oldsmobile may not have ventured far enough if it was hoping to secure a stronger foothold in the competitive near-luxury segment.

She: I had lots of time to think about how Oldsmobile should appeal to women after I got a flat in the Aurora. Looking back, they scored major points with me with a driver information center on the dashboard that flashed “low tire pressure.” So I didn’t have to wait for some trucker to try to motion to me that something was going wrong. That was good, very consumer friendly. But I had difficulty with the spare-tire kit and jack. I thought it was just me, until a really sweet kid named Jason stopped and gave me a hand. He was a high school student taking auto shop and he had trouble, too. And we both commented that a sedan with a $34,485 sticker should come with a full-size spare, not just a measly temporary. And you guys thought appealing to women was all exterior design and hooks for our grocery bags.

He: You mean you weren’t impressed by that nice twin-cam 3.5-liter V-6 engine?

She: Actually, we had the good fortune to test-drive both versions of the new Aurora, including the 4.0 V-8 model. I found the V-6 to be perfectly adequate with its 215 horsepower. You don’t really need the extra 35 hp that the V-8 offers. But it’s there if you want it.

He: I think my biggest disappointment – and I almost hate to call it that – with the new Aurora is that it looks more bland and generic than the original Aurora. On the other hand, I’m delighted that the Oldsmobile designers gave it more style and class than either of its full-size siblings, the Buick LeSabre and the Pontiac Bonneville. I’m also grateful that Oldsmobile put a lot more room in the cabin, which makes this car considerably more comfortable for long-distance driving.

She: It’s funny, but I’ve always thought of the Aurora as a guy car, and my girlfriends who have an Aurora in the family seem to tend to stay out of it – it’s the domain of the husband. And I laughed to myself recently when I had to drive somewhere with a male hospital administrator. I played that mental game – what is he driving? And sure enough, he walked up to an older Aurora in the parking lot. Oldsmobile was smart to shave six inches off the body of the 2001 model, because I always found the old version slightly hard to maneuver and park. Oddly enough, it was big on the outside, but cramped on the inside. You’re right, they’ve fixed that. It’s a beautiful car. So why am I not drooling over it?

He: If it had a Nordstrom’s label, you probably would. But I foresee a problem. I think you were right that the original Aurora had a decidedly masculine appeal. The new one, I think, is a little too non-gender specific.

She: Wow, you’ve been hanging around with me too long.

He: No, I’m serious. Who gets to drive the new Aurora? Mom? Dad? The kids? I’m not sure anyone is going to have a burning desire to drive it, and that’s what I think the problem is.

She: On the safety front, all the new Auroras get front and side air bags. Traction control and rain-sensing wipers were optional on our test car. In fact, our Aurora had about $4,000 worth of options on it, including a passenger comfort package and a Bose premium audio system with a 12-disc CD changer in the trunk.

He: I don’t want readers to get the wrong impression. We really liked the Aurora, and would recommend it over many similar GM products. But for the money, the Chrysler 300M may be a better and more distinctively styled veh e.

2001 Oldsmobile Aurora

Anita’s rating: above average

Paul’s rating: above average

Likes: Slick new styling embraces Olds family look. Not as staid as LeSabre, nor as boy-racerish as Bonneville. Roomier, more luxurious cabin. Choice of big engines. Bigger than a Lincoln LS, for about the same money.

Dislikes: Lacks verve and character of original Aurora. Chrysler 300M may be a better, more distinctive car for the price. Needs a full-size spare. (Anita) Still not convinced of Aurora’s appeal to women.

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger near-luxury sedan.

Price: Base, $30,130; as tested, $34,485 (inc. $670 destination charge).

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6; 215-hp; 230 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,180 (*Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower,depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Orion Township, Mich.

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