The Morning Call and's view

Naming a car after an expensive or exotic place is very Fifties. So, even if the Buick Park Avenue Ultra doesn’t strike you as a Fifties car at first glance, it has many of the characteristics that the Man in the Gray Flannel suit would adore.

While the previous generation seemed to scream Jaguar, this time out the stylists focused on Buick design cues. That doesn’t mean that Buick’s classic venti-ports (or mouse holes) are coming back.

But the Park Avenue carries a key styling point from its sister ship, the Riviera. A continuous crease runs from the headlights across the top of the fenders through the doors and into the rear fenders. Tail lamps span the rear, while the front end gets Buick’s traditional chromey grille. The rear quarter windows have been banished and door handles now are flush-mounted. It’s a solid, conservative appearance that nicely updates the substantial presence this car has. There’s nothing flashy, but it is clearly a Buick.

Big-car lovers crave an auto with guts, one that screams from the minute they step on the gas pedal. Filling the engine bay are the same choices as last year, the 3.8-liter V6 in the base Park Avenue, supercharged in the up-level Ultra. They deliver 205 horsepower and 240 horsepower, respectively.

Both put their power down through a four-speed electronic automatic transmission that delivers the smooth shifts for which GM automatics are famous. To state it simply: transmission behavior is excellent, without any hesitation or rubbery shift feel that’s so common with many automatic transmissions.

Braking is courtesy of four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, and they’re a big improvement over last year’s. Stops are short, accompanied by some nose-dive, although it’s not excessive. Traction control is standard on the Ultra, optional on the Park Avenue. Despite the traction control, you can make the front tires sing on hard acceleration. The magnetic power steering had little road feel and requires a lot of turning to get its job done.

But it’s comfort and coddling that big-car lovers want. And in true Fifties fashion, the Park Avenue is awash in automatic power conveniences with names that seem more silly than sellable. Primary among them is Personal Choice, an option that can be individually programmed to remember mirror and seat positions, automatic door lock operations, set perimeter lighting, door locks, security systems, radio station presets, and climate-control settings. It’s all operated by the remote keyless entry. The perimeter lighting is GM’s long-featured Twilight Sentinel. EyeCue, an electronic heads-up display that shows information in the windshield in front of the driver, is an option. Information is also available via a driver’s information center mounted just below speedometer, tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges, all of which are bigger than last year and easier to read.

A tire-pressure monitor alerts the driver if a tire needs air. A modular overhead console holds a programmable garage door opener. A filtration system removes pollen from the air.

Needless to say, there are lots of power gadgets here to keep one entertained.

And the entertainment is needed, for this is not known as a driver’s car, even if it comes closer than any previous big Buick. Driving is of the point-and-shoot variety and very easy and uninvolved. Ride comfort is still paramount, even in the somewhat snubbed-down Ultra. Although it’s not wallowy, it does have its share of body lean. It will hang in there as you carve through the corners, even though steering and braking are power numbed.

Handling is drastically improved over last year’s, thanks mostly to the fact that this big Buick now shares its chassis with the Buick Riviera, an ultra-stiff chassis that gives the car a firm, well-built feel.

More entertainment can be had with the 150-watt audio system. Certainly Steve and Eydie never so nded better. With duplicate steering-wheel controls, this system is pretty easy to operate, even if its plethora of small buttons is confusing.

The look of the dash is much more refined and integrated. It’s not so luxurious looking as some competitors, but it’s very functional. The seats are covered in a luxurious feeling leather and optional seat heaters are available for the front seat passengers.

Buick has done a great job of updating the traditional American big barge to 1990s standards. With good power, good looks and lots of gadgets, this is one road-going living room that delivers heavy dollops of the good life.

But then, if you bought your first car during the Eisenhower administration, you’d expect nothing less.

PARK AVENUE ULTRA Standard: 3.8-liter supercharged V6, four-speed automatic transmission, dual air bags, power four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, traction control, remote keyless entry, child security locks, magnetic variable power steering, auto-level suspension control, aluminum wheels, automatic climate control with dual controls, air filtration system, rear window antenna, cell phone readiness package, driver information center, three-channel garage door opener, auto dim rearview mirror, heated auto dim electric outside remote mirrors, AM/FM cassette CD audio system, rear seat pass-through, leather seating surfaces, 10-way power heated front seats, power windows with express driver’s down, two-speed moisture sensing wipers, auxiliary power outlet, delayed interior lighting, theft deterrent system with alarm, retained power. Options: Personal Choice, Gran Touring Package (touring suspension, P225/60R16 blackwall touring tires with aluminum wheels), premium audio system, rearview mirror compass. Base price: $34,995 As tested: $35,935 EPA rating: 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway Test mileage: 22 mpg

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