This is the tale of two Buicks.
I drove a rental Century in Las Vegas recently. It was what I’ve come to expect from a rental car — white, of course, and almost completely without neat features and a little tattered around the edges.
It’s the kind of car, quite frankly, that would quickly convince potential buyers that they didn’t need to buy a Buick Century.
Then, even more recently, I drove the Century 2000 Special Edition. Now here was a car that might attract some buyers. It came equipped with leather seats, a CD player and a sunroof. It had automatic air conditioning, steering-wheel-mounted radio controls and cruise control.
This one even had special decals on the inside and the outside that said “Century 2000,” a clever marketing ploy to cash in on the coming of the new century. Not ones to be subtle about this, Buick put these special logos on the headrests and the floor mats and the doors and the tail lamps and the instrument panel.
One of the ways I’ve always evaluated cars is how well they stand up without all the adornments that tend to make all cars a bit more likable. And, obviously, the Century does poorly on this score.
It reminded me, in fact, of what I’ve come to think of as old GM, the type of cars that General Motors built in the early ’90s that were without much character or individuality. Yes, I’m talking about the so-called cookie-cutter cars.
Who would be happy with a bare-bones Century, like the one I rented in Las Vegas? Its exterior styling is drab. Its interior is even worse with spongy fabric seats, an uninspired instrument panel and a completely ordinary driving experience.
At least the Century 2000 Special Edition reflected something more that a buyer could like. The leather-covered seats were much nicer and the upgraded stereo and air conditioning tended to improve the overall environment.
Perhaps it was these upgrades that allowed me to appreciate things like the car’s 175-horsepower 3.1-liter V-6 engine. GM engineers have tinkered with the engine to improve its performance — horsepower up 15 from 1999 and torque up 10 to 195 pound-feet — while making it run smoother. Highway fuel mileage increases to 30 mph, too.
The Century’s soft ride, on the other hand, in both the rental version and the 2000 Special Edition, seems out of step with what most automakers are offering buyers these days.
In terms of a four-door, midsize sedan that could appeal to California buyers, the Century falls short. It’s hard to see an Accord or Camry buyer considering a Century, even if it represents a better value.
Indeed, a handful of other GM midsize sedans, such as the Chevy Impala, the Oldsmobile Intrigue, the Pontiac Grand Prix and even Buick’s own Regal are stronger products in terms of execution and suitability to Golden State tastes.
GM points out that the Century has owners who are among the most loyal in the business. In fact, the car in 1998 won the Polk Automotive Loyalty Award for having the highest customer loyalty rate in the midsize segment. Perhaps those owners like the sameness, the familiarity of the Century, but those are the same traits that tend to keep new owners away.
What we drove: 2000 Buick Century Limited 2000 Special Edition, a midsize sedan with a 3.1-liter V-6 engine and a four-speed automatic transmission.
Base price: $21,737
Price as tested (includes options and delivery charge): $25,075
Curb weight: 3,371 pounds
Length: 194.6 inches
Turning circle (curb to curb): 37.5 feet
Standard features: Driver front and side and passenger front air bags, anti-lock brakes, daytime running lights, theft-deterrent system, traction control system, tire air pressure monitor, tilt steering, air conditioning, air filtration system, AM/FM stereo, power driver’s seat.
Options on test vehicle: 2000 Special Edition package with leather seats, cruise control, utomatic air conditioning, steering-wheel radio controls, upgraded stereo with cassette and CD player, passenger’s power seat, split folding rear seat and 2000 emblems on exterior and interior, sunroof.
EPA figures: 20 mpg (city), 30 mpg (highway)