EXPERT REVIEW

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FANTASY tells us to go out and buy one. Tuition tells us to take areality check. But our fantasy ain’t all funky. We know what we like inthe Brown household; and as soon as a couple of people graduate, ourmoney’s going to Oldsmobile instead of Barnard.

At least, that’s what we think; and we think so because folks aroundhere have gone bonkers over the 1995 Aurora sedan.

Even skeptical daughter No. 1. Like others of her generation, t’ain’tmuch good you can tell her about American metal. Her idea of arrival isa BMW 525i. She figures she’ll have to drive a few used Hondas, andpossibly a few Hyundai models to get there. But she’s “willing” tobypass the pain of waiting for BMW if she could do so in an Aurora –the first time she’s ever expressed a willingness to be seen long-termin an American car.

Skeptical daughter No. 2 is off doing her summer thing in Michigan.First “real” full-time job and all. She heard that the Aurora had dockedat home and went nuts on the phone. “Oh, really, really? Wow! And I’mnot there? Oh, wow! Can you get it back for, ahmm, Christmas?” Guess wewon’t see her for Thanksgiving.

Then there’s my man, the son, the only other dude in the bunch. He’sdoing his thing in Virginia, “finding myself,” he says, and adds that hecould complete the search more quickly behind the wheel of an Aurora.

Ah, yes, the spouse-person. As I’m writing this, she’s getting theAurora gassed, something she rarely does for cars that visit ourdriveway. But the pumps must be runnin’ slow. She left three hours ago.Betcha’ any money the Aurora comes back at least a quarter-tank empty.

Background: The front-wheel-drive, four-passenger Aurora has beenbilled as the savior of Oldsmobile, a General Motors car division that’shad its troubles. The Aurora alone won’t do the job. It’s a luxuryrunner, which means it competes in only about 12 percent of the U.S. carmarket. That’s too restrictive a field to turn a mass marketer around.

But, hey, if Oldsmobile can do to its other cars what it did to theAurora — if it can endow its lesser models with that same overallattention to detail, sassiness and feel — look out! We’re talkin’ majorcomeback!

But Oldsmobile might not be around to share the glory — not becausethe division is going out of business, but because the Oldsmobile nameis doing a disappearing act as the division’s cars get better. It’s areputational thing.

Unfortunately, over the years, some bad products and poor dealershipperformance have messed up the Oldsmobile name — so much so that lotsof folks began equating the Olds nameplate and its accompanying rocketlogo with bad quality and bad treatment. Thus, you won’t find an Oldsrocket on the Aurora; and you’ll have to hunt for the Olds name,discreetly located above the lower control buttons on the car’s soundsystem.

The Aurora is equipped with a four-liter, 32-valve, doubleoverhead-cam V-8 rated 250 horsepower at 5,600 rpm. Torque is set at 260foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm. The engine is derived from Cadillac’s superbNorthstar system.

Bountiful standard features include dual-front air bags, four-speedautomatic transmission, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock backup,four-wheel independent suspension, and traction control.

Complaints: The curvature of the rear window in the car distorts theshape of cars and trucks behind you. The trucks look like tanks and thecars all appear to be made by Lamborghini. Oldsmobile technoids say theyare working with another rear-window design.

Praise: Superior overall build. Solid, tight, rattle-free. In termsof build, it rivals anything from any luxcar manufacturer anywhere.Simple, elegant, functional interior design. Exceptionally comfortableon long trips. An exceptionally smooth and quiet engine. Fast. Verrryfast.

Head-turning quotient: Corporate conflict-of-interest rulesprohibited me from selling tickets to sit in the Aurora, touch it, feelit. I could’ve ade enough money to pay first-semester tuitions.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Triple aces. Excellent braking, too.

Mileage: About 23 to the gallon (20-gallon tank, estimated 445-milerange on usable volume of required premium unleaded), combinedcity-highway, running with one to four occupants and 200 pounds ofluggage in the 16-cubic-feet trunk.

Sound system: Bodacious six-speaker Bose system with radio, cassetteand compact disc.

Price: Base price is $31,370. Dealer’s invoice on base model is$29,017. Price as tested is $32,266, including $671 for the optionalBose sound system and a $625 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Considering quality, content, performance andprice, the Aurora beats the Acura Legend, Lexus GS300, Audi 100, Volvo960, Mazda Millenia and Mazda 929. But it won’t woo my oldest daughteror anyone else away from the BMW 525i or the Mercedes-Benz C280 sedan.

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