EXPERT REVIEW

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Subtle is good.

You get the message. You don’t have to share it with everyone else.

That is the difference between the 2001 Oldsmobile Aurora and its predecessor, which was introduced in 1994.

Back then, Oldsmobile was fading. Its cars were dowdy. Its sales hit bottom. It needed something shocking to get attention. It went the Jennifer Lopez route — in-your-face sexy. It worked.

Oldsmobile’s sales moved up. The Aurora brought a new vitality to this once-moribund division of General Motors Corp. The Aurora begat the Intrigue and the Alero — mid-size and compact front-wheel-drive cars that are well styled and globally competitive.

But you can’t run around forever in a show-all dress. It gets old — like the bulging-in-all-the-right-places, more-muscular-than-thou exterior that characterized the early Aurora. It was sexy, but it lacked romance.

That has been corrected in the new model, which is shorter, lighter, more nimble, less obvious and more embracing than the older car. You can drive this one and talk with it, too.

The Aurora’s designers and marketers hope the changes will attract a broader customer base. The earlier model drew mostly men. But women also have libidos and money. The new Aurora is aimed at them as well.

The lure involves more than the new car’s quiet, more intimate design, a theme carried into its simplified yet sumptuous interior.

In the past, if you wanted an Aurora, you got a V-8. Now, you have the option of ordering a highly competent, more fuel-efficient V-6. “Not everyone is looking for a V-8,” said John Gatt, the Aurora’s marketing chief.

Oldsmobile’s surveys show that older men, in their 50s or so, prefer V-8s. It’s a mixture of testosterone and cash. Older guys tend to make more money than younger guys, and they most assuredly, as a group, make more money than women.

“The V-6 will not only appeal to a younger audience, but it also will help bring a greater number of women into the Aurora mix,” Gatt said. Here’s why: The V-6 Aurora costs $4,000 less than the V-8.

I spent most of my time in the big-engined Aurora. What can I say? I’m a guy — not terribly well-moneyed, but, hey, upward mobility is hampered by dreaming down. I had a chance to dream up. I took it.

I had a heck of a good time, too. The car had a cappuccino-colored exterior and a tan cabin, accented by genuine walnut veneer and supple leather seats, which, of course, could be heated in cold weather. Simple, flowing lines dominated the interior. The feel was personal, as if the car had been designed expressly for me.

“Shorter” means the new V-8 Aurora has six inches less length than the older model. It’s also 165 pounds lighter. The V-6 car has the same length as the new V-8, but its weight drops 285 pounds below that of the older car.

But that shortness and lightness of being does not compromise interior comfort. The lightn ess, in fact, combines with tightness to create a more rigid body, improving handling, which is saying a lot in the case of the Aurora. The old car was pretty darn good in the curves. The new test model was excellent, yielding no evidence of errant body sway or roll.

Driving it was like a good dance — a very good dance. Subtle. Sensual. Pleasing.

Nuts & Bolts

2001 Oldsmobile Aurora Complaints: Some passengers in the test car disagreed with my assessment of the new Aurora’s interior comfort. They were tall people, about 6 feet. I’m about six inches shorter. Tall types in the front and rear said they felt cramped. I didn’t, but I’ll take their word for it.

Praise: An excellent reinterpretation of the original. It’s well crafted and loaded with standard equipment, including automatic air conditioning with individual settings for driver and front passenger, all power options (seats, windows, locks, etc.), and s tandard 17-inch -diameter aluminum wheels, shod with Michelin tires.

Head-turning quotient: A Republican with sex appeal.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Ride complaints from tall types already noted. Nothing but praise for the V-8 Aurora’s acceleration and handling. The car stops well, too. Standard anti-lock brakes include power four-wheel discs.

Capacities: Seats five people. Trunk capacity is 14.9 cubic feet. Fuel capacity in the V-8 Aurora is 17.5 gallons — and regular unleaded gasoline works just fine.

Drivetrains: The 4-liter V-8 develops 250 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. The 3.5-liter V-6 produces 215 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 230 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.

Price: The base price of the V-8 Aurora is $34,305. Dealer invoice is $31,389. Price as tested is $34,975, including a $670 destination charge. Base for the V-6 is $30,130, with a dealer invoice of $27,569. The same destination charge applies.

Purse-strings note: Compare with Audi A6, Chrysler 300M, Lexus GS, Lincoln LS/Jaguar S-Type.

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