New Car/Review

1997 BUICK RIVIERA

By Matt/Bob Hagin

buick

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 32,910
     Price As Tested                                    $ 34,855
     Engine Type                             3.8 Liter V6 w/SFI*
     Engine Size                                  231cid/3791 cc
     Horsepower                                   205 @ 5200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               230 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                    113.8"/75"/207.2"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3747 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                    20 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P225/60R16
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                        Five-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                N/A percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/27/21          
     0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     16.9 seconds @ 87.2 mph
     Max towing capacity                                 1000lbs
     * Sequential fuel injection

(Bob Hagin has liked the new Buick Riviera since its inception and says it make the driver appear "successful." Matt Hagin liked the new one, but wished it was easier to install an infant seat in the rear.)

BOB - I was really into sports cars when the first Buick Riviera appeared in '63, Matt, and I liked the fact that it was understated and not gaudy like its then-current stablemates. It was fast, handled well and actually had a shorter wheelbase than the full-sized '63 Chevrolet. It was easy to drive, easy to park and always attracted attention on city streets.

MATT - That's sure changed in the latest version, Dad. At 113 inches, the Riviera is the longest Buick made this year. But it's mainly a four-seater and everyone inside rides in real luxury. The upholstery is leather, the wood trim is very posh and the whole thing is very much in the style of its forebearer. It isn't meant as a car for young families, though. There was just no way I could fit a baby seat in the back without making structural changes. The standard front seat is a bench with three-across seating, but our car was fitted with a pair of bucket seats. This is the most popular seat option which shows that the Riv is targeted for the couple whose only transportation requirement is themselves, and maybe an occasional double-date to the opera.

BOB - And if the driver has trouble parking next to the opera house, he'll get a little help from the passenger-side mirror, as long as he bought the Personal Choice version and specified the "automatic parallel parking assistance option", and when it's put in reverse, the door mirror on the passenger side slants down so that the driver can get a good look at how close he is to the curb. There's a couple of other items I liked, too, like having the radio controls on the steering wheel. The dual controls for the heat and air conditioning up front makes traveling for two less stressful since the driver and the front passenger can select what suites him or her the best. There's a battery run-down protector that shuts the system down when the battery is at risk from having some electrical item left on. Coming out of that opera and finding that the battery is dead would be a bother, since jump starting while wearing a tux is very un-cool.

MATT - All Rivieras carry a push-rod, 205 horsepower 3.8 liter V6 engine that is a somewhat antiquated but almost bullet-proof design. In fact, it can trace its ancestry back to the original V6 engine used in Buick cars from 1962. The last Riviera we tested was back in '95 and that one carried the optional Roots-type supercharger. It was the first year of this new body style and the car really created a sensation. I'm glad we did the un-supercharged version this time, because we can concentrate on the stuff that really matters to a mature driver. Traction control on this un-supercharged version is there to help control the car on ice and snow and not to keep lead-footed kids from burning the tread off the front tires. The same is true of the anti-skid brake system, or ABS as it's known, as it really helps under adverse conditions. But drivers need to know that ABS feels sort of weird when it's in operation. It feels "jerky," but it does its job well.

BOB - As I recall, we didn't think that the suspension on that Riv was up to the power of the engine. For this newest model, the suspension seems to have been tightened up. The transmission has been updated to produce smoother shifts and it has an internal electronically-controlled clutch that boosts the fuel mileage. The Riviera rides on a modified Olds Aurora chassis, which means that it profits from the structural rigidity that was the major aim in the design of the Aurora.

MATT - Dad, I've always liked Buicks. In fact, I owned a '68 Skylark in my high school days. It wasn't as classy as the Riviera of the same year, but it was sure fast. As you recall, I got lots of tickets in it when I was 17.

BOB - I remember very well and I guess that accounts for your comments about "street-racing teenagers" and "lead-footed kids."

MATT - We all grow up eventually, Dad. Even me.

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