New Car/Review

1997 Buick Riviera

by John Heilig

buick

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL:  Buick Riviera
ENGINE:  3.8-liter supercharged V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  240 hp @ 5,200 rpm/230 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:  18 mpg city,  27 mpg highway,  16.7 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  113.8 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  207.2 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:  54.6 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  75.0 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3,759 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:  20.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  17.4 cu. ft.
TIRES:   P225/60R16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, 
             digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, 
           cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, 
           anti-lock braking, dual air bags, lumbar support, traction control, 
           theft deterrent system, leather seats, heated seats.
STICKER PRICE: $34,790

Buick's Riviera (or, more properly, The Riviera by Buick) has always been a unique vehicle among Buick's normally more staid sedans. True, Buick also had the GNX hot rod a few years ago and has held its own in the muscle car arena, but the image of Buick is one of sober sedans.

But the Riviera is a coupe and has always been a coupe. It's sort of like the Ford Thunderbird in that it remains an anomaly (oops, the Thunderbird is dead, isn't it). Buick is responding to this anomaly with some "attitude" commercials promoting the Riv as the vehicle for people whose children have grown and left the nest and who have "earned" the Riv. It may work.

Riviera is dressed in one of the more beautiful designs to come from the pen of former head of the large car studio, Bill Porter, and his department. It resembles the Oldsmobile Aurora, with which it shares a platform, but the aerodynamics of the Buick are slightly different and make a separate statement. When I first saw the car several years ago, I was put off by the "shoulders" on the front and rear fenders. My initial thought was that these ridges took away from the overall smoothness of the front end.

But those shoulders have grown on me. They give the Riviera a unique look as well as channeling air up and over the windshield. I'm not one to tell Bill Porter how to design a car, but I thought he might have slipped a bit in his old age (he's actually younger than I am). Now, I look on the design as a classic and wonder why the Aurora doesn't have shoulders.

Riviera is powered by the 3.8-liter supercharged Stage II 3800 engine that delivers 240 horsepower. The engine drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox. Shifts are not glass-smooth, but with the supercharged engine there is a feeling of power and a sense that something is happening under your right foot. I drove the Riviera the same week the Acura 3.0Cl was in the driveway. While I feel that the Acura is one of the quickest cars I have driven recently, the Riviera, although it was larger and bigger, came close. True, the two cars are in different classes, but the Riviera, with its engine and transmission, is also quick.

There's nothing exotic about the suspension. It features MacPherson struts up front and uses a semi-trailing arm design in the rear. Hard driving on winding roads is okay, but the car could have a stiffer suspension for more serious driving. But it's on the highway where the Riviera shines, with a compliance to the suspension that offers a comfortable ride with good straight-line stability. The suspension does feature automatic leveling.

Passengers ride in leather-covered seats. the front passengers have heated seats, which are an asset on cold mornings. And like the exterior of the car, the interior is beautifully designed and crafted. Instrumentation is the standard, with a speedometer, tachometer, fuel and water gauges. The HVAC controls are clearly labeled. Radio controls are mounted on the steering wheel, which means that you don't have to take your eyes from the road when you're changing stations.

I had one complaint with the Riviera, and it was a small one. Whenever I opened and closed the door and resumed driving, there was a whistle coming from the window area. An air leak had developed. To cure it, I had to lower the window an inch or two and then move it back up. I know this isn't a big problem (I once owned a car that had the driver's door held on with a piece of rope), but it was the only problem with this marvelous car.

If you're getting older and developing an attitude you never had when you were younger, the Riviera by Buick might be a car to look at. At $37,000 it's not cheap, but it may be worth the money.

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