New Car/Review

1997 Buick Park Avenue Ultra

by CAREY RUSS

buick

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide


April 6, 1997

The Park Avenue name has graced cars in Buick showrooms for a number of years now. But the 1997 version is a completely different Park Avenue from all that have come before. Slightly larger and roomier than its immediate predecessor, it is now based on a refined, second generation of the chassis and suspension systems introduced in the current Riveria coupe. It draws character from both the now-defunct Roadmaster, the last of the old Buicks, and the first of the company's future, the latest Riviera. It points toward a fine future for Buick.

Buick is undergoing a revitalization. The 1997 model year is, as company spokespeople say, "the year Buick is putting it all together." From now on, Buicks will have more unique character while keeping to their mission as distinctively American, affordable luxury cars. The newest Park Avenue is a good illustration of this. In style and appointment, it can only be American, yet it can appeal to import intenders and traditional Buick customers alike. It will not be confused with any other automobile on the road.

As before, standard Park Avenue and well-equipped Park Avenue Ultra models are offered. Most options on the standard model are standard equipment on the Ultra. Both use the 3800 Series II V6 engine, but that of the Ultra is supercharged.

I was most impressed with the 1997 Park Avenue Ultra that recently graced my driveway. It combined quiet, understated luxury with performance and surprisingly good ride and handling. APPEARANCE: The newest Park Avenue simultaneously shows a stylistic nod to the late Roadmaster and a very strong Riviera influence. It is a sleek but substantial combination of rounded forms offset by crisp angles. The classic Buick chromed oval, vertically-barred "waterfall" grille and large, wraparound light clusters evoke those on the previous Park Avenue and Roadmaster. The crisply-angled top of the fender line, the bulge of the rear fenders, and the shape of the rear panel and full-width taillights, are more than slightly reminiscent of the Riviera. The fender, hood, and rear deck treatment is particularly interesting, with the flat planes of the inner fenders contrasting against the rounded shape of the hood, passenger cabin, and trunk lid. Discreet brightwork gives the look of understated elegance. The standard Park Avenue has a free-standing hood ornament; that of the Ultra is integrated into the grille. COMFORT: Inside, the Park Avenue Ultra blends classic American luxury with contemporary design. Leather seating surfaces and wood trim set the tone. Softly-padded split contoured bench front and contoured bench rear seats provide more than ample room for four people, and will handle up to six easily. The heated front seats are power-adjustable with a two-position memory. There is a convenient fold-down front console. A similar rear console also provides ski-passthrough access to the trunk. Rear passengers get heater vents, seat storage pockets, ashtrays and lighters, and vanity mirrors. A hooded, wraparound instrument panel places gauges and controls in easy-to-reach locations. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is manually adjustable; mirrors, windows, and door locks are power-operated. Inside as well as out, the 1997 Ultra is elegant and functional. SAFETY: The 1997 Buick Park Avenue has safety-cage body construction and dynamic side impact protection. In the event that either of the front air bags are deployed, the doors will unlock automatically in 15 seconds. Front 3-point safety belts anchor to the seats for better fit. Brakes are 4-wheel antilock discs, with traction control standard on the Ultra.

ROADABILITY: The 1997 Park Avenue Ultra is a very relaxing touring car, a boulevard cruiser that doesn't lose its composure on the scenic route. The optional Gran Touring suspension is calibrated to give the smooth, comfortable ride valued by American luxury car owners and the control, handling, and road feel wanted by imported luxury car customers. It succeeds remarkably well. The Ultra is not a sports sedan, but the Ultra owner just may find excuses to take the long way home.

PERFORMANCE: Buick's 3800 Series II V6 is a wonderful example of the benefits of continuous refinement. It is a simple cast-iron, pushrod powerplant that can hold its own against any overhead-cam engine. The 240-horsepower supercharged variant in the Park Avenue Ultra is a near-perfect high-performance luxury car engine. It is smooth and quiet. Unlike the case with most turbocharged engines, power is available immediately at any engine speed with no lag. With real-world gas mileage figures of around 18 mpg in city driving and 24 on the highway, the Park Avenue Ultra combines V8 performance with V6 fuel economy.

CONCLUSIONS: With the newest Park Avenue, Buick is returning to its roots as a maker of distinctive luxury cars.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price              $ 34,995
Price As Tested         $ 36,105
Engine Type             supercharged pushrod ohv V6
Engine Size             3.8 liters / 231 cu.in. 
Horsepower              240 @ 5200
Torque (lb-ft)          280 @ 3600
Transmission            4-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length      113.8 in. / 206.8 in.
Curb Weight             3,879 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   16.2
Fuel Capacity           19.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement        premium unleaded, 91 octane recommended
Tires                   P225/60 R16 Goodyear Eagle LS
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut /independent with  
                        semi-trailing arms
Drivetrain              front engine, front-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed      18 / 27 / 22
0 to 60 mph                    8.2 sec
 mile (E.T.)                  16 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)       0.32 

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