New Car/Review

1997 Oldsmobile Cutlass GLS with 1998 Updates

by Carey Russ

Oldsmobile

Oldsmobile has been refocused as the import-fighting division of General Motors, and its newest Cutlass is a fine example of this strategy. The 1997 Oldsmobile Cutlass has the feel of an import and the value of an American car, with a very comprehensive list of standard features.

"Cutlass" is a venerable name in the Oldsmobile line, but don't confuse the new Cutlass with anything else ever to use the name. The 1997 Cutlass is a brand new automobile, built on a new platform. It replaces the long-lived Ciera. The Cutlass is a family sedan that may look small on the outside but has plenty of room inside. It has more interior space than any of the popular midsized imports, and in GLS trim comes fully-equipped with leather upholstery and most popular comfort and convenience features. Power is from a torquey 3.1-liter V6.

A recent week with a 1997 Olds Cutlass GLS was sandwiched between time with some popular imports. The Cutlass compared well, and on more than price. "Value" can be an overused term, but it is well used in describing the Cutlass. I found it to be well-made, roomy, quiet, and comfortable, with good daily-use performance and fuel economy. I was impressed.

APPEARANCE: The Cutlass is from the conservative branch of the Oldsmobile styling department, more akin to the Eighty-Eight and LSS than the space-age Aurora and Intrigue. It is handsome in a subtle way, and one look at the large, arched passenger cabin shows it to be a contemporary General Motors product. A close exterior examination reveals that the new Cutlass is far less generic than it first appears. The "double bubble" outline of the headlights is carried back into the front fenders, and there is a subtle crease in the center of the hood. Between the headlights, twin "D"-shaped nostrils show kinship to the LSS. The new Oldsmobile logo is prominently displayed, but, as is the case with Oldsmobiles these days, the corporate name appears nowhere on the exterior. The sides are gently sculpted, and feature healthy rub strips for protection in parking lots. Small, rigid mudflaps behind the front and rear wheels protect the bodywork. The character line in the front fenders continues under the arched passenger cabin to make a crisp "ducktail" upturn at the rear of the car, balancing the otherwise rounded corners and edges.

COMFORT: The Cutlass GLS gives its imported competition a real run for the money in interior comfort and appointment. Leather on the seating surfaces and steering wheel cover helps give a feel of luxury beyond the suggested retail price. Air conditioning, an AM/FM/cassette sound system, power-adjustable front bucket seats, windows, and mirrors, and remote keyless entry add high value content as well. All of this is standard equipment. The high equipment level would mean little if the interior design and quality were poor; fortunately this is not the case. The Cutlass has a functional, modern interior with quality materials and finish. It is larger than competitive imports. Small but important details including useful, strategically- located cupholders and storage spaces make it a good car for errands, commuting, or even long family vacations. Three medium-sized people can fit in the back seat, although two are better for distances. Releases for the split folding rear seat are in the large, low-liftover trunk for added security.

SAFETY: The new Olds Cutlass has safety-cage chassis construction, energy-absorbent knee bolsters and steering column, side-guard door beams, and dual airbags. Antilock brakes are standard equipment, as are daytime running lights.

ROADABILITY: The Cutlass is most impressive on the road. Once, not too long ago, American family car suspensions sacrificed control to ride comfort, and that comfort was marginal on bumpy roads because of suspension softness. The Olds Cutlass is not like that at all. It is as good or better than any of its Japanese competition in ride comfort and handling. Its fully-independent suspension has a very good ride quality and a high degree of control. There is no harshness over bumps. No more overassisted, vague power steering, either. The Cutlass is not a sports sedan, but it is maneuverable. Standard antilock brakes help it stop quickly and controllably.

PERFORMANCE: Only the Cutlass's engine seems to compare unfavorably with the foreign competition. "Seems to" is the operative term here, because although the 3.1-liter, cast iron, pushrod overhead valve V6 is far from a cutting-edge piece of technology, it works, and works well for American driving conditions. With 155 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, it is not underpowered. It is smooth and refined, and goes a long way on a gallon of gasoline. It is matched to a smooth- acting 4-speed automatic transmission.

CONCLUSIONS: The new Cutlass shows that Oldsmobile is alive and well.

1998 UPDATE: Since the Cutlass was a new car for 1997, don't expect major changes for 1998. There are minor differences in trim, options, and mechanical details. The most significant new feature for 1998 is depowered airbags.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 19,225
Price As Tested          $ 19,911
Engine Type              V6, pushrod ohv, 12 valves
Engine Size              3.1 liters / 191 cu. in.
Horsepower               155 @ 5200
Torque (lb-ft)           185 @ 4000
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled
automatic
Wheelbase / Length       107.0 in. / 192.0 in.
Curb Weight              2982 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    19.2
Fuel Capacity            15.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular
Tires                    P215 / 60R15 Firestone Affinity
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / drum, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
independent tri-link
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      20 / 29 / 25
0 to 60 mph                        9.0 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                    16.6 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)           n/a

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

CA/MA/NY emissions equipment        $ 170
credit for assist handle delete    ($ 9)
Destination Charge                  $ 525

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