1998 OLDSMOBILE INTRIGUE
by Marc Rauch
I have to admit it, I've been one of those people who typically looks upon Oldsmobiles as "my father's" or "my grandfather's" car: even after all those years of TV advertising telling me that it "wasn't....anymore".
And so it was with some skepticism that I accepted Oldsmobile's kind invitation to participate in their Centennial ride and drive at the Lafayette Park Hotel near San Francisco. Three vehicles were presented for the approval of about a dozen or so automotive journalists from Northern California: Cutlass, Silhouette mini van, and the all new Intrigue.
I found both the Cutlass and Silhouette visually very appealing and chock full of some very cool creature features. One such feature on the Silhouette are the drinking cup holders embedded into the rear fold down seats. The holders have been cleverly designed to accept round containers, like coffee cups, as well as rectangular shaped containers, like those little juice cartons that are so popular with kids (and their parents) now-a-days.
But the vehicle that really caught my eye was Oldsmobile's 1998 Intrigue. Firstly, as the Old's spokesman pointed out, there's very little "jewelry" on the Intrigue's exterior. Other than Oldsmobile's new logo (which is not immediately recognizable if you've had the old logo burned into your brain like I've had) on the wheel covers and center positions of the hood and trunk, there is no make or model identification. This, along with door handles that match the color of the car's paint, give the vehicle a sleek, clean look. I assume that the lack of easily identifiable logos and name plates was intentionally done to counteract existing biases about Oldsmobiles, such as the one I admitted to above. I'm sure the goal is to make someone stop, look at the car, and then ask the question (either silently or to the vehicle's owner), "What is this?". To which the hoped for responses would be, "An Oldsmobile Intrigue", and then "An Oldsmobile Intrigue! Wow, what a difference!"
Well, the gambit worked. The Intrigue's appearance made me ask the question, and utter the desired response; and I knew I was at an Oldsmobile function. I think what I like best about the Intrigue's design is it's wide look and fluted front and rear fenders. They give the car a Porsche-like look. It also reminds me of the vehicles used in IMSA sports car racing. Although this isn't the most popular form of auto racing, I've long believed that their cars are the best looking. The Intrigue shares its platform with the Pontiac Grand Prix. However, the Grand Prix shares none of the attractive appearance characteristics of the Intrigue. The Grand Prix has a dated 80's kind of look.
Inside, the Intrigue is roomy, and airy. It's a terrific example of "American comfortable". European and Japanese auto manufacturers do many things very well. But emulating the comfort of American cars has never been their long suit. The Intrigue has both the style and feel that a car should have. When starting the Intrigue, you are re-introduced to an old friend: the ignition switch is located on the dashboard, instead of the steering column (I hate to use the word "old" because it sounds like I haven't gotten past my preconceived image of Oldsmobile, but I can't think of a better word). I always liked the switch on the dashboard much better.
When security concerns forced manufacturers to put the ignition switch behind the steering wheel (to lock the wheel in place), it was like conceding defeat to the bad guys. To me, returning the ignition switch to the dashboard is like moving to the country and being able to leave your doors unlocked when you go into town. I swear the air smelled fresher when I placed the key in the switch.
Driving the Intrigue was a pleasure. The car easily accelerated through it gears with plenty of passing power. Again, I can only describe its ride as typical "American comfortable", and when making turns it kept its equilibrium. When slowing the Intrigue, and coming to a stop, I didn't experience any "boating" tendencies. The Intrigue drives as good as it looks. With it's sister model, the Aurora, Oldsmobile is really starting to change its "my father's car" image.