Oldsmobile is America's oldest surviving automobile manufacturer, having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1997. Not long before that time, few industry-watchers expected it to make that milestone. Oldsmobile's survival depended on a serious makeover to become the midscale import-fighter division of General Motors.
The Aurora luxury-performance sedan was the first indication of the new Oldsmobile when it made its debut in the 1995 model year. It featured distinctive, futuristic styling and a state-of-the-art chassis and V8 engine. A hint of the future was given by the Antares show car. Auroralike in styling, but smaller, it foreshadowed a new midsized Oldsmobile sedan. That car is now here. It is the Intrigue, and is the perfect smaller sibling to the Aurora.
Stylistically and philosophically, the Intrigue is very much the junior edition of the Aurora. It does not attempt to be all things to all potential customers. Instead, it is focused on the upper range of the midsized sedan market, an area that is dominated by the premium, V6- powered imports. It meets those tough competitors head-to-head with a very competitive mix of high standard equipment level, V6 power, and agile handling. Among American midsized sedans, it is the most like the midsized imports in feel.
"One great car" is the Intrigue motto, meaning one body style, one drivetrain, and a high level of equipment. Air conditioning, antilock brakes and traction control, alloy wheels, and power accessories are standard equipment on every Intrigue. The GL model adds upscale items like automatic dual-zone climate control and available interior and suspension upgrades.
I just finished a week with a fully-equipped 1998 Intrigue GL. With more than the usual amount of driving, in conditions ranging from beautiful spring weather to ugly El Nino storms, it got a workout. I didn't. In all conditions, the Intrigue was comfortable on the highways and enjoyable on the byways. Intriguing, to fall for the irresistible pun.
APPEARANCE: Not long ago, Oldsmobiles were bland, nearly invisible cars. No longer. There is definitely an Oldsmobile look for the 21st century, and the Intrigue shares it with the Aurora. It is sleekly curvaceous in form, tastefully and unostentatiously balancing a touch of power with a hint of luxury. The gracefully pointed prow, low, wide headlights, and lack of a conventional grille combine with well-defined fender blisters and alloy wheels for an understated performance look. The thin roof pillars and large glass area give very good visibility and a light, graceful appearance. In the upscale European tradition, chrome trim is minimal.
COMFORT: Despite the unique styling, the Intrigue was designed from the inside out for driver involvement and passenger comfort. The design team carefully studied all major competitors for interior details and tried to better them. They succeeded. The basic interior design is a contemporary two-tone dark-over-light motif with flowingly-curved lines. It looks, and is, spacious. A leather-wrapped, tilt-adjustable steering wheel and shift lever angled to the natural hand position make the driver's task easier, as do well-placed instruments and controls. A darkened area behind the rearview mirror that lessens glare in the area not covered by the visors is typical of the attention to detail in the Intrigue, as are storage pockets in all four doors. Windows, mirrors, and locks are power-operated, with remote keyless entry and cruise control standard. Passenger accommodations are business class, with optional leather seating surfaces available to enhance comfort. Leg and head room are good all around. A split folding rear seat and huge trunk add to the Intrigue's usefulness.
SAFETY: Standard safety equipment on the 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue GL includes dual depowered airbags, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, child safety door locks, and daytime running lights.
ROADABILITY: Careful suspension tuning and a rigid chassis on which to base the suspension result in a comfortable, compliant ride and very good handling characteristics, especially with the "Autobahn Package" upgrade. This includes performance tires and larger front brake discs. The Intrigue, so equipped, compares very favorably with any sports-touring sedan on the road, including some that cost far more. It is a great highway cruiser or backroad tourer. There is more body roll in cornering than in a pure sports sedan, but it takes the corners well. Road feel is good for a front-wheel drive car. The antilock brakes stop the car quickly.
PERFORMANCE: If the Intrigue seems to compare unfavorably on paper to overhead cam-engined competitors because of the cast iron, pushrod 3800 Series II V6, that just illustrates the difference between paper and the real world. Smooth and quiet, the venerable is comparable to the competition with 195 horsepower, and better than most with 220 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration is strong, and fuel economy is exemplary. Technophiles can wait until next year, when the new, Aurora V8-derived dual overhead cam V6 engine will be available. Realists can enjoy the Intrigue now.
CONCLUSIONS: In the past, "import fighters" from American automakers have been wide of the mark. No longer. The Oldsmobile Intrigue is right on the money.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 22,100 Price As Tested $ 24,370 Engine Type pushrod overhead valve V6 Engine Size 3.8 liters / 231 cu. in. Horsepower 195 @ 5200 Torque (lb-ft) 220 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 109.0 in. / 195.9 in. Curb Weight 3455 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.7 Fuel Capacity 18.0 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P225/60 HR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 30 / 24 0 to 60 mph 7.7 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 15.8 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Leather trimmed seating areas $ 995 Autobahn package - includes: H-rated P225/60 R16 tires and heavy duty brakes $ 230 AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system $ 200 CA / NY / MA emissions $ 170 Steering wheel touch controls for audio functions $ 125 Destination charge $ 550