SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide
The "Century" name has graced significant Buicks since 1936. The version sold between 1982 and 1996 was one of the most significant. That first front-wheel drive Century was one of the most successful Buicks, with more than two million sold. The current Century, introduced in 1997, is designed to continue that success.
Today's Century is a bit larger and roomier than its immediate predecessor, and is sized and equipped to compete in the heart of the midsized sedan class. The Century shares "architecture", to use the Buick term for the chassis platform, with the latest Regal, but different suspension tuning and interior appointments make it a very different car in feeling and intent. With the demise of the Skylark this year, the Century is now the entry-level Buick.
Actually, "entry level" is not a good description of the Buick Century. Even the "base" Custom model is comprehensively equipped with plenty of premium equipment. Features like a V6 engine, "Twilight Sentinel" automatic headlights, air conditioning, power windows and mirrors and remote keyless entry are standard on the Century Custom. As I discovered during a week with one, the 1998 Buick Century Custom is a smooth, quiet, comfortable six-passenger sedan - the perfect entry-level Buick.
APPEARANCE: There is little doubt as to the manufacturer of the Century. The vertically-barred chromed oval "waterfall" grille would be the giveaway, even if it didn't have "Buick" printed across the top and the three-shield corporate logo prominently displayed in the center. The Century shares most body panels with its close cousin the Buick Regal, but looks more traditional because of its different grille and front bumper treatment. It is an unostentatiously handsome car. Chrome trim on the bumpers, on the side protective molding, around the side windows, and around the full-width taillight panel prevents plainness. The Century has steel disc wheels with full-sized plastic covers.
COMFORT: The Century is designed to carry up to six people, so it has a split bench front seat and steering column-mounted gearshift lever. It is plain but honest and comfortable inside, with velour-type upholstery covering the softly-padded seats. Use of light-colored synthetic materials for trim and upholstery makes the Century's interior seem even more spacious. Details add usefulness. A fold-down center armrest opens to form a most useful, internally divided console box. All four doors have storage pockets; those in the rear doors are especially large and divided. The area above the inside rear-view mirror is shaded to lessen glare and the visors have extensions for the same purpose. The back of the front seat is contoured to give passengers in the rear bench seat a little extra knee room. The instrument panel is a contemporary flowingly sculpted design, with good instrument and control placement and plenty of climate control vents. Delayed lighting adds nighttime convenience and safety. The trunk is large and its lid is held up by hydraulic struts, adding space and preventing crushed luggage.
SAFETY: Standard safety equipment on the 1998 Buick Century includes antilock brakes, dual depowered airbags, daytime running lights, and safety cage construction with front and rear crush zones and side-impact protection beams.
ROADABILITY: The Century quietly glides down the road. It is a car for mainstream American tastes, and so has the comfort-oriented soft, compliant ride expected of an American luxury car. But it is a modern implementation of the traditional American luxury-comfort ride. Around town or on the highway, bumps are taken care of and then forgotten. The Century's rigid unibody chassis allows its fully- independent suspension to be tuned for comfort without sacrificing precision. Because of this, the 1998 Buick Century feels like a much more expensive car.
PERFORMANCE: The 3.1-liter V6 used in the Buick Century has been upgraded over the years, and a very smooth and quiet powerplant. Its maximum 160 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque give the Century plenty of power for city traffic or highway driving. Fuel economy, at 20 mpg city, 29 highway, and around 24 mpg in the real world, is very good for a midsized car with a V6 engine. Maintenance requirements are low, with 100,000 mile tune-up intervals. The 4-speed electronically-controlled overdrive automatic transmission is the perfect match for the engine.
CONCLUSIONS: The basic Buick isn't so basic, and gives Buick comfort at a very attractive price.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 19,270 Price As Tested $ 20,127 Engine Type pushrod overhead valve V6 Engine Size 3.1 liters / 191 cu. in. Horsepower 160 @ 5200 Torque (lb-ft) 185 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 109.0 in. / 194.6 in. Curb Weight 3,335 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 20.8 Fuel Capacity 17.0 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P205/70 SR15 General Ameri GS 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 / 24 0 to 60 mph 10 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 18 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES CA / NY/ MA emissions $ 170 Lighted visor vanity mirrors $ 137 Destination charge $ 550