New Car Review

1998 BUICK PARK AVENUE ULTRA

by Tom Hagin

buick

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 35,550
Price As Tested                                    $ 38,410
Engine Type    Supercharged OHV 2-valve 3.8 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 231 cid/3785 cc
Horsepower                                   240 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               280 @ 3600 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  113.8"/74.7"/206.8"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3887 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P225/60R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Six-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            18/27/22
0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.5 seconds @ 89 mph
Top speed                                           105 mph
     * Sequential fuel injection

The new Buick Park Avenue Ultra represents the typical "traditional" full-sized American car. With front-wheel-drive and a powerful V6 engine, it shares little with the a "vintage" full-sized American cruiser but technology has changed large cars forever.

Park Avenue and Park Avenue Ultra represent the top of the Buick sedan line, and this week we test a fully loaded Ultra model.

OUTSIDE - Park Avenue is virtually a stand-alone model on the outside, sharing few major sheetmetal parts with its full-sized GM siblings. The car looks hulking, but carries its heft well. Designers used arcs, bulges and a "toothed" grille to give a touch of elegance, while a thin chrome strip bisects the car's lower perimeter. Refinements for 1998 include folding outside mirrors with a passenger side "parallel park assist" wherein the passenger side mirror automatically tilts downward when the shift lever is put into reverse. This points the mirror toward the curb, which makes parking easier. Trunk space is enormous at 19 cubic feet, and a rear seat pass-through is now standard on both Park Avenue models. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, and our test model had them optionally chromed.

INSIDE - The Ultra exudes luxury, but ergonomics play an important role. The instruments are easy to read with large gauges and clearly marked buttons and knobs, along with retained accessory power, so the driver can close the windows after the key has been removed from the ignition. Our car's optional "EyeCue" display projects the speedometer and other warning cues onto the base of the windshield, where they're easily seen. The seats are plush and highly adjustable, with fold-down center armrests and built-in front seat belts that adjust up and down with the headrest. Ultra models come with such standard features as keyless remote entry, leather upholstery and variable intermittent wipers, as well as power windows, door locks, front seats and mirrors, Also standard are a tilt-adjust steering column, heated seats, an AM/FM/CD stereo system and Twilight Control automatic headlamps.

ON THE ROAD - The standard powerplant is GM's powerful 3.8 liter supercharged V6 engine. It forsakes high-tech overhead camshafts for traditional pushrods and lots of raw power. Where huge Buicks of old depended on mammoth V8s to get into the mid-250 horsepower range, the new Ultra does it with less displacement, yet squeezes much more mileage from its fuel. Its 240 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque give it plenty of power to launch off the line and into speeding traffic, while in the mountains, power is readily available for passing. And since it uses long-life spark plugs, transmission fluid and coolant, Buick claims that it is virtually maintenance-free for up to 100,000 miles, except for routine oil and filter changes. A new electronically-controlled four- speed automatic transmission shifts even smoother than before, while Ultra models come with heavy-duty transmission parts.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Vintage big Buicks twisted and snaked their way down the road, but the Park Avenue has the flavor of the traditional large car, without the poor handling and "floating" ride. Since its clean-sheet redesign last year, Park Avenue is much stiffer in both twisting and bending than its predecessor. It uses a modern suspension system, with front struts and semi-trailing arms in back, but since its springs and shocks are tuned with comfort as a priority, it still absorbs potholes and bumps and exhibits a bit less emphasis on pure handling. Our car came with Buick's Grand Touring package, which added slightly wider-than-standard tires, a 3.05 axle ratio and programmable (by the dealer) magnetic variable effort rack-and-pinion steering. Four-wheel disc brakes with and anti-lock braking system (ABS) are standard, and give good stopping power with moderate fade.

SAFETY - Dual reduced-power airbags, ABS, traction control and side-impact door beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Chrome wheels: $695; CD changer: $595; EyeCue: $275; center console: $185; Gran Touring package: $105; uplevel stereo: $100; automatic rearview mirror: $70.

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