New Car/Review

1998 BUICK RIVIERA

by Tom Hagin

buick

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 31,160
Price As Tested                                    $ 32,735
Engine Type   Supercharged OHV 2-valve 3.8 Liter V6 w/SPFI*
Engine Size                                 231 cid/3785 cc
Horsepower                                   240 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               280 @ 3600 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                    113.8"/75"/207.2"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3745 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      225/60R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Five-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            18/27/21
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17.5 seconds @ 86 mph
Top speed                                           105 mph
     * Sequential port fuel injection

It wasn't long ago that big domestic coupes ruled the luxury car roost. The Buick Riviera was one, and after about a decade of various downsized General Motors iterations, the highways have enjoyed a reworked version since 1995.

There's only one model now, and it's fully loaded. Here's what we found about this week's test car:

OUTSIDE - Usually conservative Buick took a chance with the Riviera design. Its look was unique to the auto world when it first appeared in 1995, and it certainly caused a stir in the auto world. Its sharp creases are set off by ellipses, a tall belt line and a smooth, arcing roof. Riviera's oval grille, elongated headlights and sculpted lines still evoke memories of past "Rivs" - like the white-and-orange hot-rod '66 owned by a "Musclecar" enthusiast near my family home in the mid-70s. The new version shares the same stiff front-wheel-drive platform with the Oldsmobile Aurora, but extra sheet metal makes it a few inches longer. Riviera comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels and Goodyear tires, though an options package on our test car added chromed wheels and "grippier" Michelin all-season tires.

INSIDE - The interior is also a throwback to the '60s. There is little chrome, and the dash is a flat plane of round analog gauges. The tachometer and speedometer are equal in size, and are flanked by smaller circles containing the other gauges and ventilation ports. The stereo and climate controls are "squared" in the center of the dash, while the center console juts upward to meet two vents. This console is just the right-arm height - perfect for interstate cruising. The seats are soft and comfortable, and can fit a person of almost any size. Steering wheel controls for the radio and fan speed are a welcome standard feature, as is the universal transmitter in the sun visor that will open a garage door or turn on house lights. Also standard is what Buick calls "Personal Choice" which allows a pair of keyless entry fobs to be programmed with separate settings.

ON THE ROAD - The Riviera I remember from my youth had a monstrous V8 engine and must have had well over 300 horsepower. Its overzealous owner blazed through many sets of rear tires much to the consternation of the neighbors. For the new Riv, a supercharged 3.8 liter V6 engine provides power to the front wheels. It is smooth and powerful with 240 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This engine is a direct descendant to the first GM V6 introduced in 1962, though it's been extensively updated with a low-friction valve train, etc. The supercharger is the first thing seen when the hood is lifted. Mounted conspicuously on top of the engine, it looks impressive. Inside this "blower" are epoxy-coated rotors which have boosted efficiency, and numerous breathing refinements have maximized power and efficiency of the engine. Mated to this is the ultra-smooth 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission, used extensively throughout the GM lineup for good reason: it delivers positive upshifts and quick downshifts.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Riviera was designed from the beginning with an extra-stiff chassis, and there is very little shake and rattle in its body structure. There is one suspension design and one level of calibration available and a quiet, soft ride is the focus. MacPherson struts control the front wheels, and use a combination of soft and hard bushings within the strut to reduce road impact harshness. Helping the car to track straight and true is a semi-trailing arm rear setup with geometry designed to reduce squat and dive. And while handling twisty roads is not a chore, the body leans and the tires protest during heavy cornering. Its rack-and-pinion steering system uses a variable-assist feature which changes the steering effort based on vehicle speed. The steering is very light but it certainly befits Riviera's comfort mission. Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock are standard.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, ABS and side-impact beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Chrome wheels: $695; California emissions: $170; destination charge: $665; bodyside stripe: $45.

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