New Car/Review

Buick

The Buick Park Avenue Ultra, The Ultimate Drive in the Park

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide

by Larry Weitzman

Buick Full Line factory footage (11:22) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

Buick has always been somewhat different. In the late forties and fifties when GM products were either using the original 4-speed hydramatic or Chevy, the two speed powerglide, Buick had the unique Dynaflow which started in high gear and did not use a planetary gearbox in normal driving. It was the smoothest automatic transmission ever developed.

My first car was a 55 Buick Special with a Dynaflow (it was also the first automatic with variable stator blades). It had a low gear, but it had to be manually engaged and shifted, something you would do only if you needed maximum acceleration or downhill engine braking. It was also powered by a unique Buick designed, 4.3L (264 cid) V-8 with an innovative pentroof combustion chamber and vertical valve covers (188 gross hp at 4,800 rpm). It was a great car in its day, even though I think my abuse of the low gear eventually put me in the dog house with my dad when one day late in the car's life low gear became "dearly de-parted". The 50's were a great time.

That car was eventually traded for a new 1965 Buick Skylark, another great Buick automobile. I was weaned on Buicks and I know their special nature. This Park Avenue Ultra is no exception. From my first starting of the supercharged engine, I knew it had a distinctive nature. The engine was smooth and very quiet, but a blip of the throttle said big power.

The styling also separates the Park Avenue from other vehicles. It has a graceful shape with uncommon design touches. The front end is simple, with a beautiful grill between a pair of gorgeous headlights. It is amazing how much lighting now plays in the style and design of automobiles. The main headlights have a slight bubble over them giving a special touch.

A sharp beltline ridge flows from the top of the front fender to the rear of the truck. The curved shape of the rear roofline adds to the distinguished shape. Chrome is used tastefully and sparingly. This car grows on you quickly. I like the design.

Inside you expect luxury and comfort. This Buick is ready to deliver. The extra large front seats are very inviting. Upholstered in soft, thick leather, they are perfectly shaped. With the 10 way power adjustment (with two memory positions), both my wife and myself found the superb comfort you would expect. But their shape adds to the confidence of the car that I will explain later. Both front headrests are power operated and there is a four-way power lumbar control.

The dash is very directed. Although stylish, it is very functional and easy to use. In front of the driver is the usual speedo and tach with the flanking temp and fuel gauges. A driver's information center is contained in the lower left corner with digital readout. The control buttons are clearly marked and stacked to the left. It has a full trip computer and engine monitoring system. Very nice.

In the center is the am/fm radio C/D which is driven by a separate amplifier to nine speakers. Called the Concert Sound III system, it doesn't lack for performance. Music is clean, clear and full with an extra brilliant sound. The climate system is quiet and unobtrusive. Buick was one of the first to offer separate temperature controls for the left and right side of the car. It also comes standard with heated front seats, also individually controlled.

The rear seating area takes no back seat to the front. The seats are large and sumptuous. Legroom is of limousine proportions. It's huge. The center section cushion for a third passenger is soft, but the seat back is somewhat hard because of the center pull down armrest, cupholders and storage. There is a trunk pass through.

Another nice feature I've only seen in one other car (which happens to be a Mercedes S Class) is the rear seat lighted vanity mirrors built into the roof. Finally a safe place to do makeup while driving.

The car rides on a contemporary fully independent suspension. The body structure is extremely rigid. The design combines for a combination of ride and handling that's hard not to like. The supple suspension absorbs the coarse and washboard surface of Ponderosa about as well as any car I've driven. It simply eliminates minor road irregularities.

Steering is accurate with excellent road feel; although, I would like a little more resistance off center.

Bumps in the corners caused no upset at speed. The rear end stayed fully planted. Green Valley and Bass Lake Road were effortless and the seats really do a job holding you in place adding to your confidence. Cruising on the freeway was pure pleasure. While not a V-8, the V-6 is smooth, quiet and very quick.

Buick has used only V-6's for some time now. Buick was the first American manufacturer to use the V-6 engine configuration. V-6's are now the configuration of choice in the auto industry. They are used in everything from Mercedes Benz and Acura right down to optional equipment in cars such as the Contour and Galant. V-6's allow the use of six cylinders in a very compact package for front wheel drive applications. It would be very hard to mount an inline six transversely (sideways) in an automobile chassis. V-6's allow cars to be smaller, lighter and more efficient while giving more smoothness and increased power output over an inline four cylinder engine. I guess you could say the engineers at Buick read the future first.

The original Buick V-6 dates from 1961 in the compact Buick Special. It had 198 cubic inches (about 3.2L) and produced 135 gross hp (90-100 net). The last V-8 was in the Roadmaster, which ended production in 1996. The Roadmaster was a large rear wheel drive car based on the Cadillac Fleetwood.

The Ultra V-6 is one of the most powerful production V-6's in the world. It is based on the bullet proof 3800 series originally designed by Buick and now used in all other General Motors products except Cadillac. By mechanical supercharging, the 3.8L Ultra V-6 engine puts out 240 hp at 5,200 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. Supercharging forces more air into the engine which increases the power output. Because it's mechanical and driven by a serpentine belt off the crankshaft, there is no lag as with a turbo charger. The supercharger is instant performance on demand.

And this engine flat out cooks. Full throttle application will blast this car from 0-60 mph in just 7.6 seconds. If the traction control is switched off, it will just about liquefy the front tires. Passing performance is effortless and instantaneous. 50-70 mph will occur in only 4.8 seconds and going up hill will only slow the Ultra by a second and a half (6.3 seconds).

This is not some small sports car, but a very full sized luxury sedan (206.8 inches long) weighing in at nearly two tons with all the comfort of your favorite leather living room sofa(s).

The standard Park Avenue with the normally aspirated 3.8L V-6 produces 205 hp at 5,200 rpm. I would estimate about an additional second 0-60 and passing times increase by a half a second to a second. In other words, the standard Park Avenue has more than respectable performance.

The benefit of the V-6 is remarkable fuel economy. EPA rated at 18/27 city/highway, I calculated about 21.5 mpg on my first fill up and I estimate that is a reasonable number for El Dorado County driving. At a constant 70 mph on the highway the trip computer fluctuated between 30-32 mpg. At that speed the engine is turning a very lazy 1850 rpm. This makes for inaudible, relaxed long distance cruising. With its 18.5 gallon fuel tank, 500 miles non stop is not out of the question. A magic carpet ride, especially when you dip into the wonderful throttle and play with all that horsepower.

The trunk is huge, nearly 4.5 feet deep and over 5 feet wide and nicely shaped. The car I drove had one option I could do without and that is the center console. It looks like they took it out of a Cavalier. The standard car comes with a very nice center pull down armrest and allows three in the front seat in a pinch and saves $185.

There are controls on the steering wheel for the A/C and there are power outlets everywhere. The right outside rear view mirror points downward when backing up and the windshield wipers are moisture sensing. The brakes are very powerful four-wheel discs with antilock. What haven't they thought of?

More good news. The Buick is a relative bargain considering its company and competition. The standard sticker price is $36,025 plus a $670 destination charge. My test vehicle had some options I would leave at the factory such as the $185 console and $275 heads up display (I think it's distracting). Options that I would order were the beautiful chrome wheels fpr $695 (they really set the car off especially with the white diamond metallic paint, $395) and the bargain option of the Gran Touring Package ($200) which adds wheels, tires and suspension upgrades that improve the car's capabilities. The total list price of my test vehicle was $38,445 but the elimination of the two aforementioned options would lower that price closer to under $38,000.

If the ultimate power trip is not your style, the standard Park will give you about everything the Ultra does for prices starting at around $31,130 and equipped just like the Ultra (sans supercharger) at about $35,000.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                       $31,130 to about $39,000
Engine
   3.8L V-6                 205 hp @ 5,200 rpm
                            230 lb-ft of torque @ 4000
   3.8L Supercharged V-6    240 hp @ 5,200 rpm
                            280 lb-ft of torque @ 3,600 rpm
Transmission
                            4-speed electronically
                            controlled automatic

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase                  113.8 inches
Length                     206.8 inches
Width                      74.7 inches
Height                     57.4 inches
Trunk Capacity             19.1 cubic feet
Curb Weight                3,884 pounds
Fuel Capacity              18.5 gallons

PERFORMANCE

0-60 mph                   7.6   seconds
50-70 mph                  4.8   seconds
50-70 mph (uphill)         6.3   seconds
Top Speed                  Speedo is calibrated to 140 and 
                           without the electronic speed
                           limiter and the CHP it's probably doable
Fuel Economy               18/27 mpg city/highway.
                           My estimate is 22 mpg in El Dorado County
                           and near 30 mpg on the highway

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