SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide
The current Buick Park Avenue is a long-legged highway cruiser in the manner of the large American luxury cars of the past. But that doesn't mean that it is a relic from the past. Less-than-rigid body- on-frame construction, a large, thirsty V8 driving the rear wheels, and poorly-tuned suspension were the paradigm for past luxury sedans. None of those characteristics apply to the Park Avenue. It is a completely modern vehicle in design and execution.
Buick's top model is built on the latest generation of the front- wheel-drive, unit-construction platform used by the Buick Riviera, the Oldsmobile Aurora, and the Cadillac Seville. It is solid and rigid, for a quiet luxury experience. A fully-independent suspension improves the comfort level further, and gives it surprisingly responsive handling. The only part of the Park Avenue that could be said to be less than completely contemporary is its tried-and-true 3800 Series II V6 engine. But any deficiencies in the engine compartment are strictly illusory. The 3800 has been developed over the years into a torquey, efficient powerplant perfect for this application, and, in the premium Park Avenue Ultra, has a serious advantage over any competitors. Supercharging gives it instant power when needed, and fuel efficiency as well.
As previously, two trim levels are offered, the Park Avenue and Park Avenue Ultra. Both are well-equipped for their price level. A 1999 Park Avenue Ultra sits in my driveway now. A spacious highway cruiser with as much useable room as many sport-utilities and far less appetite for fuel, it's just the vehicle for long-distance nonstop touring in first-class comfort.
APPEARANCE: The Park Avenue could only be an American luxury sedan. Massive-looking and trimmed with bright chrome, it simultaneously shows a stylistic nod to the late Roadmaster and a very strong Riviera influence. It is a sleek but substantial combination of rounded forms offset by crisp angles. The classic Buick chromed oval, vertically-barred "waterfall" grille and large, wraparound light clusters evoke those on the previous Park Avenue and Roadmaster. The crisply-angled top of the fender line, the bulge of the rear fenders, and the shape of the rear panel and full-width taillights, are more than slightly reminiscent of the Riviera. The fender, hood, and rear deck treatment is particularly interesting, with the flat planes of the inner fenders contrasting against the rounded shape of the hood, passenger cabin, and trunk lid. The standard Park Avenue has a free-standing hood ornament; that of the Ultra is integrated into the grille.
COMFORT: Inside, the Park Avenue Ultra blends classic American luxury with contemporary design. It is elegant and functional. Leather seating surfaces and real wood trim set the tone. My test car had softly- padded front bucket and contoured bench rear seats. Five people fit in comfort. The heated front seats are power-adjustable with memory on the driver's side. A convenient front console has cupholders, a power point, a notepad holder, and plenty of storage space. A rear console/armrest also provides ski-passthrough access to the trunk. Rear passengers get heater vents, seat storage pockets, ashtrays and lighters, and vanity mirrors. A hooded, wraparound instrument panel places gauges and controls in easy-to-reach locations. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is manually adjustable; mirrors, windows, and door locks are power-operated.
SAFETY: All 1999 Buick Park Avenues have safety-cage construction, dual "Next Generation" reduced-force front seat air bags, and standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes. Traction control is standard on the Ultra.
ROADABILITY: Overly-soft suspension with poor shock absorber damping and slow steering once conspired to give full-sized American luxury cars rather nautical ride and handling characteristics. This is absolutely not the case with the latest Buick Park Avenue. Even with the standard suspension, bumps and chuckholes are dealt with and then forgotten. The ride is as soft as expected, but correct damping keeps control. The optional "Gran Touring" package has a slightly firmer ride. The Ultra's magnetic variable-assist steering is light but direct. The Park Avenue Ultra is an All-American touring car - a great highway cruiser that is also at home on the scenic route.
PERFORMANCE: The 3800 Series II V6 may not boast the latest in high-tech design, but it works. And it works very well indeed, with as much power and torque as many V8s, and far better fuel economy. The Park Avenue Ultra's supercharged engine has a maximum of 240 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Because the supercharger is used only under acceleration, cruising-speed fuel economy is excellent, with over 25 mpg possible on the highway for a range of over 450 miles. When fast acceleration is needed, the blower kicks in. Despite its size and mass, the Ultra can get to 60 mph more quickly than some sports coupes. Its 4-wheel antilock disc brakes stop it well.
CONCLUSIONS: The Buick Park Avenue Ultra combines the traditional virtues of an American luxury car with contemporary design and engineering.
SPECIFICATIONS 1999 Buick Park Avenue Ultra Base Price $ 36,025 Price As Tested $ 37,395 Engine Type supercharged pushrod overhead valve 12-valve V6 Engine Size 3.8 liters / 231 cu. in. Horsepower 240 @ 5200 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 280 @ 3600 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 113.8 in. / 206.8 in. Curb Weight 3,884 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.2 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires P225/60 SR16 Michelin XW4 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent with semi-trailing arms Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 27 / 21 0 to 60 mph 8.4 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.2 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Convenience Console / 5-person leather seating package - includes: bucket seats, center console $ 185 Eye Cue heads-up display $ 275 CA / NY / MA / CT etc emissions $ 170 Automatic day/night rearview mirror $ 70 Destination Charge $ 670