SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Buick Park Avenue Ultra ENGINE: 3.8-liter supercharged V-6 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 240 hp @ 5,200 rpm/280 lbs-ft @ 3,600 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic WHEELBASE: 113.8 in. L X W X H: 206.8 x 74.7 x 57.4 in. LIST PRICE: $38,925
I always get nervous when a company names its product something like "Ultra."
It takes guts, because there are always people like myself out there who are willing (and often anxious) to tear apart the Ultra label.
When Buick named the top-of-the-line Park Avenue the Park Avenue Ultra, I originally wondered what could be so "ultra" about it. Here was a nice car - the Park Avenue itself is no slouch - and the only major difference was the addition of the supercharger to the 3800 Series II V-6 engine. The blower increases horsepower to 245 from the unblown 205, but there's a question as to whether the added power is necessary. Sure, it's nice, but is it necessary?
The other factor in the equation is that my brother-in-law - a die-hard Buick fan for many years - recently switched up from his standard LeSabre to a Park Avenue "un-Ultra." He loves his car and I was interested in his reaction.
Well, he loved the Ultra. The differences were more than simply a more powerful engine. The Ultra adds all the power accessories as standard, including the most valuable, heated front seats for the driver and passenger.
In addition, these seats are leather-faced. I stuck my b-i-l in the back seat, where he discovered there was as much legroom as he had in the front of his car. When he got out after a short ride, he made it a point of saying "that's a nice car, better than mine."
I then told him that the Ultra has been one of my favorites for many years. Sure, I like the extra power, but it's the combination of power, smoothness and luxury that makes the Ultra live up to its name. Here is a "Cadillac" at Buick prices. It also has the advantage of being relatively invisible to wandering police officers because of its generic Buick styling. In fact, that's probably the only knock against the Ultra; its styling isn't that spectacular. But if you're looking for an un-ostentatious vehicle, the Ultra might be it.
Among the features found in the Ultra that I haven't seen in other cars were vanity mirrors for the rear passengers. These are lighted and drop down from the roof. They also serve as reading lights if they're needed.
Now, was the supercharger necessary? We drove the Ultra on a three-hour trip north to visit the relatives over the Christmas weekend. My favorite road covers some Interstates and straight-line roads, but it also includes a 30-mile stretch through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. I've killed a few deer along these roads in the past, but the two-lane is still one of my favorites. I'd like to try it some day with a super sports car, no speed limit, and the guarantee of no traffic coming in the other direction, but that will never happen.
We had a two-car convoy, and the vehicle behind me didn't know the way. Whenever I planned on passing someone, I had to consider that my virtual vehicle length was double the normal length. Here's where the power became an advantage. I could pull out and pass quickly and accelerate to a safe distance in front of the passed car, allowing the trailing vehicle to execute his pass and pull back in line safely. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I like more power because it can get you out of trouble. Any idiot driver can get into trouble without a supercharger,
I do feel the Ultra deserves its name. Our ride was smooth and comfortable. There was no engine or tire noise to intrude on the engine compartment. And with the sound system controls on the steering wheel, I was able to modulate the volume so that I could still hear what I wanted to hear while the other passengers dozed in the comfortable seats. When they wake up I'll ask them if they thought the Park Avenue was Ultra.