SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide
Buick's mission in the General Motors scheme of things is to make and sell "premium American motorcars", meaning cars that are both affordable and luxurious, with many standard features that make for high value. GM's recent emphasis on brand management and brand equity has brought the Buick mission into sharper focus, and the 1996 Skylark exemplifies this focus well.
For 1996, the Skylark has been revamped inside and out to bring it into the mainstream of Buick styling. It has a new base engine, the 2.4-liter TwinCam. Gone is the base 3-speed automatic transmission, replaced across the line by an electronically-controlled 4-speed automatic. Safety features such as antilock brakes and traction control are standard equipment, as are comfort items like air conditioning, a rear window defogger, and tilt-adjustable steering wheel. Three models - Custom, Limited, and Gran Sport - are offered in both coupe and sedan form. A comprehensive list of options are available to make the Skylark suitable for purposes from fleet vehicle to personal luxury.
The Gran Sport sedan that I recently had as a test car was a great example of value. With a host of luxury, performance, and comfort options, the suggested list price was less than the average new car price these days. The Buick Skylark can provide the American luxury car experience for a very affordable price.
APPEARANCE: The Skylark has had major cosmetic surgery for 1996. Gone is the distinctive pointed prow, replaced by new front sheetmetal that brings its styling into line with the rest of Buick's offerings. An oval grille with vertical bars and the Buick logo graces the front of the car. The teardrop-shaped front light clusters are echoed by the restyled taillights. The roofline of the sedan is longer, higher, and more formal than that of the coupe. The Gran Sport has very little bright trim. Front and rear bumper fascias and protective side molding are body-colored, as is the grille. Window gaskets, mirrors, and the B-pillar between the doors are black. Spoked alloy wheels and low-profile Goodyear Eagle GA tires give a custom look.
COMFORT: The Skylark has been redone inside as well as outside this year. A new instrument panel has dual airbags and improved positioning of switches and gauges. The door panels have been redesigned. My Skylark Gran Sport was equipped with plush, leather-faced front bucket seats worthy of the Buick name. The driver's seat was electrically adjustable. The center console includes a deep storage space with a power outlet, as well as a cupholder, ashtray, and lighter. A decently-sized glove box and door pockets provide additional space, as does a small overhead compartment. The bench rear seat can be folded with a 60/40 split for extra cargo. Rear passengers have their own dome lights, map pockets, and cupholder. The trunk is a useful size and has its own courtesy light. A tilt-adjustable steering wheel, air conditioning, power door locks, and rear window defogger are all standard equipment. Cruise control, power mirrors and windows, and an upscale AM/FM/CD/cassette sound system are part of a "no charge" special option package.
SAFETY: The 1996 Buick Skylark has dual airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, height-adjustable shoulder straps, and the Passlock theft-deterrent system as standard equipment.
ROADABILITY: The Skylark GS sedan is an American car for American driving conditions. It is comfortable and smooth around town and on the highway. Backroad abilities and maneuverability are good, helped in no small amount by the Goodyear Eagle GA tires that are part of the sport suspension package. That sport suspension is, fittingly for a luxury marque, tuned more for touring comfort than ultimate cornering. The springs are soft, and damping rates are reasonably well matched for a smooth, traditional ride without excessive harshness or body motion.
PERFORMANCE: The optional 3.1-liter V6 in my Skylark test car is an excellent match for the car and its intended mission. It has very good low-rpm torque for quick acceleration in city driving and while merging into highway traffic. Noise and vibration levels are low, and fuel economy is good. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission shifts quickly, quietly, and smoothly. The standard engine for the Skylark is now the new 2.4-liter Twin Cam inline four cylinder. I have driven other GM cars equipped with it and have found it to be much improved over the previous standard engine in smoothness and torque. It should also be a good choice.
CONCLUSIONS: Is the American luxury car experience possible for less than the average new-car price? With the 1996 Buick Skylark, the answer is yes.
SPECIFICATIONS 1996 Buick Skylark GS Sedan Base Price $ 17,295 Price As Tested $ 19,247 Engine Type 12-valve V6, pushrod ohv Engine Size 3.1 liters / 191 cu. in. Horsepower 155 @ 5200 Torque (lb-ft) 185 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 103.4 in. / 189.3 in. Curb Weight 2948 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 19.4 Fuel Capacity 15.2 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P205/55 R16 Goodyear Eagle GA Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / Trailing twist axle Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21/29/26 0 to 60 mph 9.2 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.9 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.32