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New Car/Review

1997 Buick Park Avenue Ultra

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  3.8-liter supercharged V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  240 hp @ 5,200 rpm/ 280 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:  18 mpg city,  27 mpg highway,  20.8 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  113.8 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  206.8 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  74.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3,879 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:  19.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  19.1 cu. ft.
TIRES:   P225/60R16
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level,
             water temperature, digital clock, external temperature readout.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
           cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio
           with in-dash CD and cassette players, anti-lock braking,
           dual air bags, traction control, heated seats.

Ultra has always been the top of the Buick line. Sure, they have the halo Riviera, but the Park Avenue Ultra has always been the car that has defined Buick's character, at least for the past ten years or so. And this year is no exception.

With a new rounded body style, that retains elements of the Riviera, a supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 engine, and leather luxury inside, the Ultra is what you'd expect from a top-of-the-line car. You might almost call it a Mercedes-Benz in Buick clothes.

The 3.8-liter supercharged engine develops 240 horsepower, 35 more than the unsupercharged engine in the base Park Avenue, and it's enough to make the Ultra a quick car. If it was smaller and weighed less, it could be very quick and might for the basis for a nice sports coupe. But it isn't smaller, and it's a full-sized sedan, which isn't bad in its own right.

Inside, the Ultra offers six-passenger seating. there are fold-down armrests in front and back if you only have four people riding in the car. In fact, we had the armrests down most of the time. However, when you do have rear seat passengers, there is plenty of leg room to make even the tallest passenger back there comfortable. And the rear seat riders benefit from overhead lighted vanity mirrors, which can also be used as reading lamps at night.

If you're carrying luggage for all those passengers, the Ultra has a 19.1 cubic foot trunk, which is big enough to tote almost anything.

Our primary use of the trunk this trip was for groceries, and we were grateful to see that it had a restraining cargo net to keep the bags from falling.

The Buick has wood trim on the dash and into the doors, very much like Mercedes of Lexus. There's just enough to give you a taste of luxury without being ostentatious. And Buick tells me the wood is real, not a plastic imitation.

And of course, being the Ultra it has all the power accessories. Among the instruments, we liked the external temperature readout, which was helpful in the late days of winter. There was a fuel management computer that told us we averaged 20.8 miles per gallon during our entire test.

A "convenience" feature was having sound system controls on the steering wheel, as well as some heater controls. There were seek and scan, AM/FM switch, volume control, and a temperature switch for the HVAC system. Unfortunately, the seek button is very close to the rim of the wheel, and we ended up changing stations about ten times during our one-week trip. It ended up being extremely inconvenient. While I normally like sound system controls on the steering wheel. these were in a location that made it too easy to change stations accidentally.

Another minor difficulty was that the seat belt receiver unit was located back by my right hip, very close to the hip. And while this was the ideal location for safety, it did require some contortions putting the belt on. My wife liked the heated seats. We had some very cold days when we had the car, and the seats warm up faster than the heating system.

The Park Avenue Ultra is the type of car that can appeal to anyone who drives or rides in it. It offers reasonably good handling, exceptional power, great comfort, and room for six. It's a practical touring car for a full-sized family and offers decent economy. It also has enough power to make any trip fun.