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New Car/Review

1997 Oldsmobile Aurora

by John Heilig


ENGINE:            4.0-liter 32-valve V-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 250hp @ 5,600 rpm/260 lb.ft. @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, 17.4 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         113.8 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    205.4 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    55.4 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     74.4 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3,967 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     20.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  16.1 cu. ft.
TIRES:             P235/60R16
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                   with cassette and in-dash CD, 
                   anti-lock brakes, dual air bags, 
                   traction control, leather trim, 
                   heated front seats.
STICKER PRICE:     $37,260

They said right from the start that the Aurora would be the car to save Oldsmobile. And the Aurora shows you what a car manufacturer can do when it has its back against the wall and they must do it right.

Aurora is a luxury four-door sedan that is built on the same platform as the Buick Riviera. Unlike the Riviera's supercharged 3.8-liter engine, however, the Oldsmobile uses a double overhead cam 4.0-liter V-8 that is rated at a robust 250horsepower and drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission.

There are several things I like about the Aurora. First, it is a General Motors car that doesn't use the standard GM accessories. To me, that was the big selling point about the Catera, too. The turn signal/cruise control/light switch stalk is not standard GM issue, nor is the wiper stalk on the other side. The instruments are also non-GM issue. I've seen the sound system in other GM cars, but even the HVAC controls vary from the norm. This makes the Aurora unique among GM cars, and it's nice to see that. I realize the efficiencies of large-scale buying and the economics involved, but it's nice to have unique appurtenances, especially when you're shelling out $37,000.

The Aurora is a unique automobile. It has styling unlike any other. While it resembles the Riviera (the Oldsmobile large car and Buick large car studios are in close proximity), the Aurora doesn't have the "shoulders" front and rear that the Riviera has. Aurora could almost be related to the Ford Taurus, because it has the same airfoil-type side profile.

Aurora also has a pinched-in rear end that gives it a Jaguar sedan look. But even with this pinched in rear end there is still an excellent trunk. We were able to put three golf bags in there, and plenty of luggage when we were making trips. I know that some manufacturers, because of the popularity of golf in the demographic groups they are selling to, rate their trunks by the number of golf bags they will hold.

Inside, the Aurora has the standard four instruments of speedometer, tachometer, fuel and water temperature gauges. There's also a fuel management computer that told us we averaged about 17.4 mpg in our test. I would have hoped to have had better mileage, but we did a lot of city and short-leg driving that cuts economy.

The Aurora has HVAC and sound system controls on the steering wheel, which make it easier to find your station or make temperature adjustments. And once the driver/owner learns the position of the buttons, there's no need to take your eyes away from the road, which makes driving safer.

I liked the arrangement of the switches. I remember that when I drove the Aurora way back when there was just one, I complained about the location of some of the switches. The trunk release and fuel hatch release, for example, have a good location on the bottom of the dash. And there is tasteful wood trim on the doors and console to add a luxury touch to the car.

I have to admit that I have liked the Aurora ever since that first ride in Michigan several years ago. It's well designed and well-put together. It's a solid car with a good engine and nice features. It's comfortable, it performs well and it handles well. If I was in the market for a four-door sedan and I had the money, this is one I'd consider.