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New Car/Review

1997 Buick Park Avenue Ultra

by The Car Chick (Laura Heilig)


SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide

When my dad first suggested that I follow in his footsteps and begin reviewing cars, it didn't take me long to agree. First of all, I think it is a good idea for potential buyers to not only get a man's opinion on the way a car handles and looks, but they should also have access to the all-important woman's opinion (the one which my dad was sick of hearing every time he let me test drive a car!). Besides, almost half of today's buyers are highly educated women who aren't always interested in the torque of an engine, but would rather know if all their stuff will get to where they are going safely.

Secondly, I would be allowed to drive the newest, fastest, sharpest cars on the market! Needless to say, I was quite excited when it came time to pick up my first car. Would it be a Porsche? No, maybe it would be one of the sleek American sports cars that my review could help gain notoriety? The anticipation was building as I drove up the block to see my new wheels waiting patiently in the driveway. It was a Santa Fe red pearl . . Buick Park Avenue Ultra? After getting over my initial youthful shock and disappointment, I soon found that I couldn't have started this column with a better automobile.

The Dress

I was very pleased with the fit of this car. I stand about five feet eight inches, an average height, and I didn't feel the Ultra could not accommodate someone of any size or shape. The interior was very roomy, as it should be in a luxury car, and the leather seats were plush and comfortable. The trunk could rival the size of a flatbed on a truck. I jokingly said you could probably fit two dead bodies in it, but I sincerely hope that isn't how the engineers sized it.

I was also very impressed with the accessibility of the basic fluids under the hood and the two levelers on the headlights.

The Ultra has very sleek lines and looks very sharp with its red exterior and tan interior. My only real gripe with the look of this car was the faux wood trim on the dash. The angle that this wood is placed caused a glare to hit my eyes as I drove. While this was not an extreme, blinding glare, it did become annoying on very sunny days.

The Shoes

While I openly admit that luxury vehicles are not my favorite type of car, the Buick Ultra was quite a pleasure to drive to work every day. The 3800 Series II supercharged V-6 engine superbly handled my 45-minute commute over 32 miles of Pennsylvania's infamous -- albeit poorly paved -- back roads, and I was quite impressed with the smooth acceleration and shifting of this engine and automatic transmission. I averaged about 21.3 miles per gallon -- pretty good for a V-6 -- stopping frequently for red lights and slower traffic.

The tight suspension and steering took the turns well for a large car. In fact, sometimes I forgot I was driving an enormous vehicle which, believe me, is usually very difficult to do.

The Ultra is also equipped with traction control, ABS and dual air bags, all of which I luckily did not have to test, but which allow the driver that added feeling of safety on the road.

While the enormity of the Park Avenue Ultra did not appeal to me, it definitely made up in its performance on the road. Obviously this car would be more at home on city streets or open highways, but it is nice to know that it could be used for those Sunday country drives or battling nasty snow storms.

The Accessories

This Park Avenue is aptly named Ultra. Almost every accessory you can think of has been tactfully included on this car. I say "tactfully" because some cars seem to throw needless gadgets anywhere on the dashboard just to raise the price of the car, and most of those buttons are never touched again. I despise cars like that and was happy to see that Buick's engineers were thinking of the driver when they designed the interior of this car. The controls for almost everything are within reach of the driver, making it easier to adjust the temperature or radio (both of these have controls on the steering wheel) without taking your eyes off the road. Some of my favorite luxuries on this car include the garage door opener holder, heated seats (great for those early morning commuters), cruise control and the rear mirror visors for back seat passengers. I also liked the sun shades for the driver and front passenger, because they had the ability to divide into three sections, eliminating all chances for that evil afternoon sun glare to hit my eyes.

The Buick also has an excellent sound system with the option of CDs or cassette tapes. The accessory that gave away the size of the car was definitely the passenger-side climate controls which can adjust the temperature to one different than that on the driver's side. You know a car is big when it has two climate zones!

The Purse

For a luxury car as well-equipped and polished as this one, Buick has done a terrific job maintaining a lower price on this car. The Park Avenue Ultra is one of the nicest luxury cars I have seen, yet it is one of the most affordable. While right now this type of car is not in my price range or taste bracket, I will definitely keep it in mind when economy cars are no longer a necessity, because I have a feeling Buick will be producing this automobile for many years to come. As the old saying goes, quality lasts a long time.