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New Car/Review


by Tom Hagin


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,225
Price As Tested                                    $ 19,911
Engine Type                             3.1 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 191 cid/3136 cc
Horsepower                                   155 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               185 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                      107"/69.4"/192"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3021 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  15.2 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/60R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 85 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            20/29/25
0-60 MPH                                        8.7 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     16.8 seconds @ 82.5 mph
Top speed                                           105 mph
     * Sequential-port fuel injection

Oldsmobile has always built popular mid-sized sedans. They have been used by corporations as fleet vehicles, put into rough-duty service as rental cars, and used extensively by American families to haul kids and groceries.

But there may be some confusion as to what the company's new Cutlass encompasses. It's the replacement for the Cutlass Ciera, but is a separate model from the Cutlass Supreme, which will continue to be built as is through 1997, then replaced in 1998 by an all-new model, the Intrigue. And currently, there are two new Cutlass trim levels: Base and this week's test vehicle, the GLS.

OUTSIDE - Cutlass' contemporary shape will nether excite nor offend. It shows a remarkable resemblance to one of the more popular Japanese sedans, and Oldsmobile has those import buyers squarely in its sights. Oldsmobile also took direct aim at reducing noise levels inside. Cutlass uses unibody construction, a method employed by most car builders these days, and it's this unibody that literally makes the car's foundation. To this is mounted a separate steel subframe that cradles the powertrain, front suspension and steering rack. This system is designed to prevent vibrations from entering the cabin area. Oldsmobile also uses expanding seals in body cavities, and foam sealant between the roof and headliner, as well as inside the layers of the floor. Our Cutlass model came standard with such exterior items as aluminum wheels, body- color outside mirrors and bumpers, fog lamps, mud flaps and tinted glass.

INSIDE - The new Cutlass interior isn't overly plush, but neither is it spartan. The interior is roomy, with lots of outward vision. In earlier models, smaller drivers complained that they felt dwarfed aboard the midsize GM cars, and though Cutlass offers ample amounts of head and legroom, those same drivers should be able to find a comfortable seating position, easily read the instruments and see out clearly. There's room across the back for three passengers, but the middle seating position tends to become cramped on long trips. Both Cutlass models come standard with such features as air conditioning, cruise control, an AM/FM stereo, power door locks, and a rear defroster. GLS trim adds an uplevel stereo, power windows and mirrors, keyless remote entry, and a trunk cargo net.

ON THE ROAD - The sole engine available is GM's multi-use 3.1 liter V6, which is now called the 3100. It produces a modest 155 horsepower at 5200 rpm, but a healthy 185 lb-ft of torque, which provides low-rpm power for good (sub-nine second 0-60 mph sprints) acceleration. We found the car pulled ably up long, steep grades with a full load aboard. This same engine is used in many GM products, and has been improved for 1997 with a new accessory drive system and a one-piece flywheel. At full throttle, however, it continues to become raucous and quickly lose power, as it has over the years. It's mated to GM's excellent electronic automatic transmission, the new 4T40-E, designed exclusively for use among GM's light, front drive cars. We found it to shift smoothly and predictably under all conditions.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - On the highway, Cutlass handles surprisingly well for such affordable transportation. The chassis is quite rigid, and rides on front MacPherson struts and coil springs, while the rear suspension is also independent, and uses its own subframe to further enhance ride isolation. Both ends use anti-roll bars, helpful in limiting body lean in hard corners, while the independent setup dramatically helps keep the rear tires in contact with the pavement over road bumps. Additionally, the front and rear suspension knuckles and front brake calipers are made of lightweight alloy. A set of grippy all-weather tires contributed to its surprisingly agile handling around our impromptu slalom course. Oldsmobile continues to use the venerable front disc/rear drum braking setup, with a standard four-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) as standard equipment, though We'd like to see a set of four-wheel disc brakes offered optionally.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, side-impact beams and ABS are all standard.

OPTIONS - California emissions equipment is optional at $170.