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New Car/Review

1997 Buick Riviera

by Carey Russ


SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide

The Riviera has been the Buick style leader since the introduction of the original version back in 1963. Not only did the current generation of Buick's flagship continue that tradition upon its introduction in 1995, it provided a look at the company's future. Just look at the newest Park Avenue, built on the same platform as the Riviera, and strongly echoing the Riv's style. The latest Century and Regal models also use Riviera styling cues.

The 1997 may Riviera look the same outside as the 1995 and '96 models, but there are detail enhancements under its sleek skin. Transmission upgrades make shifting even smoother and more precise, and suspension revisions have improved the ride comfort and handling. New standard equipment includes retained accessory power, "twilight sentinel" automatic lighting, and more. Power continues to be from normally-aspirated or supercharged versions of the proven 3800 Series II engine.

Buick sees the Riviera as a style statement, not a sports coupe. After a week with a supercharged version, I concur. It embodies American style mid-level luxury, with an emphasis on comfort and style. I found it to be a good everyday car, with plenty of room inside and the standard 3800 Series II combination of power and fuel economy. It's a unique machine, and a very Buick sort of luxury car.

APPEARANCE: The Riviera is a car that will not get lost in a parking lot. In common with many contemporary cars, it is well-rounded, with few straight lines. Unlike other cars, the Riviera has a crisply-angled line at the top of each front fender that continues past the passenger cabin and rear wheel to the back of the car. This line, and the flat panel just inboard of it, provides balance against the rounded masses of the car. The Riviera is a large car, but inspired styling makes it look lithe and streamlined. High rear fenders and a relatively long rear overhang give the impression of an animal ready to leap. The use of chrome trim is tastefully restrained. The Buick logo is found nowhere on the car, only the Riviera name in script on the sides and the "R" in the grille and on the wheels. Subtle and elegant.

COMFORT: The Riviera is a coupe with room for four on a regular basis or five for an evening on the town. It is a coupe, so access is not quite as easy as a sedan, but long doors make it better than the norm for coupes. Inside, the Riviera is as unique as it is outside. The instrument panel has an upscale speedboat motif, with a hooded lip that goes across the top of the entire panel and is gently faired into the door panels. This shades round, separated analog gauges that are set into the unadorned fascia. There is no wood trim, but the seating surfaces and steering wheel rim are leather. The soft, cushy front seats are power-adjustable. The steering wheel can be manually tilted, and has auxiliary audio and climate controls. The climate control system features separate controls for the driver and front passenger. There are also vents for the rear passengers. The rear seat has very good room for a coupe, and a shaded area at the top of the long backlight protects passengers from the sun. The trunk is long and very useful, although the liftover is on the high side. The 1997 Buick Riviera is a practical, comfortable luxury coupe.

SAFETY: For safety, the 1997 Buick Riviera has a rigid chassis structure with front and rear crush zones and side impact beams. Dual air bags, daytime running lights, antilock brakes, traction control, and a passive antitheft system are all standard equipment.

ROADABILITY: The Riviera is a Buick, and it is a personal luxury car with an emphasis on smooth comfort. It's not supposed to be a sports coupe, and it isn't. The fully-independent suspension is too soft and comfort-oriented, and the steering too light for that. The Riviera's real mission is a contemporary luxury car. It handles well at all reasonable speeds. Although the suspension is soft, and there is plenty of body roll in hard cornering, bumps are handled without fuss. The rigid chassis structure ensures that the car is quiet and composed, with little road, mechanical, or wind noise. The Buick Riviera is a cruiser, not a racer. Relax and enjoy!

PERFORMANCE: The 3800 Series II V6 used in the Riviera combines smooth power with very good fuel economy for the car's size. The 205-horsepower normally-aspirated version is standard, with a 240-horse supercharged version optional. My test car was supercharged, and had absolutely no power deficiencies. With the supercharger, plenty of power is available immediately for passing or merging, with no lag as is sometimes found in turbocharged cars. The increased power means that the engine is not worked as hard, so fuel economy is affected only minimally compared to the atmospheric engine.

CONCLUSIONS: Feel like an indulgence? Unique, elegant style, comfort, and power can be found in the 1997 Buick Riviera.


Base Price               $ 32,910
Price As Tested          $ 34,555
Engine Type              supercharged pushrod overhead valve V6
Engine Size              3.8 liters / 231 cu. in.
Horsepower               240 @ 5200
Torque (lb-ft)           280 @ 3600
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length       113.8 in. / 207.2 in.
Curb Weight              3759 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    15.6
Fuel Capacity            20.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium
Tires                    P225/60R16 Goodyear Eagle LS
Brakes, front/rear       Vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   Independent MacPherson strut /
                         independent semi-trailing arm
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      18/27/22
0 to 60 mph                        7.1 sec
 mile (E.T.)                      15.4 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)           0.32


Value Package                      No Charge
Includes: cornering lamps, memory driver's seat,
memory outside mirrors, automatic electrochromic
inside and driver's side mirrors, lighted visor vanity
mirrors, steering wheel-mounted radio controls,
leather seating, traction control, universal transmitter
16-inch chrome-plated wheels       $ 695
CA - NY - MA emissions             $ 170
Automatic rearview mirror     
    with compass                   $ 70
Bodyside striping                  $ 45
Destination Charge                 $ 665