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New Car Review

1998 Buick Century Limited

by Matt/Bob Hagin


SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,575
Price As Tested                                    $ 23,040
Engine Type                             3.1 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 191 cid/3130 cc
Horsepower                                   160 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               185 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                    109"/72.7"/194.6"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3386 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    17 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P205/70R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Six-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            20/29/23
0-60 MPH                                        9.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17.5 seconds @ 80 mph
Top speed                                           105 mph
     * Sequential-port fuel injection

(Bob Hagin harks back to the days of the original Buick Century when it was a stone-age "sports" sedan. Matt Hagin reminds his dad that at age 62, the Century name is entitled to a more sedentary, comfortable role.)

BOB - Your grandfather used to tell me that in its day, the '36 Buick Century was a very hot number and was capable of almost 100 MPH - a real feat for a production four-door sedan in those days. Apparently that's why they called it a "Century." It packed a 320 cubic-inch Roadmaster straight-eight engine in a chassis that was midway between the biggest and the smallest Buicks. It's ironic that Buick still labels its Century a mid-sized car after more than half a century. But this new version is anything but a sportster, Matt. It's not terribly fast and its high-speed abilities leaves a lot to be desired for a hard-driving enthusiast.

MATT - You're absolutely right, Dad, and that how Buick intended it to be. The Century is a typical American boulevard cruiser whose owners don't want wrap-around bucket seats with lots of side support because they don't pitch their cars through turns like they're racing at Laguna Seca Raceway. And they don't need enough horsepower to scorch the pavement because they don't view every signal light they stop at as a drag-strip challenge. The new Buick Regal GS fills the role of a factory hot-rod sedan in the company's lineup. It's built on the shame chassis as the Century and can stay up with the best of them in the performance area. Since the company has relegated its Skylark to fleet-car sales only, the Century is now the entry-level Buick and it's for people who consider their cars family appliances. They have to look good, be user-friendly, not require a lot of maintenance and have a purchase price that won't dent the family budget.

BOB - The Century Limited we had fulfilled all those prerequisites, Matt. Its front bench seat holds three adults in relative comfort and is power-adjustable, and the rear seat is just a bit higher than the front to provide better vision for the back-seat passengers. The climate control is built to provide different degrees of temperature comfort for the driver and the front seat passenger, and the system filters out most of the pollens and air contaminants that make modern life uncomfortable. While our car had black-wall tires, the Century can also be had with whitewalls in case the buyer really wants to go just a little bit further into a '70s "retro" mode. Our test car had optional aluminum wheels for an extra $375, but in the case of this car, I think that the standard steel wheels with fancy hubcaps would be equally acceptable and a lot less money.

MATT - And while its not quite as antiquated as the old straight- eight that was in the '36 version of the Century, the 3.1 liter V6 that's in the latest model is getting pretty long in the tooth. It's been upgraded with aluminum cylinder heads, roller-rockers and some high-tech electronics since it was put under the hoods of small Buicks nine years ago, however. Its 160 horsepower is enough to pull the car around in a stately, if not spirited manner, and the four-speed automatic is really smooth with a redesigned lock-up torque converter that provides almost imperceivable shifts. Our car had the optional leather upholstery and somehow it goes with this car even though I know you're not hot on leather upholstery, Dad.

BOB - Another item that's appreciated by us forgetful old-timers is the electrical circuitry which keeps us from locking ourselves out of the car when the keys are in the ignition switch. I haven't done it very often, but when I do, its usually in the middle of the night during a rain storm. But I still am a little miffed that a Buick making the Century a boulevard cruiser and not a go-for-broke hot sedan like the '36 version was.

MATT - Dad, you of all people should realize that after 60-some-odd years, even an automobile name is entitled to a relatively sedentary life of ease.