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New Car Review

1998 Oldsmobile Cutlass GLS Sedan

by John Heilig


ENGINE:            3.1-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 155 hp @ 5,200 rpm/185 lbs-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, 31.4 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         107.0 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    192.0 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    56.9 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     69.4 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       2,982 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     15.2 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  16.4 cu. ft.
TIRES:             P215/60R15
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, anti-lock braking, 
                   dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $19,911

Normally, we use a car for one week during our road tests. It allows us an ample opportunity to get a good feel for the car while uncovering any items that may be objectionable and you won't find in a cruise around the block.

However, with the Oldsmobile Cutlass, we drove the car for two weeks and more than 2,100 miles. We learned a lot about the car in that period of time and learned to like it as well.

We had three destinations during our trip. the first was Lansing, Michigan, and Oldsmobile's 100th Birthday Party. This four-day celebration highlighted the rich heritage of Oldsmobile. Granted, a 12-hour ride to a birthday party was more than I normally look forward to, but we had other destinations after the party that precluded flying me and my wife all over the east coast and midwest. In any case, we're happy we drove.

Because of our daughter's wedding the previous Saturday, we didn't get on the road until mid-afternoon on Tuesday. We had to be in Lansing at mid-afternoon on Wednesday. And if there hadn't been an accident on the Ohio Turnpike (not us) we would have made it. That mishap put us a half hour behind schedule and we were scurrying all day Wednesday.

The cutlass proved to be an excellent Interstate cruiser. We kept cruise control between 70 and 75 mph all the time and were keeping up with traffic and being passed by some cars. In Michigan the speed limit is 75 mph in spots, so we were able to let the car breathe.

The Cutlass' 3.2-liter V-6 engine has plenty of power and torque. It's rated at 155 hp which is enough for the 2,982-pound car. I thought the engine was slightly noisy when I first got into it, but that was because the car before the Cutlass was so quiet. The engine does growl a bit when it's asked to work, but in normal operation it isn't any noisier than the competition. On the middle leg of our trip we attended the inauguration of the 1998 Honda Accord, and the Cutlass s more than a match for the top-selling Japanese car.

We pulled into Lansing and missed the shuttle from the hotel to the party. So we drove into town and parked in a public garage. I liked the way the car maneuvered in traffic and it parked easily.

In Lansing we drove and rode in a variety of Oldsmobiles, from a 1903 Curved Dash to a 1937 model to a 1973 98 to a 1979 4-4-2, to the latest Bravada. With all the partying and eating, it was good to get back on the road again.

At my "advancing age," I'm aware of any major discomforts in car seats. The cutlass had comfortable seats and we didn't have any aches or pains when we exited the car for fuel stops, etc. Speaking of fuel stops, we averaged well over 31 mpg for the entire trip, which was mostly Interstates. Still 31 mpg is well above the 29 mpg EPA rating of the car, and we did it at a high rate of speed.

We had a chance to compare the Cutlass head-to-head with the new Accord and feel that Olds and GM have adopted a good strategy of working to conquer imports. The Cutlass is bigger, more powerful and more comfortable than the Accord and, at least in a two-week run, is the equal in quality. The price is better, too, since the V-6 Accord will cost some $4,000more than the base four-cylinder model.

After the Accord into in Cleveland we traveled to Washington DC for the introduction of the new Cadillac Seville. Frankly, the Seville is a better car than the Cutlass, but it costs more than twice as much, too. Since this is a Cutlass review, I felt its trunk was at least as good as that on the Seville at 16.4 cubic feet. When we were traveling, we folded down the rear seat for additional luggage space. That trick almost doubled the available carrying capacity.

All in all, the Cutlass held up well in our long test. It was economical, it handled well, it had enough space for my wife and me to carry all the luggage we needed, and it was fun to drive. Compared to the other two new cars we drove on the trip it fell in the middle, better than the Accord and not as good as the Seville.

With its clean design and practicality, the Cutlass may just be the car to bring life back to Oldsmobile.