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Oldsmobile Aurora (2001)

by John Heilig

MODEL:  2001 Oldsmobile Aurora
ENGINE:  3.5-liter DOHC V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  215 hp @ 5,500 rpm/230 lb-ft @ 4,400  rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 112.2 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 199.3 x 72.9 x 56.7 in.

But six years is a long time in the automobile industry for one design to live. It was time for a redesign, and rather than simply re-skin the Aurora, it was totally redesigned. One reason for the complete redesign was a change in Oldsmobile's mission since 1994. While it's entirely possible the brand may not have had a well-defined mission in1994, today it is the General Motors import fighter. As such, it posted higher sales gains in 1999 than any other manufacturer with the exception of Volkswagen, another company that has undergone a resurgence. As such, a new Aurora would also probably be a different Aurora.

The first obvious change about the new Aurora, which is labeled as a 2001 car, is in the external design. Built on a 1`12.1-inch wheelbase versus 113.8 inches in the original car, the new Aurora is just under 200 inches long, about six inches shorter than its predecessor. It's also a lot lighter.

Under the skin the changes are just as dramatic: a new suspension system with numerous aluminum components and a lighter frame creating a safety cage that is designed so that front and rear members can give in the event of a crash. The base 4.0-liter DOHC V-8 engine of the original is still there, but it has also been redesigned. Accompanying this engine is a new 3.5-lite rV-6, because not every driver wants, or needs, a V-8 engine. There's only a 35 hp difference between the engines (250 vs. 215) and it's barely noticeable in side-by-side comparisons.

What I missed from the old car was the slope nose that screamed "aerodynamic" at you. The new front fascia is more vertical, yet it retains the overall character of the original. Seen in profile, the 2001 Aurora has a more rounded front end, balanced with a cropped rear that is dramatic. Compared with the original, the design seems to have lost something, but when it's compared with the competition, it's way ahead of anything else that's on the road. Put the Aurora next to an Accord or Camry and you'll see where the Olds designers were headed with the new car.

In our evaluation run, we were able to put the Aurora through its paces. I drove both V-8-powered and V-6-powered cars over a variety of roads and road surfaces. We covered winding roads (in some pretty hairy weather), Interstates and two-lane highways, asphalt, concrete and a little dirt. In short, we drove the Aurora over everything available in the United States.

I was particularly impressed with the way the Aurora handled curves. As I mentioned, the road was slick from a light rain (it would have been better if the rain had been harder) and we saw three other cars off the road, which tempered my speed somewhat. At a more conservative speed I was better able to observe how the Aurora handled the curves and bumps in the road. I liked the way it hunkered down and pulled me through the corners with minimum effort.

The front suspension is comprised of low-friction MacPherson struts that were fitted with soft entry rebound springs to eliminate crash-through and control extreme body motions. The rear suspension is a semi-trailing arm design with lateral links designed to control wheel alignment under high cornering loads.

The two engines were virtually identical in performance, since we didn't do any high-speed driving where the added horsepower would make a difference. Both were smooth, both were relatively silent under normal driving conditions (although they let you know they were there when you asked for power), and both were economical, although we didn't do mileage tests. The V-6 is rated at 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, while the V-8 is rated 17/25.

It's always difficult to follow a classic with a successful design. I believe Oldsmobile has done just that with the 2001 Aurora. While it's smaller on the outside, it retains the interior comfort of the original as well as the performance. Not only is this not your father's Oldsmobile, it isn't even your older brother's.