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The Aurora by Oldsmobile (2001), Better in every respect

By Larry Weitzman

Seven years ago, Oldsmobile went back to its roots of 1949 when they reintroduced the V-8 engine into their mainline of automobiles again. The downsized front wheel drive 88 and 98 had V-Sixed their V-8 engines in search of economy. Olds did, however, did continue limited V-8 production in the Custom Cruiser and Cutlass Supreme Brougham. But those engines would be considered stones in comparison to the new Aurora NorthStar architecture.

Now mind you, the 3.8 liter bullet proof motor that became the top engine was no slouch, but ever since the introduction of the high performance Kettering V-8, Olds had a tradition of high performance and luxury. They were called "Rocket 88s" and they were fast.

In its introductory year, the Rocket 88s won six of nine Grand National events and was the NASCAR champ from 1949 through 1951. That engine displaced 303 cubic inches and produced 135 gross horsepower. It used a four speed "Hydramatic" transmission that used a fluid coupling instead of a torque converter. By 1955 the engine had been bored out an eight of an inch to 324 cubes and 202 gross hp at only 4,000rpm. That year the Olds Super 88 was the fastest stock car at the drag strip, turning in 0-60 times in about 9.8 seconds. I drove some of those early "hotrods" and I thought they were greased lightning.

Fast forward to 2001. The all new Aurora is the only car in the Olds model line up to offer a V-8. It isn't a ripsnorting, rumbling big bore V-8 of the 50s, but a smaller high tech unit that measures only 244 cubes. But oh, what cubes they are. This 4.0 Northstar V-8 is about as sweet as they come. It's state of the art with DOHC and 32 valves. It produces 250 net hp at 5,600 rpm and 260 pounds of net torque at 4,400 rpm. Under the old rating system of 1955 that would equate to about 325 hp and 350 pounds of torque. It makes all the right noises at all the right times, but when cruising down the highway at whatever speed you dare, it feels like an electric motor and is church mouse quiet.

This powerplant has been used in the Aurora since its introduction in 1993 as a 1994. But for 2001, it has gone through some radical changes. It sports a new low friction valve train, new pistons and combustion chambers and better emission controls. The result is improved fuel economy, lower emissions and although the power ratings are the same, the new design develops 90% of maximum torque between 2,300 and 5,600 rpm.

A modified version of this same engine, now downsized to 3.5L, is used in the Indy Racing League (IRL) and it has been dominating that circuit. In Indy form, this Aurora based V-8 develops over 650 hp at rpms that exceed 10,000 rpm (redline is 10,700).

If you think the 55 Rocket was fast at 9.8 seconds to 60, this new Aurora will knock off 0-60 all day long at under 8 seconds (it average 7.80 in timed runs). The driver of the '55 in a drag race with the Aurora would think he had left the emergency brake on. Both had four speed automatics, with the 55 shifting with neck jerking harshness while the 2001 shifts nearly imperceptibly. The 55 would be lucky to average 15 mpg, the Aurora is EPA rated at 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway and averaged near 22 mpg in my test. Both had curb weights close to 3,800 pounds. Technology is a wonderful thing.

To say that I like this new Aurora would be an understatement. The drive is through the front wheels, but torque steer is so well controlled that you soon forget that the front wheels drive the car. Passing is supercar quick with 50-70 taking less than four seconds at 3.93 seconds and passing on a steep grade will only slow that time to 5.41 seconds. The 7.8 seconds to 60 is high performance, but the passing times demonstrate just how quick the Aurora is in ordinary driving. Nail the throttle at 50 and it grabs second gear and goes like you lit up an afterburner right up to 75 plus before shifting into third.

Bringing the Olds to a halt are big four wheel discs with the fronts being ventilated. ABS is standard and they are powerful. In panic stops from about 40 mph, the Aurora could stop in about 50 feet in a perfectly straight line or could be steered to avoid an object during the stop while maintaining full control. The rear suspension's semi-trailing arm design nearly eliminates nose dive during braking. ABS is one of the most important safety advances in automobile technology in recent years.

Fuel economy averaged 21.8 mpg for the test period with a split of country driving and freeway of about 50/50. I would expect 20 mpg in El Dorado County Driving and 25-27 mpg on the highway at legal speeds. The trip computer indicated 26 mpg at a steady 70 mph. With its smallish 17.5 gallon gas tank, figure on fill ups every 400 plus miles on the highway. An interesting note that its near twin, the Aurora 3.5 DOHC V-6 has a bigger tank by a gallon.

New for 200l is the body. When the Aurora was introduced it had a rigid body with a frequency at 25 hz. The 2001 body is all new and the shape is all better. About the only carry over from the first generation is the way rear of the rear window is treated. The new front end uses two openings to help suck in cooling air. If you check out the new 360 Ferrari Modena, you will see the same trick styling. Flanking the intakes are two huge driving/fog lights. Very aggressive, yet tasteful. But the prettiest shape is that of the sharp side crease that defines this car which subtlety disappears at the "B" pillar and then continues to the tail lights and defines the rear deck of which they are a part. This body looks like a chiseled athlete.

This is a beautiful body surpassing the very pretty prior generation by a large margin. Length is down by 6 inches to 199.3, but wheelbase was only shorten about an inch and a half to 112.2 inches, the same wheelbase of the Buick Le Sabre, Cadillac Seville and other GM products. Width has been pared to 72.9 inches, down about two inches. There have been improvements in NVH to make the structure feel like a block of granite.

On the Ponderosa Road washboard, the ride was firm but smooth as the solid body allowed the high tech fully independent suspension to do its job absorbing everything Ponderosa could dish out. Up front are low friction MacPherson struts and in the rear are semi-trailing arms with links to control alignment improving stability under high cornering loads. In the two 90 degree bumpy corners, the Aurora track perfectly and smoothly at speeds well beyond "normal".

In the twisties of Green Valley, Cold Springs and Highway 49, the Aurora was smooth, tight and confident. Steering had excellent off and on center feel with only a hint of torque wiggle only noticeable when nailing the throttle in a slow tight corner and getting a first gear downshift. Turning circle is a moderate 40.0 feet. Tighter would be better.

Pushed hard, the Aurora would exhibit moderate understeer, but never fear, because this Aurora comes with standard Precision Control System or PCS. It uses sensors to monitor steering angle, wheel speed, lateral acceleration, a yaw sensor and a hydraulic control unit that compares the turning angle of the car to the turn inputs in the steering wheel. If there is a difference, the system applies braking to the appropriate wheel to bring the vehicle under control without the driver ever knowing, except for an annunciator light on the panel signaling the driver. The system is seamless in its operation. All speed traction control which uses torque reduction and braking is also standard.

Standard wheels are 17X7.5 inch alloys that are shod with high performance 235/55H rated Michelin MXV4s. That's some serious rubber on the road. With a 62.3 inch track, front and rear, the Aurora has the perfect recipe for fun motoring. I wish this would have been my father's Oldsmobile when I turned 16.

On the highway, the ride is sublime, with just the right amount of firmness without any float. Expansion joints, bumps and dips are not allowed to enter the cabin and the same goes for road noise and wind. It makes a superb road car, able to gobble up hundreds of miles without any fatigue for the driver or any of its lucky passengers.

Inside is one of the nicest cabins you'll find anywhere. The dash is all dense, soft touch material. But Olds has created a cockpit atmosphere, with a driver's binnacle containing a large speedo and tach left and right flanked by a smaller temp and fuel gauge. The vertical center stack is integrated, not only into the center console, but into the driver's binnacle and angled toward the driver. Every control is visible and easy to use. This is one of the slickest cockpits in any luxury sedan. You will be making up excuses for road trips.

The radio with comes standard with a CD/cassette, six speakers and has plenty of power. What comes out is excellent. The AC is electronic and dual zone.

The center console has a notchy to use gated shifter with an oval chrome surround. Chrome surrounds are also used as instrument bezels. A nice use of highly polished burl walnut finishes off a very warm and tasty interior.

The front seats are done in leather and with 8-way power including a power lumbar control and memory are very comfortable and supportive. The rear seating area offers plenty of room for two, but I wouldn't want to be the guy in the middle if an odd person is being transported. A trunk pass through is standard.

Now for the good news. Real wood doesn't cost all that much. The 4.0 V-8 Aurora stickers for $34,644 plus $670 for the trucker. There was a #339 price increase on July 14, so if you can find one with the old sticker, consider yourself lucky.

There are only a few options available, the most expensive being a $1,095 moon roof. I recommend the heated seats for $345 and the $460, 12 disc changer. The Bose radio is nice, but it costs $500 and the white diamond paint is $395. I did like the chrome wheels, but they are not cheap at $800. With the heated seats, special paint and chrome wheels, your in at under $37,000. For the radio and 12 pack add about a grand.

Everything else is standard including things like moisture sensing windshield wipers, the PCS system, power passenger seat, leather and most every other luxury feature you could think of. This is a lot of car for the money.

Family Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Cadillac has a good selection of this second generation Aurora. Astronaut Scott Carpenter once sold Oldsmobiles on TV. He should try the new Aurora, and he might find a new and better way to get to Cape Canaveral and almost have as much fun. I did say almost.


Price                 $35,314 to about $39,000

4.0L, DOHC, 32 valve V-8      250 hp @ 5,600 rpm
                              260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
Redline                       6.400 rpm

four speed electronically
controlled automatic

Transverse mounted front engine
front wheel drive

Wheelbase               112.2  inches
Length                  199.3  inches
Width                   72.9   inches
Height                  56.7   inches
Weight                  3,803  pounds
Track (f/r)             62.3/62.3  inches
Trunk Capacity          14.9   cubic feet
Fuel Capacity           17.5   gallons
Turning Circle          40.0   feet
Brake size (f/r)        11.9X1.3 vented/11.1X0.4 inches
Co-efficient of drag    0.32

0-60                  7.80  seconds
50-70                 3.93  seconds
50-70 uphill          5.41  seconds
Top Speed             Way into triple digits
Fuel Economy          EPA 17/25 mpg city/highway.  Expect
                        20-22 mpg in El Dorado County and 25
                        plus mpg on the highway at legal