1997 BUICK CENTURY CUSTOM
Used Car - 1997 Buick Century Custom in Chicago, Il
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1997 Buick Century ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
The value of understatement.
Buicks are quiet cars, in more ways than simply those relating to mufflers and sound insulation. With the possible exception of the glamorous Riviera coupe, most Buicks are owned by people who want luxurious transportation in a wrapper that is elegant but not ostentatious. These customers avoid the trendy and flashy, but are pretty picky about basics; if a car is not quiet, comfortable and easy to drive, it's not for them.
Buick has carved a successful niche in the marketplace for itself by addressing the needs of what might be called, for lack of a better term, the Silent Majority. And that group has responded, giving Buick several best-sellers in its six-model lineup.
The Century is an excellent example of Buick's philosophy at work. The latest version, completely revamped for 1997, replaces a car kept in production for some 15 years. During the latter stages of its life, the old Century was regularly derided by journalists for being antiquated. By all accounts, Buick management was well aware of the car's advanced age, but they had a good reason for keeping it around: It was still selling very, very well, and it scored outstanding ratings for quality.
So, we predict, will the new Century. Though it has several serious rivals on paper--among them, the Ford Taurus, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima and the Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus/ Plymouth Breeze trio--it is really more of a budget-driven alternative to the Buick LeSabre.
Pedestrians didn't stop in their tracks and stare at the old Century, and probably won't react much to the new one, either. Its overall form follows the current GM corporate design philosophy of long, unbroken surfaces, soft corners and a subtle wedge form rising from nose to tail. It looks, in fact, rather more like a Chevrolet or Oldsmobile--or Cadillac Catera--than some folks might want.
But there are readily recognizable Buick styling cues, and they are attractively executed. The nose carries its plated Buick waterfall grille very well--minus the former stand-up hood ornament--and enough shiny trim has been used to trigger visions of luxury in the minds of target buyers. In back, an ovoid full-width taillight assembly gives the tail a handsome look; you'll seldom see a large rear light cluster so deftly integrated. Roof pillars are thin, giving driver and passengers plenty of visibility. In short, the Century is very attractive. In a quiet way.
Two models are offered. The standard version is called the Century Custom Sedan, and is loaded with enough features to keep all but a few buyers happy. The Custom includes most power assists (windows, locks, front seat adjustments and remote keyless entry) in its modest base price, plus features such as air conditioning, antilock brakes a tilt-steering column and tinted glass.
The top-line Century is the Limited--our test subject--which adds magnetic variable-assist power steering, stripes on the body sides, power mirrors, fancier wheel covers and a delayed accessory power feature that keeps radio and windows operable after the engine has been shut off as long as the car doors are closed. From a distance, or even up close, it takes more than a casual once-over to tell the two models apart.
Anyone who has ever spent time in a Buick (or, for that matter, any other conventional American sedan) will feel right at home in the Century. Full-width seats front and rear hold six full-size adults on soft cushions covered in smooth, attractive cloth. All six will find head and legroom to be more than adequate, as well as easy access through four large, well-shaped doors.
Fancy trim is kept to a minimum, with only small wood-effect panels in the doors--holding power-window switches--contrasting with the interior's monochromatic appearance.
The single-color interior scheme is perhaps the cabin's only somewhat controversial feature. Having steering wheels, dashboard, door panels, seats and carpet finished off in what is as close as possible to the exact same hue does not sit as well with some people as use of some contrasting shades might. But that, obviously is a matter of individual tastes.
All control buttons and switches are large, well-marked and properly sited for easy use. Instruments are clear, too, though there are only three. Buick assumes the Century's intended customers are unlikely to care for much more information than speed, fuel level and engine water temperature anyway, and if they really need to know about a problem in one of the car's systems, there are warning lights and chimes to do the job.
Because the cars are well equipped, only a few options are offered to Century customers. A power glass sunroof is one; another is a rear-mounted child safety seat. Beyond those items, steering wheel-mounted radio controls and a few minor upgrades, Buick seems content to let the standard list of features keep buyers happy. As they likely will.
If any single element of the Century can be said to define Buick's marketing goals and intentions for this car, it's a stint behind the wheel. From this position, you are unlikely to mistake this for anything but a Buick.
Ride quality is the Century's outstanding feature. Over any surface one might reasonably drive on, it is soft. Bumps, dips or ridges on the pavement are seldom heard or felt; instead, there are smooth up-and-down movements that tell the driver the Century has been driven over something, with little indication as to the nature or size of the obstruction. Road and suspension noise are both absent.
For some drivers, the Dyna-Ride Century will be too soft, and it must be said that we found some of its reactions--especially body roll in corners and the rocking motions that occurred as the suspension settled down after hitting dips and bumps--a little dated by contemporary ride and handling standards. We suggest that slightly firmer shock absorber settings could be employed without upsetting the Century's cloud-like ride in the least.
The magnetic variable-assist power steering as supplied with our Limited tester was effortless, but somewhat short on feel and feedback. We've experienced other examples of this new Magnasteer system that respond a little better in this regard.
Once again, however, it must be emphasized that this car has been designed with a keen sense of what its market wants. Few, if any, owners will ever drive Centurys down a canyon road at anything above a modest speed, and fewer still will care if the car's steering has sports-car precision and road feel.
Beyond those small cavils, the Century is quite pleasant to drive. The 3.1-liter V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission combination (the only Century choice) delivers adequate power to meet market demands, and is better than average when judged for smoothness and silence. Fuel economy is good as well. So are the brakes, though we felt the ABS system coming into play earlier than expected during hard stops on some surfaces.
It was certainly time for Buick to renovate the Century. The pleasant surprise is that the makeover was done so well. The new Century is a vast improvement over the old in every respect, whether judged on the basis of performance, ride quality, style, fit and finish or comfort.
Century has the ability to appeal to buyers who might not have had the previous version on their shopping lists, while being a more than satisfactory replacement for established --and exceptionally loyal--Century owners who are ready for a change.
Thanks to a goodly list of standard features, the value quotient is above average, and if serene, unhurried motoring is your priority, the Century is tough to beat.
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested