1997 BUICK PARK AVENUE SEDAN
Used Car - 1997 Buick Park Avenue Sedan in Manassas, Va
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1997 Buick Park Avenue ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
A truly premium American motorcar.
Buick once characterized its creations as 'the doctor's car,' but that was a long time ago. Today's doctors are driving either a Mercedes-Benz or a high-end sport-utility vehicle, and when they're driving them you can bet they're not on their way to make a house call.
Nevertheless, the concept behind that slogan--subdued luxury, comfort,excellent road manners and all-weather reliability--applies to Buick's new Park Avenues, the basic Park and the Ultra. It doesn't command the kind of upper middle class cachet it did in the good old days, but for folks moving up from mid-size to full-size--folks who don't feel a need to fortify their status with something from BMW, Lexus or Mercedes--a Park Avenue is worth a serious look.
This is a pleasant step up into quiet, roomy luxury, bolstered by high quality and a much more authoritative set of dynamic capabilities.
At a glance, the '97 Park Avenue looks like an evolutionary update, but it's all new, based on the front-drive Riviera-Aurora chassis. While this means more weight--about 250 pounds--it also means a longer wheelbase and wider track. And a closer look shows that Buick has quietly thrown off the shackles of ancient General Motors design traditions. Ever since the days of the late Harley Earl, the ethic has been longer, lower, wider and sleeker.
The Park Avenue doesn't violate all of these hallowed tenets--it is indeed longer, wider and arguably sleeker--but it's definitely not any lower. In fact, it's just the opposite. At 58.1 inches, the '97 Park Avenue stands three inches taller than the '96. For contrast, the Chrysler LHS, targeted by Buick as a key Park Avenue competitor, stands 55.9 inches. So does the Lincoln Continental.
So why is Park Avenue design chief Bill Porter violating the gospel of Harley Earl? Because in the evolving Buick mission, a mission driven by GM's sharpened brand focus, comfort takes precedence over sheer style.
In the Park Avenue, the two key comfort elements in the design scheme were interior roominess--including headroom fore and aft--and door openings that eliminate any contortions in the process of getting in or out.
True, you could perceive these same design priorities in a basic brick like the old Checker Marathon, qualities that made it a favorite with taxi fleets for so long. But the new Park Avenue embodies these virtues in a shape that's also graceful and quietly elegant.
It may not turn heads like the Riviera. But it does have an undeniable dollop of the 'muscular grace' that Buick designers want their cars to project, particularly in the slightly more aggressive looks of the Ultra.
And for all its mass, it's also got enough smooth, quiet power, from GM's excellent 3800 Series II V6, to provide peppy acceleration. Available in normally aspirated (Park Avenue) and supercharged (Ultra) versions, the 3800 doesn't have exceptionally high horsepower numbers, but it's got lots of low rpm getaway grunt, plus plenty of punch for passing.
Power is transferred to the front wheels through one of GM's butter-smooth electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmissions--they're among the best in the business--and automatic load-leveling is standard equipment.
Buick has added four new colors to the palette for the '97 Park Avenue--silvermist metallic, Bordeaux red (burgundy), Santa Fe red and light Autumn green metallic. Our Park Avenue Ultra test car was black, with a tan leather interior.
As we noted, roominess and ease of entry/egress were top design priorities, and the car is a bullseye on both counts. Interior space is simply vast, a word that also applies to the trunk. And getting in and out is devoid of the simultaneous duck-and-bend move required in some swoopier designs, even though the door sill is a trifle higher.
Like the exterior, the interior styling rates as more contemporary. Over resistance from old line Buick owners, interior design chief Paul Tatseos managed to break out of the old horizontal dashboard theme that afflicted the '96 Park Avenue.
According to Buick research, those traditional owners don't like anything that suggests the cockpit styling of a sport sedan, but Tatseos and his staff went ahead with a modestly curved cowl over the main instruments. Besides a more modern appearance, this allowed a bigger speed-ometer and tachometer, which makes them easier to scan at a glance.
Another welcome change is the general appearance of the dashboard, which shows a strong Riviera influence with its sharp color contrasts between secondary controls (sound and climate control systems, for example) and the interior color schemes. You'll find more woodgrain trim than in the Riv, but the overall look is clean and tasteful, and the wood is the real article.
Beyond that, the sound system buttons and climate controls are close copies of the Riv, which means they're bigger, better located and far easier to operate when the car is in motion.
As you'd expect, the Park Avenue Ultra includes a full array of luxury goodies--premium sound system, automatic climate control, power everything--that make the going more pleasant. For that matter, so does the standard Park Avenue. And safety features are up to the minute.
Though it's heavy, the Aurora-Riv chassis is one of the stiffest in the entire GM warehouse, which is a plus. A stiff chassis makes easier for the suspension engineers to create ride and handling traits appropriate to a particular car's target market. It also makes it easier to keep noise out of the car, and pays long-term durability benefits.
Given this start, it was interesting to see the handling distinctions made between the basic Park Avenue and the flagship Ultra. The ride and handling traits of the standard '97 Park Avenue are all but indistinguishable from its predecessors, traits that have earned big Buick sedans a stodgy image over the years--floaty ride quality, pronounced body roll in hard cornering and vague power steering, particularly when the wheel is at or near dead center.
The responses of our Park Avenue Ultra test car, equipped with Buick's optional Y56 Gran Touring suspension package, felt much more closely related to the Riviera. The steering system, which is different from the basic Park Avenue, varies the amount of power assist as vehicle speed and/or steering wheel angle increases, providing a significantly better sense of where the front wheels are pointed in the process.
More important, the stiffer Gran Touring suspension package--which also reduces ride height--yielded much sharper responses in quick maneuvers. It's not quite as firm as the Riv, but it's far from flabby and the tradeoff in ride quality is minor.
All in all, the Ultra's en-hanced control and firmer ride lends a contemporary feel that's a pleasant step forward for Buick.
Quiet operation has always been a top priority for Buick sedans, and here too the new Park Avenues represent a step forward. Wind noise has been reduced to a mere whisper, and the all-new unitbody does a superior job of keeping road and engine noise out of the cabin.
Add roomy seats with real move-around comfort, and the going becomes positively serene. The new Park Avenues aren't quite as quiet as a Lexus LS 400, but the distinctions are academic.
Buick characterizes itself as a purveyor of 'Premium American Motorcars,' and the Park Avenue is an excellent ambassador for this theme. It's also an excellent value for a car in this size/price class.
It's not a sport sedan, but with the right equipment it's surprisingly athletic, particularly in contrast to its predecessors.
Add excellent road manners to subdued good looks, class-leading roominess and lots of luxury features and you have a Buick that's very much in step with the late 20th century.
Options As Tested
Y56 Gran Touring suspension, power.
Park Avenue Ultra.