1998 BUICK CENTURY LIMITED
Used Car - 1998 Buick Century Limited in Chicago, Il
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1998 Buick Century ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Restraint is a virtue.
In what must be something of a conundrum for company management, the very values that give Buicks much of their appeal to repeat customers conspire to make them nearly invisible to potential customers looking to switch from other brands. Those familiar with Buicks will instantly understand when we say these cars are understated almost to a fault, so quiet and conservative that they attract attention only in locations where automobiles normally aren't seen. Drive a Buick onto a golf course, for example, and people will notice. Otherwise, they blend into the background as unobtrusively as a finely crafted piece of furniture in a palace.
To some people that's a flaw, but not to others. Glamour is nice in its own way--and Buick buyers can choose a Riviera if that's what they're looking for--but elegance, balance and a total rejection of flash and trendiness keep the cash registers ringing in Buick City.
For proof of the effectiveness of Buick's philosophy, one need look no farther than the Century, one of the division's best-selling lines. The current model, totally redesigned last year, took the place of a car that sold well even at the end of a 15-year production run in which it faced such worthy opponents as the Ford Taurus, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima and the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus, all regularly updated while the Buick soldiered along without apparent change.
The same cars are lined up against the new Century. After more than a year on the market, it has quietly carved out a solid niche for itself.
If you're looking for a textbook example of good taste in four-door sedan styling, here it is. The Century is not startling or new from any angle, but it looks well-balanced and clean, free of the kinds of dramatic tweaks that can make a new design look old in short order.
Its overall form follows current GM design philosophy, being made up of long, unbroken surfaces, soft corners and a subtle wedge form rising from nose to tail. The nose carries a plated Buick grille--minus the former stand-up hood ornament-- that looks right at home between two flattened-oval headlamps, 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 attractive--in a quiet way.
To some, the Century's appearance may be a little too quiet, and it may carry too many hints of other GM products. But that hasn't hurt sales so far, and is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.
The Century model lineup begins with the Custom Sedan, which is loaded with enough features to keep all but a few buyers happy. For a modest base price, the Custom comes with power windows, mirrors, door locks, and front seat adjustments; it comes standard with remote keyless entry, air conditioning, antilock brakes (ABS), a tilt-steering column and tinted glass.
For not much more money, the Limited is available., which adds magnetic variable-assist power steering, stripes on the body sides, dual-zone air conditioning and fancier wheel covers. A delayed accessory power feature keeps radio and windows operable after the engine has been shut off--handy for those times when you've forgotten to close a window. It takes more than a casual once-over to tell the two models apart.
The options list is short, and includes an upgraded audio system with CD player, a power glass sunroof and alloy wheels. Also available is GM's OnStar system. Using a cellular telephone and onboard Global Positioning System sensors (GPS), OnStar allows the driver to communicate with a dedicated center that can offer roadside assistance, route advice, stolen vehicle tracking and other information.
Anyone who has ever spent time in a Buick or any other six-passenger GM 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, and they will have 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.
Buick buyers may be comfortable with the single-color interior scheme but having steering wheel, dashboard, door panels, seats and carpet finished off in what is as close as possible to the exact same hue may look strange to some transferring from other brands. But that's up to individual taste. In any event, the color-coordination has been handled skillfully.
The Century's cabin layout is indisputably excellent. All control buttons and switches are large, well-marked and properly located for easy use. Instruments are clear, too, though there are only three. The Century's intended customers are unlikely to care for much more information than speed, fuel level and engine water temperature anyway. Warning lights and chimes will alert them to any problems.
Though a midsize sedan when judged by pricing and dimensions, the Century feels more like a large luxury car from behind the wheel. Buick knows its customers aren't looking for the firmness of a German autobahn-burner. They want a Buick. And that's what they get.
Ride quality is the Century's outstanding feature. It is soft and compliant over any road surface. Bumps, dips or ridges on the pavement are seldom heard or felt; instead, there are smooth up-and-down movements that indicate, in a muted way, that the Century has been driven over something, with little indication as to the nature or size of the obstruction. Road and suspension noise are absent.
We'd prefer the Century had slightly stiffer springs and shock absorbers as we found the Dyna-Ride Century a bit too soft. The body rolls in corners and the suspension rocks after hitting dips in the road. It seems like a small amount of tightening wouldn't detract enough from the Century's ultra-smooth ride to bother Buick aficionados.
At the same time, some fine-tuning of the Magnasteer electronic power steering would be helpful. Low effort need not eliminate all steering feel as it did in our test car.
However, Buick knows what it is doing. The Century has been developed with a razor-sharp sense of what its customers want. Few, if any, owners will ever drive a Century down a canyon road at anything above a modest speed, and fewer still would want the car's steering to have sports car precision.
The bottom line is that the Century is quite pleasant to drive. The 3.1-liter V6 engine and 4-speed automatic transmission that come in all Century models deliver enough power to meet demands and they are smooth and quiet and deliver good fuel economy. The brakes also do a good job, though we felt the ABS system coming into play a bit earlier than expected during hard stops.
Four words sum up the Century: Right on the mark. No flash or frills here, just a good, solid car equipped with all the features necessary to make it seem a member of the luxury-car crowd.
No surprises, either, except for the price. At a whisker over 20 grand, the Century Limited represents fine value for buyers shopping for comfort and well-executed understatement.
In its particular corner of the midsize market, the Century has all the attributes of a winner. It offers a smooth, quiet ride, competent handling and good acceleration performance. It's easy to climb in and out and the interior is attractive and user friendly. And that is what Buick buyers want.
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.