1998 BUICK PARK AVENUE SEDAN
Used Car - 1998 Buick Park Avenue Sedan in Dallas, Tx
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1998 Buick Park Avenue ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Good things come in big packages.
When most folks think of prestige automobiles in the grand American tradition, they're thinking of a short list--Lincoln and Cadillac.
But that list is a bit too short. After driving the latest Park Avenue Ultra, we think this biggest of Buicks is a strong rival for the Lincoln Town Car or Lincoln Continental.
Completely redesigned last year, the Park Avenue--and its supercharged variant, the Ultra--has all the attributes that traditionalists have treasured over the years: subdued luxury, living room comfort, high quality, excellent road manners, and all-weather reliability.
For folks moving up from mid-size to full--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. It's a pleasant step up into quiet, roomy luxury, bolstered by high quality and a much more authoritative set of dynamic capabilities.
Because it was redesigned for '97, changes to the '98 Park Avenues are minimal. The side mirrors now include a fold-back feature, the right-side mirror tilts down during back-up maneuvers, and GM's excellent OnStar satellite communications system is available as an option.
We prefer the livelier performance of the Park Avenue Ultra with the Gran Touring suspension package, and that was our test subject. However, with a base price of $31,340, including destination charges, the standard Park Avenue stacks up as an exceptional buy among large cars. It's well equipped in its own right, and if the Ultra's extra performance isn't important to you, the standard Park Avenue may be the way to go.
At a glance, the latest generation of Park Avenues look like an evolutionary update, but it's an all-new car, based on the front-drive Buick Riviera-Oldsmobile Aurora chassis. Compared with the previous generation Park Avenue, the new one rides on a longer wheelbase and a wider track. At 58.1 inches, this Park Avenue is three inches taller than the old one and it weighs about 250 pounds more. For contrast, the Lincoln Continental and the Chrysler LHS--targeted by Buick as a key Park Avenue competitor--stand 55.9 inches.
In a world of zoomy low-slung shapes like the LHS, the formal contours may seem a trifle out of step, but the Park Avenue prioritizes comfort over style. Big doors make getting in and out easy and there's lots of front and rear headroom and legroom.
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 Park Avenue embodies these virtues in a shape that's graceful and quietly elegant.
It may not turn heads like the Riviera, but the Park Avenue has an undeniable muscular grace that Buick designers want their cars to project, particularly in the slightly more aggressive looks of the Ultra.
GM's 3800 Series II V6 offers enough smooth, quiet power to provide brisk acceleration. Available in normally aspirated (Park Avenue) and supercharged (Ultra) versions, the 3800 delivers lots of low rpm getaway power, instant throttle response, and 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.
Buick has added four new colors to the palette for the '98 Park Avenue; ours came in Emerald Green, which made a nice contrast with its beige leather interior.
As we noted, roominess and ease of entry were top design priorities and the Park Avenue is a bullseye on both counts. Interior space is just this side of vast, a word that also applies to the trunk. And getting in and out is devoid of the simultaneous duck-and-bend movement required in some swoopier designs, even though the door sill is a trifle higher.
Like the exterior, the interior styling rates as more contemporary than the previous Park Avenue. Over resistance from longtime Buick owners, interior design chief Paul Tatseos managed to break out of the old horizontal dashboard theme that afflicted the '96 Park Avenue by installing a modestly curved cowl over the main instruments. Besides offering a more modern appearance, this allowed a bigger speedometer and tachometer, which makes them easier to scan.
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 than in the Riviera, 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 bigger, better located and far easier to operate when the car is in motion.
As you'd expect, the Ultra includes a full array of luxury goodies--premium sound system, automatic climate control, leather, power everything--that make the going more pleasant.
Safety features, including standard antilock brakes, are current, and the Park Avenue's strong body shell should perform well in crashes. However, even though side airbags are becoming common in this price class, they have yet to find their way into the Buick lineup.
Though it's heavy, the Aurora/Riviera chassis the Park Avenue uses is one of the stiffest in the entire GM warehouse, which is a plus. A stiff chassis helps the suspension engineers 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 trait, it was interesting to see the handling distinctions between the basic Park Avenue and the flagship Ultra. The ride and handling traits of the standard 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, and vague power steering.
Thanks to its optional Gran Touring suspension, the responses of our Park Avenue Ultra tester 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.
More important, the stiffer suspension package--which also reduces ride height slightly--yielded much sharper responses in quick maneuvers. It's not quite as firm as the Riviera, but it's far from flabby and the tradeoff in ride quality is minuscule.
All in all, the Ultra's enhanced 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 Park Avenues represent a step forward. Wind noise has been reduced to a mere whisper, and the new unitbody does a superior job of keeping road noise out of the cabin. The supercharged engine is audible at full throttle, but we think it's worth a little extra noise to have its superior thrust.
Add roomy seats with real move-around comfort, and the going becomes positively serene, particularly in freeway cruising. The Park Avenue isn't quite as quiet as the Lexus LS 400, but the distinctions are academic in most operating situations--unlike the distinction in price.
Buick has characterized 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 and price class.
The Park Avenue is no sports 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
Power moonroof, Gran Touring Suspension.