1999 BUICK PARK AVENUE ULTRA SUPERCHARGED
Used Car - 1999 Buick Park Avenue Ultra Supercharged in Seattle, Wa
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1999 Buick Park Avenue ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Good things come in big packages.
The Buick Park Avenue has all the attributes 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--especially those who don't feel a need to fortify their status with something from BMW, Lexus or Mercedes--a Park Avenue is a great choice. It's a pleasant step up into quiet, roomy luxury, bolstered by high quality and a much more authoritative set of dynamic capabilities.
Two models are available: $31,800 Park Avenue and $36,695 Park Avenue Ultra. (Prices include $670 destination charge.)
We prefer the livelier performance of the Park Avenue Ultra. With its supercharged engine and touring suspension, it can easily take on the best Lincoln has to offer.
If the Ultra's extra performance isn't important to you, the standard Park Avenue may be the way to go. The Park Avenue comes well equipped and stacks up as an exceptional buy among large cars.
This latest generation of Park Avenues looked like an evolutionary update when it was introduced for 1997, but it was completely re-engineered. The Park Avenue shares its basic platform with the Oldsmobile Aurora. 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 key Park Avenue competitors--stand 55.9 inches.
In a world of zoomy low-slung shapes like Chrysler's 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. Sure, 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.
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 205-horsepower normally aspirated (Park Avenue) and 240-horsepower 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 improved the appearance of the tail lamps on the base Park Avenue for 1999, so that it looks more like the Ultra from behind. The sound system is upgraded from last year and new colors and interior trim freshen its appearance.
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. A display allows the driver to calculate fuel economy, miles to empty and monitor tire pressure, oil level, coolant level; two trip odometers can be useful on long trips. An electronic display can display cellular telephone status.
Anti-lock brakes come standard. Next Generation (reduced force) dual front airbags are also standard. The Park Avenue offers a strong safety cage construction and the doors are designed to automatically unlock within 15 seconds of an airbag deployment. However, even though side airbags are becoming common in this price class, they have yet to find their way into the Buick lineup.
The Park Avenue offers low insurance costs when compared with other cars. It also offers good fuel efficiency: an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway for Park Avenue and 18/27 for the supercharged Ultra.
A new Concert Sound III stereo system, which comes standard on the Ultra and is available as an option on the Park Avenue, come with nine speakers, an amplifier and an integrated antenna system.
The Park Avenue uses one of the stiffest chassis in the entire GM warehouse. And that's a big 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 $200 package includes a stiffer suspension, dealer-programmable magnetic variable-effort steering, special 16-inch aluminum wheels and 225/60R16 Goodyear Eagle LS Touring tires and a leather wrapped steering wheel. 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 from the standard Park Avenue 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 ($1095), Gran Touring Suspension ($200).
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