In television and print advertising, Buick has been calling its new Park Avenue an "American beauty," and that's a fair description.
The floaty boat once known as the Electra Park Avenue has made its last voyage; the new Park Avenue is part of a renaissance of American luxury cars.It is a machine that combines big-car comfort with reassuring, stable handling that makes it easy and pleasant to drive.
The only unfortunate news is that the Park Avenue is not in a price range that all can afford.
Buick recently lent us two versions of the Park Avenue. First came the sedan, with a base price of $24,385 that includes enough standard equipment - ranging from air conditioning to anti-lock brakes - to constitute a nicely equipped luxury car.
The other was the top-of-the-line Park Avenue Ultra. Its base price was $27,420, and it had some additional features, such as leather upholstery. Options on the test car included $529 for better stereo speakers, an automatic power antenna and some additional gauges, although why for $27,000 those would not be standard is a puzzle. It also had the optional gran touring suspension. The price was $28,216.
The 1991 Park Avenue still has front-wheel drive and is 8 inches longer than its predecessor. Much of that has gone for a trunk that is now 3.9 cubic feet larger, bringing the total to an impressive 20.3 cubic feet.
The new shape may seem a little familiar. Auto show fans probably will find it reminiscent of the Park Avenue Essence concept car. But it also has some lines, particularly in the rear quarters, that bring to mind the older-style Jaguar XJ-6.
The front seats are quite good. In fact, if you can't get comfortable in them, give up - there is something wrong with you, not the car. The back seats are adequate.
There is enough room to carry four 6-footers in the Park Avenue, but this is not a limousine. Buick claims this is a six-passenger sedan. To fit six, however, you had better pick your passengers carefully with an emphasis on small size and big tolerance.
There is an air bag on the driver's side.
Another nice feature is separate climate controls for the driver and passenger sides, allowing one side to be cooler or warmer than the other.
A less-clever arrangement is a long line of buttons to control the heating and air conditioning. Some drivers may find them hard to read and use, particularly when the vehicle is moving.
The instrumentation is complete, with a tachometer, speedometer and oil pressure gauge. However, the gauges themselves are less-than-elegant looking. Also, when putting the key in the door, the locks have a cheap, balky feel that is not appropriate on such an expensive machine.
But those are small items, and the Park Avenue's interior is undeniably comfortable and pleasant. The all-around visibility is good, and it is a quiet tourer, with little engine or wind noise.
The Park Avenue's road manners are as civilized and pleasing as the interior. The Park Avenue Ultra accelerates with surprising vigor (not fast, but brisk for a luxury car) and an even more impressive smoothness.
That performance is the result of a new, computer-controlled, four-speed transmission and GM's "3800" V-6 engine with 170 horsepower.
The Park Avenue has a computer that signals the engine as it gets ready to shift into a higher gear. The engine then drops the engine speed very slightly just before the upshift takes place. That allows a series of pleasing, slurry upshifts, instead of a series of jerks.
The Ultra test vehicle had the optional "gran touring package" for all of $17. Considering that is about what a Big Mac attack costs a family, it is highly recommended.
While the Park Avenue retains the comfortable, big-car ride, the new suspension eliminates the unrestrained wallowing and bobbing that trouble many American luxury cars.
Instead, the Park Avenue driver feels in control of the vehicle, as if the car were an ally instead of a huge machine that wanders here and there and needs to be restrained and redirected constantly.
The brakes are discs in front and drums in the rear, with an anti-lock braking system as standard equipment on either model. The brake pedal had a good feel, and anti-lock brakes (as well as an air bag) are two attractive safety features.