Don't expect to see Mr. Spock's daughter espousing the virtues of the 1991 Oldsmobile 98 Regency Elite sedan in TV commercials. This is one car that the old man, himself, will have to tout.
That's because the Regency Elite really is your father's Oldsmobile.But that's not so bad, is it? I mean Dad has to have something to get around in, too. The last time I checked, they weren't revoking driver's licenses for people over 30.
Take me, for instance. I like to think of myself as a younger-than-my-years sporting type. The kind of guy who, given a larger bank account, would drive a Porsche or maybe even (be still my beating heart) a Ferrari.
But during a week of driving a new Regency Elite I felt myself being pulled inexorably into the Establishment's mode of transportation. No, the 98 is not a "driver's" car, but there are worse ways to get around.
The Elite ( a new name for '91) is an all new redo this year, Olds's answer to the Buick Park Avenue Ultra I evaluated on these pages earlier this month. For the record, I liked the Buick's sheet metal better. The Olds, like the new Chevy Caprice, has an oddly '50s look even with its flush fitted windows, smoothed edges, curved corners and plastic cladding encircling the lower body.
Anti-lock braking is standard. Optional on the Regency Elite is an electronic suspension system that allows the driver to choose between firm and soft ride for normal driving and automatically switches to the firm setting on winding or bumpy roads. The car I evaluated didn't have it.
The new 98 is 9.54 inches longer than the 1990 model it replaces, resulting in more rear leg room and a much larger trunk. Basic suspension design is the same, although it is said to have extensive "retuning."
Olds has implemented in the 98 a new development in glass manufacturing, called EZ-KOOL. It is said to cut the sun's rays significantly, thus extending the life of interior fabrics and plastics while making passengers more comfy on hot days.
The engine in this front-drive sedan is a 170-hp 3.8-liter V-6 that is rated at 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. Antilock braking is standard as is an airbag and three-point "active" seat belts
Other safety features include child security locks for the rear doors, power window lockout, a shift interlock which prevents the transmission from being shifted out of park unless the brake is applied, and an electronically-coded ignition key.
The Elite (and its upscale sister, the 98 Touring Sedan which has the same power plant) will reach 60 mph in 10 seconds, quicker than last year's model but with no sacrifice in fuel mileage.
The Elite comes with a 55/45 split bench seat (buckets in the Touring Sedan). Two instrument clusters are available: the standard analog display and an optional vacuum-fluorescent (aka Las Vegas by night) panel. Go with the analog.
Incidentally, the 98's "dash board," as we used to call them, (the proper term today is "instrument panel") was a disappointment coming on the heels of the Buick Park Avenue Ultra.
The Ultra's dash is a flowing, wraparound, high-tech beauty that says Buick has been paying attention to its competitors across the sea. The 98's is a more prosaic affair that suggests Olds is still doing it the same way it did 20 years ago.
It works just as good as the Buick's, I suppose, but it doesn't make you feel you're in a top-of-the-line luxury car (sticker price: $26,744). And in this market niche, perception is everything. After all, if you just want transportation there are a lot of nice $12,000 rides available.
Let's see, what else. The 98 has most of the luxury goodies people expect in this class of car as well as a variety of options and upgrades. The car I tested had the optional key-chain transmitter that allows actuation of door locks, interior lights and trunk latch as you're approaching or leaving the car. This sounds gimmicky but it's a nice option, both from a safety and convenience standpoint.
With all of its cars, entry-level as well as luxury models, Oldsmobile has been trying to win a reputation for caring for its customers. Acknowledging that Oldsmobile probably lost more GM owners in the early 1980s than the rest of its marques put together, Olds created a package of reassurances in 1990.
Called the Oldsmobile Edge, it includes free roadside assistance and the right to exchange your vehicle for another for any reason within the first 30 days or 1,500 miles.
For 1991, Olds has extended some of these benefits to selected used cars of any brand that are certified by dealers as eligible for the Value-Rated Edge and Value-Rated Edge Plus guarantees.