1999 Oldsmobile Aurora Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The flagship is as enticing as ever.
Four model years ago, the Aurora signaled great new things for Oldsmobile. It was touted as the wave of the future, a peek at the beginning stages of a revolution that would reshape the brand name. Since then, the Aurora's exterior styling has been incorporated into other models in the Oldsmobile line.
Oldsmobile has refined the Aurora's suspension. A race-prepared version of the Aurora V8 engine is used in the Indy Racing League cars that compete in the Indianapolis 500.
The Aurora remains as appealing as ever, even though competition has gotten much more intense. Aurora shoppers can look to the E-Class Mercedes-Benz, Lexus ES300 and Lincoln Continental for comparison.
The Aurora design has fulfilled the mission of revitalizing Oldsmobile's visual identity so successfully that many of its design features have been adapted to fit the newest members of the family, the Alero and Intrigue. Cat's-eye headlamps, pronounced bulges over the wheel openings, a wind-cheating form and thin roof pillars work well on the original and on the smaller cars.
Now in its fourth model year, the Aurora remains a fashion leader, with a smooth, grille-free nose and muscular flanks suggesting performance and assertiveness in a manner quite unlike that of past Oldsmobiles. It looked good in 1995, and it looks good now. Neither overdone nor understated, the Aurora exterior is dynamic and fluid.
Some competitors are blazing new design trails as well, producing cars that are equally sleek yet different enough to be noticed. Absent the novelty of newness, Aurora owners will be buying because they like the car's looks, not because heads swivel as they drive by.
All Auroras are created equal, with just a few extra-cost items available. A glance at the list of standard features in the specifications suggests that there's not an absolute need for any of the options. But the optional plated wheels, glass moonroof, and White Diamond metallic paint are definitely attractive, while the heated front seats are a boon in cold weather. As good as the standard sound system is, true audiophiles may want to opt for the seven-speaker Bose system, with or without the 12-disc CD changer. Also offered, and suggested for customers who intend to cover lots of ground in their Auroras, is the Autobahn Package which consists of a taller final-drive ratio, V-rated tires for improved handling at higher speeds, and chrome wheels.
GM's optional OnStar system uses a dedicated button on the cellular telephone putting drivers in contact with an information center that can provide them with emergency assistance. The system uses Global Positioning Satellite transmitters to determine the vehicle's location and provide route information to any destination.
Though officially rated a five-passenger sedan, the Aurora provides superb accommodations for four. The front seats are especially comfortable, well-padded, clad in soft leather, and electrically adjustable to suit just about anyone. Headroom is abundant, and the four doors are sufficiently wide to provide easy access to the interior.
The driving position is very good as well. Audio and climate-control buttons are mounted on the wheel and are backlit for easy use in the dark.
Dashboard and door panel shapes echo the Aurora's curvaceous exterior styling. The instruments and climate controls are large and clearly marked. A comprehensive information display allows the driver to monitor vital items not covered by the four analog gauges, and warns of malfunctions, low fluid levels and service needs. A chime accompanies icons indicating problems that might affect the car's drivability.
Trunk space is generous, shaped well and neatly trimmed. Heaving a heavy bag over the high sill is a bit difficult, however. The upside of this arrangement is that the solid rear panel below the trunk lid is a major contributor to the Aurora's exceptionally stiff body shell, which is one of the major reasons the Aurora is so quiet and rattle-free.
Aurora's interior is luxurious. Visual, tactile and olfactory sensations are carefully calculated to coddle.
One of Aurora's class-leading elements is its sophisticated V8 engine. This four-camshaft 32-valve light-alloy powerplant is refined and efficient, capable of traveling more than 20 miles for every gallon of premium-grade fuel it consumed during our drive.
Performance is what sets the Aurora apart from its competitors. The 250-horsepower engine delivers plenty of scoot on demand. It produces an authoritative musical exhaust note under hard acceleration that will please performance-car buyers.
Its four-speed automatic transmission shifts as smoothly as the best of them. Electronic traction control comes standard and enhances control of this powerful front-wheel-drive car in slippery conditions.
Aurora's balance between a smooth ride and precise handling is exemplary, allowing the driver to enjoy some enthusiastic behind-the-wheel activity without upsetting the passengers. It is more agile than its two-ton curb weight and extreme front weight bias might suggest. The Magnasteer electronic power steering system is responsive yet reasonably light, and the large four-wheel disc brakes did their job well throughout some hard test usage.
The Autobahn Package installed on the test car is as valuable on twisty roads as it is on long highway cruises. A taller final-drive ratio improves fuel economy at cruising speeds and increases the top speed. Academic, perhaps, in terms of performance we can't really use, but lower engine rpm on the freeway makes for more relaxed travel. The real benefit is a set of high-performance tires that accompany the package. These V-speed-rated tires complement the Aurora's suspension when driving quickly through corners with almost imperceptible increases in tread noise and ride harshness. Frankly, we wouldn't order the Aurora without this bargain-priced ($398) option.
Overall, the Aurora scores high marks for its civilized road manners. A stiff body structure and plenty of well-placed sound insulation make it very quiet and the suspension absorbs small bumps and ripples in the road effortlessly. The Aurora behaves exactly the way its designers intended. It should please anyone who buys this car.
Though we were fortunate enough not to need it, a patented limp-home mode keeps the Aurora rolling even after total loss of all engine coolant. Four of the engine's eight cylinders continue working while the other four rest to keep internal temperatures below the point that would result in engine damage.
We've always liked the Aurora, and the passage of time hasn't changed our minds. It was a daring step for Oldsmobile when new and is still a class leader. Assembled and finished with uncommon care, well equipped and stylish, it is, as always, one of the better buys among sub-$40,000 performance sedans.
While the Lincoln Continental offers more horsepower and is slightly quicker in a straight line, the Aurora provides superior driving pleasure and clean, contemporary looks.
An ever-increasing number of customers have found Aurora ownership a satisfying experience. When all factors are weighed, the Aurora's enduring appeal could easily add you to that number.
Lake Orion, Michigan.
Options As Tested
electric glass sunroof, Autobahn Package, heated front seats.
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