Elegance and sophisticated road manners.
by Phil Berg
Base Price (MSRP) $30,805
As Tested (MSRP) $37,590
Oldsmobile's flagship sedan, the Aurora, offers elegant leather accommodations, a smooth, quiet ride, excellent stability, and agile handling.
Aurora was completely redesigned for 2001 (and there was no 2000 model). Trimmer dimensions and redesigned suspensions improved handling and stability, while new lightweight engines improved fuel efficiency. The Aurora is notably more nimble than the Buick LeSabre and Cadillac DeVille, and it feels smaller and lighter on its feet than the Pontiac Bonneville.
A new navigation system is available for 2002.
Two models are available: 3.5L ($30,805) and 4.0L ($34,980).
3.5L comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine. An optional All-Weather Package ($575) adds traction control and the Precision Control System, Oldsmobile's name for an electronic stability program designed to reduce the chance of skids.
4.0L is powered by a 4.0-liter V8 and comes standard with traction control, the Precision Control System, and larger (17-inch) wheels and tires.
This second-generation Aurora boasts all-new sheet metal. It looks more elegant and more contemporary than the 1994-1999 models, lacking body cladding, tacked on moldings or other frivolous decoration. Yet it maintains the muscular form of the original Aurora, which was widely praised when it was introduced.
Part of the elegant new look comes from its trimmer dimensions. The current Aurora is 6 inches shorter than the 1994-1999 models. The smaller, tighter shape gives it a cleaner, more nimble look. Its profile is smooth and fluid with a raked rear window. Rear fog lamps give balance and symmetry to the rear of the car, while enhancing safety. A steep back light and large, wrap-over tail lamps minimize the horizontal length of the deck lid. Instead of a front grille, the designers opted for lower intakes in the bumper to reinforce the Oldsmobile character.
For 2002, chrome exhaust tips replace black tips, and two new exterior colors are available, Granite and Marine Blue.
The interior comes with smooth, soft leather seating surfaces. The leather is light-colored, in the latest Euro fashion, and the real burled walnut wood surfaces are delightfully restrained. The interior gives off the aura and aroma of a BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Oldsmobile interior designers have figured out the ambiance that makes the European and Asian luxury cars generally so appealing.
The cowl is lower than before, giving you the impression you can see outside better. Even though the new Aurora is smaller outside, you actually gain a little head-, shoulder-, and hip room in the front. Tall drivers, like me, however, may sense a bit less legroom than the previous Aurora; my left leg covered the driver's door stereo speaker. The trunk is 1 cubic foot smaller, but a wider opening and a low lift-over make it more useable and easier to unload a set of golf clubs.
The instrument panel is angled sharply toward the driver. The driver's adjustable lumbar support should allow back-pain sufferers to drive long distances in comfort. Climate controls are found on the left spoke of the steering wheel, but you may find these redundant since the climate functions buttons on the center console are angled so close to the driver that they're an easy reach. There is a trip computer that you can configure to your needs, and it's handy, too. The high-tech “rain-sensing” automatic interval wipers could not sense frozen wiper fluid or slush, we found out one cold morning, and it sometimes shifts the blades into overdrive when they aren't required.
One departure from standard GM practice is a cruise control lever on a stalk on the right side of the steering wheel. Perpetual phone users won't like this placement, but hopefully it will encourage drivers to use hands-free phone setups.
For 2002, the primary improvement is a new navigation radio option. Now there are three radio options: the standard premium radio, the Bose sound system, and the navigation radio. The navigation radio is a supplement to OnStar that provides drivers with detailed routes from coast to coast. The system includes one CD with maps of all major roads in the U.S., and another CD with detailed maps in the owner's region.
Overall, the Aurora exudes very high quality.
The steering feels super-light. Parking requires no effort. When you couple that behavior with the smaller size of the new Aurora, it makes you feel like you could thread a needle with this luxury sedan.
Gathering steam, you hear nothing but exhaust noise. We think that's good, because it means all the extraneous noises from the suspension and drivetrain - everything from the tires to the gears - do not creep into the passenger compartment. Hot rodders will like the grumbly V8 exhaust, but some passengers we had in the car complained it was too loud. We think they were just whining, and pronounce the noise pleasing to our ears.
The Aurora V8 is the smaller-displacement version of the Cadillac Northstar engine that appeared on the original Aurora, but it has been significantly refined and updated for the new car. Emissions are improved, fuel efficiency is improved, and it makes the same 250 horsepower on regular gas that the previous engine made on premium fuel. The Indy Racing League uses a modified version of this same engine to run the Indy 500.
The V6 engine found in the Aurora 3.5L comes from the mid-size Intrigue, and it's a twin overhead-cam design derived from the V8. Both engines use four valves per cylinder, a more efficient and expensive arrangement than the two-valves-per-cylinder pushrod V6 engines you'll find in the big Buick and Pontiac sedans. Aurora's V6 makes 215 horsepower, the same as it does in the Intrigue. But the Aurora 3.5L weighs about 250 pounds more than the Intrigue, so it doesn't feel as much like a hot rod as the Intrigue does.
The transmission is an electronically controlled four-speed automatic. Standard on the V8 car and optional on the V6 is an electronic stability program that can apply braking force to an individual front wheel to prevent skidding or drifting in a corner. The traction control system uses wheel braking and engine power reduction (the most desirable combination) to limit wheel spin.
The Aurora corners as flat as any sports sedan. Credit heavier springs for reducing body lean. Yet the car does not feel stiff, thanks to careful tuning of the suspension struts (bushings, rebound springs, and damping) and smaller anti-roll bars. Though silent on the highway, the bigger tires on the Aurora 4.0L tend to squeal in sharp corners. That discourages hard driving. The Aurora balanced well. Even with the electronic stability and traction control, you can successfully left-foot brake the car to point it into a sharp corner. The brake pedal is firm and sensitive, encouraging confident stops.
In everyday driving, you'll never notice you're in a front-wheel-drive car. On rutted, crumbly roads, however, you may notice some torque steer under hard acceleration, a tugging on the steering wheel.
The new Aurora is on target with the top-sellers in the growing $35,000 luxury class. It is refined almost to the point that if you were blindfolded, you wouldn't know you were in a big GM cruiser. Its lightness and agility are unlike GM cars of yore. Yet the Aurora still has character, something you may miss in a Lexus ES300 or Infiniti I35.
The price for the V8 4.0L is a genuine bargain in the class. Overall, the Aurora is a terrific car.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.