Old-fashioned comfort and practicality.
by Ted West
Base Price (MSRP) $19,840
As Tested (MSRP) $22,226
Buick Century emphasizes comfort and practicality. Bench seats provide plenty of room for six people and its V6 engine is strong but frugal. Its flavor is plain-vanilla, but its popularity as Buick's best-selling model shows that vanilla is popular with many, many folks. Its design is one you can count on. Everything is exactly where you think it should be and everything works exactly how you think it should.
Two models of the Century are available: the Custom ($19,840) and the Limited ($22,871).
The Limited is distinguished by Magnasteer variable-effort power steering, leather upholstery, cruise control, the OnStar global positioning and communications system, a driver's side-impact air bag, and other luxury equipment.
A Special Edition model comes with a blacked-out grille, black door header moldings, and body-colored fascia and side moldings heralding a long list of standard luxury equipment. Since special wheel trim is also included, the package costs $1486 on Customs with bolt-on wheel covers, $1786 on Customs with aluminum wheels, and $1680 on Limiteds.
Standard on all Century models are keyless remote entry, power locks, daytime running lights with Twilight Sentinel automatic light control, anti-lock brakes, traction control, tire-inflation monitor and theft-deterrent.
No one has ever accused the Century of being trendy or glamorous. Some would call the styling bland. The Century was designed to perform its duties quietly and faithfully without drawing attention. And it does this well.
With its traditional grille and roomy interior, the Century is unmistakably a Buick. It shares the same smooth, organic form as the more expensive Buicks, but it's far less expressive. Many find this understated appearance appealing.
The Special Edition's blacked-out grille is a gesture in the direction of European panache, and its handsome polished aluminum wheels are, for this car, almost startling. These attractive wheels make a bold styling statement against the backdrop of the car's otherwise neutral appearance.
For 2001, all Century models have acquired an inside-trunk escape handle. And the recommended oil-change interval has been extended to 10,000 miles.
Century's understated exterior styling theme continues inside. The dashboard is traditional American, and on the spartan side by today's standards. Instrumentation is limited to a small analog speedometer, a water temperature gauge and a fuel gauge. On the lower left and right of the dash are two circular warning-light complexes, each split three ways in pie-chart fashion. The left three warning lights indicate problems with oil pressure, battery charge or anti-lock brake circuitry. The three indicators on the right warn that the seatbelts are not fastened, the parking brake is on or the air bags are not initialized to function properly. Century comes standard with dual air bags and, oddly, a driver's side-impact bag only on Limited.
Our Special Edition interior was finished in earth tones. We think it could use a little more excitement inside. But the six-way power seats work well and provide a generous range of adjustment. Power driver and passenger seats are part of the Special Edition package. In standard trim, the Limited has a power driver's seat, and the Custom has manually operated seats; but power seats are available separately as a $330-per-seat option. In any case, both front seatbacks adjust manually.
Limited and Special Edition have steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. Sprouting from the thin wheel's four spokes are buttons for: Seek, Scan, AM/FM, Source, Mute and Volume (Limited and Special Edition only). Generally, such remotes are useful, but the Century system had its problems. We constantly tapped Seek by accident while wheeling the Century in and out of parking spaces, losing our selected station. Also annoying is that these steering-wheel controls are illuminated whenever the lights are on, and after a while the plastic buttons become hot to the touch.
Befitting a Buick, the front and rear seats are roomy and comfortable, and rear headroom is excellent. Our Century Special Edition featured handsome leather upholstery. The trunk is generous, as is expected of a Buick. A useful cargo net is supplied, but opening the trunk requires using a separate trunk key instead of the ignition key. This is a long-standing GM inconvenience that should have been corrected way back in the 20th century.
Under the hood, the 2001 Century has plenty of good news: a 3.1-liter V6 that delivers 175 horsepower at 5200 rpm, and 195 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Called the 3100, it's a solid and conventional engine, with overhead valves and sequential-port fuel injection.
The 3100 V6 provides a crisp, authoritative response. That's encouraging: A keynote of Buick heritage is that the big cars from Flint were historically expected to deliver vigorous performance. What is even more impressive about this engine is that, in addition to providing plenty of power, it also produces excellent fuel mileage, with 20 miles per gallon in the city and a whopping 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
The 3100's power is delivered through an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. It shifts smoothly, but otherwise its performance is only adequate. Kick -down response is slow when compared with the latest automatic transmissions found in high-priced vehicles. Electronic traction control, which comes standard, reduces wheel spin for improved control on slippery surfaces. Also standard is an antilock brake system (ABS), which allows the driver to maintain steering control of the car in a panic braking situation.
Century's front suspension is a MacPherson strut design, while its rear suspension is a multi-link independent using a coil-over strut. This setup is tuned for a smooth and soft ride when cruising on smooth, straight highways at normal speeds. This soft, "boulevard" ride is traditional for Buick, but results in undistinguished handling in any sort of vigorous maneuvering: The Century leans when driven quickly through corners and it floats and wallows at high speeds over wavy surfaces. This tends to isolate the driver from the road.
Buick Century is modest-looking yet generously equipped. It is a utilitarian four-door sedan. It was designed to provide long, workmanlike service for those who appreciate the traditional Buick values, that is, a premium vehicle at an affordable price.
The Century's engine is very satisfying, and its ample interior space is sure to please traditional Buick buyers. Its soft ride should also please longtime Buick owners, who are extremely loyal to the brand. The Century is one of GM's best-selling midsize cars; Buick sold more than 143,000 of them in 2000.
However, the over-the-road personality of the Buick Century looks backward to the sensibility expressed in earlier American large sedans, not forward to the more international vision of the fully balanced sedan of the future. But for now, Century is still finding buyers whose values are rooted in the past-while Buick has other models that look enthusiastically to the future.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.