Smooth, comfortable and powerful.
by Mitch McCullough
Base Price (MSRP) $32,980
As Tested (MSRP) $39,505
You expect comfort and practicality from a full-size Buick--a roomy cabin, a big trunk, even a certain level of refinement. You might not expect excellent road manners and good dynamic capabilities. Park Avenue delivers not only the traditional Buick virtues, but an enjoyable driving experience as well. Opt for the supercharged Park Avenue Ultra, and the experience becomes downright entertaining. This is one fine sedan.
For 2001, Park Avenue and Ultra offer optional Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist.
Two models are available: Park Avenue and Park Avenue Ultra.
Park Avenue ($32,980) comes with a 205-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 engine. Interiors come trimmed in cloth, with power windows, power mirrors, climate control, cruise control, automatic headlights and other convenience features. Anti-lock brakes and side air bags are standard.
Park Avenue Ultra ($37,490) gets a 240-horsepower supercharged version of the same V6. Trimmed in leather and wood, the Ultra adds heated front seats, mirrors with parallel park assist, a compass, moisture-sensing wipers, GM OnStar communications system, and other features. In addition to its more powerful engine, the Ultra comes with StabiliTrak traction control, a heavy-duty transmission and magnetic speed-sensitive power steering.
In mid-2001, Buick will release a limited-edition, special appearance package for Park Avenue Ultra. Exclusive Laguna Green paintwork will complement a two-tone Shale/Neutral interior with Southern Walnut inserts for the instrument panel and inner doors. Expect the package to include a long list of otherwise optional equipment.
Park Avenue, particularly in its more aggressive, Ultra guise, projects a muscular grace, like a big cat ready to leap. Comfort was the top priority and drove the design of the Park Avenue. Its cabin and trunk are the roomiest in its class. Big doors make getting in and out easy. Yet the Park Avenue packs these virtues into a shape that's graceful and quietly elegant. It's luxurious, but it's approachable luxury.
The Park Avenue offers more interior room in both the front and rear seats than the Lincoln Continental or Chrysler LHS. You can get in and out thankfully free of the simultaneous duck-and-bend maneuver required by swoopier designs. Park Avenue's trunk is slightly larger than that of the LHS or Continental, too
The interior looks clean and tasteful. The cowl curves modestly over the main instruments. Besides offering a contemporary appearance, this design allows room for a big speedometer and tachometer that are easy to scan. Audio and climate controls use big buttons that are easy to find and operate when the car is in motion, and are visually set off from the rest of the interior by contrasting colors. Wood trim accents the door panels. The Ultra includes a full array of luxury goodies - premium CD sound system, leather, power everything - that make the going more pleasant. A trip computer allows the driver to calculate fuel economy and miles to empty. It also provides tire pressure, oil level and coolant level information. Two trip odometers are provided, which can be useful on long trips.
Next Generation (reduced force) dual front airbags are standard, so are side airbags. Park Avenue offers strong safety cage construction and the doors are designed to automatically unlock within 15 seconds of an airbag deployment. Not surprisingly, insurance costs are low compared with other cars.
OnStar, GM's 24-hour on-demand driver assistance and navigation system, is standard on Ultra and optional on base Park Avenue. So is Personal Choice, a feature that includes individually programmable key fobs that control security feedback, perimeter lighting, delayed locking, and memory settings for door locks, climate control, radio presets, seat adjustments, and inside and outside mirrors.
The Concert Sound III stereo system, standard on Ultra and available on Park Avenue, comes with nine speakers, an amplifier, an integrated antenna system, and steering-wheel controls.
GM's 3800 Series II V6 offers enough smooth, quiet power to provide brisk acceleration. Available in 205-horsepower normally aspirated (Park Avenue) and 240-horsepower supercharged (Ultra) versions, the 3800 delivers lots of low-rpm getaway power, instant throttle response, and plenty of punch for passing.
Power is transferred to the front wheels through one of GM's butter-smooth electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmissions. They're among the best in the business. Anti-lock brakes come standard.
Park Avenue also offers surprisingly good fuel efficiency, with an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway for Park Avenue and 18/27 mpg for the supercharged Ultra.
This car uses one of the stiffest chassis in the entire GM warehouse. That's a big plus. A stiff chassis helps the suspension engineers create ride and handling traits appropriate to a particular car's target market. It also makes it easier to keep noise out of the car, and pays long-term durability benefits.
Given this trait, it was interesting to see the handling distinctions between the basic Park Avenue and the flagship Ultra. The ride and handling traits of the standard Park Avenue are indistinguishable from its predecessors, traits that have earned big Buick sedans a stodgy image over the years. Park Avenue seems to float atop its wheels, with pronounced body roll and vague power steering.
We prefer the livelier performance of the Park Avenue Ultra. With its supercharged engine and touring suspension, it can easily take on the best Lincoln and Chrysler have to offer. All in all, the Ultra's enhanced control and firmer ride lends a contemporary feel that's a pleasant step forward for Buick.
If the Ultra's extra performance isn't important to you, the standard Park Avenue may be the way to go. The Park Avenue comes well equipped and stacks up as an exceptional buy among large cars.
An optional Gran Touring suspension improves the responsiveness of either model. On Ultra it costs $200 and includes Goodyear Eagle LS Touring tires, albeit in the standard 225/60R16 size. It can be ordered on the standard Park Avenue as well, but then it costs $285 and requires the $1692 Prestige Package. That's because it includes not only the upgraded suspension, wheels, and tires but also a leather-wrapped steering wheel and Ultra's dealer-programmable magnetic variable-effort steering. This system varies the amount of power assist as vehicle speed and/or steering wheel angle increases, providing a significantly better sense of where the front wheels are pointed. So let the dealer know if you want less steering effort or more feedback. The stiffer suspension package reduces the ride height slightly and yields much sharper responses in quick maneuvers. The tradeoff in ride quality from the standard Park Avenue is insignificant.
Last year, Buick made StabiliTrak stability control standard on Ultra and optional on Park Avenue. StabiliTrak monitors yaw rate (how fast the vehicle is turning) compared to steering-wheel angle (how fast the driver wants the vehicle to turn) and selectively applies one or more wheel brakes to help the driver maintain control when the car is in danger of sliding or skidding.
Quiet operation has always been a top priority for Buick sedans, and here too the Park Avenue represents a step forward. Wind noise has been reduced to a mere whisper, and the unit-body does a superior job of keeping road noise out of the cabin. The supercharged engine is audible at full throttle, but we think it's worth a little extra noise to have its superior thrust.
Add roomy seats with real move-around comfort, and the going becomes positively serene, particularly during freeway cruising. The Park Avenue isn't quite as quiet as a $54,000 Lexus LS 430, but the distinctions are academic in most operating situations - unlike the distinction in price.
Optional Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist can detect objects that are close behind the car, but below trunk-lid level, out of the driver's normal field of vision. Shift into reverse, and the system transmits ultrasonic beams. Four sensors in the rear bumper detect echoes, and alert the driver with a chime. The system also activates three light-emitting diodes (LEDs) set in the rear headliner, where they are visible in the rear-view mirror. Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist works at speeds up to 3 mph; at higher speeds a flashing LED warns drivers that they're on their own.
Buick has characterized itself as a purveyor of "Premium American Motorcars," and the Park Avenue is its ambassador for this theme, with subdued good looks, class-leading roominess, and many luxury features. It's also an excellent value for a car in this size and price class.
Park Avenue is no sports sedan, but an Ultra equipped with the Gran Touring Suspension is surprisingly athletic.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.